Saturday, March 19, 2011

Golden Retrievers: A Love Story

My dog autobiography goes something like this: golden retriever, golden retriever, golden retriever. For anyone who has ever owned one of these dogs before, it comes as no surprise that a family might fall in love with a golden and never consider another breed again. That is how it has always been with my family.


My love story with golden retrievers begins on an usually warm night in December many moons ago. Just hours before I was born, my dad rushed home from the hospital to give Reggie, our first golden, his seizure medication. I guess you could say I was born into a world where taking care of dogs was a priority.

My parents got Reggie as a puppy from a family friend whose dog had an "oops" litter. I don't remember too much about this golden named after Yankee great Reggie Jackson, but I look back at pictures like this one and am convinced that my love of dogs started at a very young age. I do distinctly remember a day in second grade when my parents sent me bowling with a friend, and, when I returned, Reggie wasn't there anymore. His passing was one of my first lessons in saying goodbye.


Several years went by between Reggie's death and when we adopted our next golden, Abby. I can't even remember what life was like in our family's house without a dog, but my mom assures me that a good 4 or 5 years went by without one. (I guess my parents were busy raising four kids or something!)

It wasn't until I was in middle school that we were ready for another dog. We spent months trying to find the perfect, young adult golden to adopt. And then we finally found her. Her name was Abby, and she would become the dog to whom I would compare all others dogs.

She was surrendered to a local rescue by a family who said she was destructive and poorly behaved. (Long story short: The people were the problem—not the dog.) Abby lived with a trainer as a foster and, from what my mom recalls, the foster seriously considered keeping her. But luckily the rescue decided we were the perfect home for her. Needless to say, Abby was everything a family could want and more. She was smart and loving and the center of our universe for years to come. On a spring day during my sophomore year of college, my parents decided to put her to sleep after her battle with cancer deemed painful and hopeless.

I was just recently going through a bag of doggie supplies my parents gave me for the foster dogs. I took out a martingale collar to put on Jack, and there hung Abby's tags. More than ten years later, I cried standing there holding that collar.

If Abby was the center of our universe, you could imagine what life was like without her. My family said they would wait some time before getting another dog, but "some time" ended up being 2 weeks. My mom found an ad in the local paper's "absolutely free" column.* A family had to give up their 2-year-old golden retriever because of a divorce. Shelby was free to a good home. My mom loves a bargain.

The family brought her to our house to see if it was a good fit. It was. For the next several months, Shelby ran circles around our yard and house just like Beethoven the St. Bernard. She counter surfed and gobbled up my lunch. She was not the well-behaved dog Abby was. One day that summer, I tied her up outside as I washed my car in my bathing suit. She got loose and ran through the neighborhood. I chased after her in my bathing suit and flip flops, which apparently was quite pleasing to the lawn maintenance workers in the vicinity. When I finally got her by her collar, she ducked out of it and just kept running. When I finally caught up with her again, I somehow carried that 60+ pound dog all the way home. Shelby and I were not off to a good start. But she was merely naughty in that "Marley" kind of way. "She's not a bad dog," we used to say over and over again.

About 3 years ago, Shelby started to go blind from Progressive Retinal Atrophy. When we realized that her vision would ultimately be gone for good, we weren't sure what to think. But, as anyone who has ever had a blind dog could attest, she adapted very quickly. At a time when I was going through some medical issues of my own, she showed me that if she could adapt to a world of darkness, I too could flow with life's changing tides.

To this day, Shelby remains spunky into her geriatric years. She has no vision due to a medical procedure to relieve pressure in her eyes. She enjoys eating ice cubes, running in small circles in the back yard, and being the center of my family's universe.

* Note: If you ever must give up an animal, placing an advertisement in a newspaper or on Craiglist for a "free" pet is not a wise idea. While it worked out in our situation, the promise of a free animal can attract people who might have bad intentions for your pet.


  1. how awesome was life for the golden retrievers who found your family :)

    loved the pictures! a lot of my childhood photos are with our dogs, too.

  2. Great new look.
    Love the stories and pics. I know just what you mean about the dog tags, and still affecting you 10 years later. I occasionally have stories that my chocolate lab from childhood is sick or dies, and I wake up teary eyes, and yet, she passed away 6 years ago.
    - Natalie

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