12 August

Oh-Oh: This Beautiful Mother Is Having Puppies

by Jon Katz

So I got this photo in the mail today after speaking with a highly regarded and experienced breeder. This mother is due to have babies in September, they will be sold in November.

We have no plans to get another dog at the moment – honest –  but I do love that face and her soulful eyes. I have a deep and soft spot for Yellow Labs, I can picture the kinds of therapy work we could do. I can picture the kind of walks we could take.

Lenore had a face like that, she was the sweetest dog I ever had. And is there anything in the world cuter than a Lab puppy? And what a great mix, a border collie from Wales, a Boston Terrier from the wilds of Arkansas, and a Lab from the Northeast?

What a delicious mix of dog lovers to write for. I’ve been around this track, of course.

I had a big brawny active Lab named Clementine right around the time I started to crack up, she went with a wonderful outdoorswoman in Vermont, they have had a joyous life together, she got a better home than I could give her.

And of course, there was Pearl, the regal Show Champion, who fell in love with my daughter (and vice versa) and who had the most wonderful life in Brooklyn doing absolutely nothing but cuddling.

Pearl’s idea of exercise was rolling off the bed and eating her food from the bowl on the floor. If Clementine was too active for me and my life, Pearl wasn’t active at all. Lenore was the middle ground.

Lenore was a keeper, the Love Dog I called her, she had a promising dog therapy career until the hospice patients lunches began to disappear when no one was looking. My God, I said to her, these people are dying! She looked sorrowful but unrepentant.

My shrink credited Lenore with paving the way for a relationship with Maria.

She kept love alive for me, the shrink told me. Maria, who was my friend at the time, came with me to meet her at the breeder’s, we brought her home. There was a lot of love in that car.

A Lab would be fun, but it wouldn’t herd the sheep. Should that matter?

People often ask me, and I often write about,  how I get dogs. That has evolved over the years. Julius and Stanley, the first two Yellow Labs I had, helped me get started as a book writer, and they opened my eyes to the things you can do with dogs if you are willing to do some work and think on your own.

The animal world is, of course, Balkanized about how to get a dog, the animal world’s version of Congress getting things done. Some people say there is only one way to get a dog, that is to rescue one. Others claim the best way to get a dog is to find an ethical and caring breeder and buy one.

I would imagine this dog’s puppies would cost a lot of money, perhaps too much money.

Other people just go to shelters and pick a dog that seems to need them or want them. As I saw with Bud, there are now thousands of rescue groups that scour the earth for dogs to rescue, and these days, they are not cheap either. Some people even import rescue dogs from other countries.

I don’t tell people what to do, but if asked, I say that the best way to get a dog is to get the right dog for you, to choose a dog you will love and care for faithfully and lovingly and responsibly. I hope I take care of all my dogs in that way, that’s my job. No one who tells me there is only one way to get a dog is my friend or someone I would ever listen to.

The dog world is a universe all its own, and there is a dog for anyone who wants one, it helps to look around. They come in all colors, sizes and shapes, and many different temperaments. There are more than 75 million of them in America, many of them trapped in shelters and condemned to spend their lives in “humane” crates in no-kill shelters.

It is too early for me to get serious about getting a dog, I’m still shedding tears over Red, I want to absorb his life and death, I want to process it in the way it deserves. Maria and I both are a little stunned by it. We need time to deal with it.

A friend messaged me in a scolding way to say he hoped I learned to be more empathetic to grieving companion animal lovers because of losing Red.  Lord, I thought, what will my enemies say. I told him to go read somebody else’s blog.

I think there will be a dog in my future, that’s how I heal, that’s how Maria feels, that’s how everybody heals, I think. That’s my work and my passion.

I want to get a puppy one day and start training it for therapy work as soon as it can handle it. I want a dog who can sit in a room with 20 dogs and not move.  Who can sit in Maria’s studio and snore while she makes her quilts.

I want a dog who will sit still while a bunch of people in masks and robes dance around and shout.

That’s the test Red passed. It’s the test some Yellow Labs I know could definitely pass. I would love to get a puppy for Maria, she would melt with joy over a puppy. I love training dogs, and I love Yellow Labs. I love the look on this momma’s face, she has a presence and love in her eyes.

But that may not be the dog I actually get if I get a dog at all. I know better than to predict the future. Anything can happen.

I won’t lie, I did tell the breeder to contact me once she knows how many babies are coming. This girl in the photo spoke to me, just like Bud did when I saw him online. Just like Red did when Karen Thompsons sent me all those videos of him. Wise and soulful eyes.

But the truth is also this: We are not ready to get a dog, we are not serious about getting a dog, life is mysterious and unpredictable.

The pregnancy could go wrong, other people might be ahead of us, the dog might be too expensive, some wonderful dog might show up in my inbox or Maria’s one day. You cannot know the future, and we are still working our way through what can only be called the traumatic experience of losing a wonderful companion and member of the family.

But I put the breeder’s name and number in my contact list. She has mine. We know where to find each other.

In the meantime, I can get on with my life, my mourning for Red,  and work with Fate and the sheep. I have a really good life, and I’m eager to get on with it.

6 Comments

  1. Has been lucky enough to have adopted 3 diff Labs in my life so far. A Yellow, A Mix of 2. and now a Black Lab. I know you are hurting over Red, as many are. Not to your extent, but thru the love they had for him. I think you are correct, that the next dog will find you. It took me few months before I adopted again. It did help the pain subside. I wish you the best in your journey. Labs are great dogs, great for healing a person I think. When I found my new Lab, he looked me right in the eye, and I knew he was coming home with me. I hope your experience will be similar. What a great place for a dog to be.

  2. We lost our last of three In July 2018. We didn’t want to get a dog right away but we soon realized the void in our lives as it was the first time in 42 years married that there wasn’t a dog with us. So by September we had our AL rescue pup and it was a good thing. But everyone has their own time line. I still cry over Theoden the one we lost July. It is what it is. Mama looks like an old wise soul in the photo. She’s beautiful.

  3. Thanks for sharing Jon and I agree with you completely. In time you will both need and welcome a new baby into your hearts and home. I know, I’ve been there. I say “no more” and then when my heart has been healed with a little time I’m ready. With the work you do with those who suffer , it’s almost something you have to do by bringing joy and happiness to others with your love of dogs. Red was a blessing and a beautiful part of your lives. Give another dog that opportunity You’ll know when you’re ready.
    P.S. start thinking of a name. 😉

  4. Yes, yes, yes, Jon! What a wonderful and teaching entry. The dogs in my lifehave all come because they were right except for a pair of Norwegian Elkhound puppies which were about to be destroyed by their dying owner. II should say “we” for my husbands and I have only once had a failure–a very sick afghan hound puppy offered by our vet who had had to put to sleep our much loved Afghan , crippled with cancer. This second hound had been raised on a near starvation diet by ignorant owners and sadly his brain had not been able to develop properly. He became a danger to our two small children., who were too young to understand and enjoyed rolling around and napping with the elk hounds. We found a home for him where he remained for his life–no children, no other animals and cuddled and spoilt to the max.

    A few years later we were down to one dog a beautiful pedigree golden retriever who had proved to be gunshy by her hunting owner. She was happier followimg our next door neighbor’s toddler around and so we passed her on to them!

    We have no dog now. We are too old for exercising and have an unfenced yard. So now we have cats instead–such different animals but just as loving and loved.

    We have had dogs from the pound, bought dogs and given dogs. The bond between dogs and man strikes me as strange and wonderful, as old as civilization itself. I send a thank you for Red–for his life and his work and a big thank you to you for letting us know so much about him.

    Thank you for this wonderful essay.

  5. P.S.
    I wrote that the elkhounds were not right for us. Not exactly true but they were pack animals and obeyed only my fist husband. Sometimes this was funny but mostly irritating.

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