November 4, 2004 — Fremont Older Open Space Preserve, Cupertino, California
We first saw a labradoodle in Castine, Maine on the Fourth of July, 2003. Sort of goofy looking and elegant at the same time. Jet black. Affectionate and intelligent. Patient. Gentle. Full of energy and mellow at the same time.
What kind of dog is this?
Labradoodle. Mix of standard poodle and lab. I was scratching the back of her head — base of the skull. She loved it. Her hair was like fleece. Neither my wife — the Muse — nor I could tear ourselves away. Even the allure of char-broiled mooseburgers with bleu cheese at the core of the patty couldn’t pull us away. The Muse said, “If we’re going to get a dog, this is the exact one I want.” She was channeling my thought.
Fifty-one weeks later…
I was in Stockton at a college reunion.
The Muse was visiting her sister in Shingle Springs in the Sierra foothills. They decided they needed entertainment, so they went down to the feed store — which was sort of a community center, which says a lot about Shingle Springs.
On the bulletin board was a 3 x 5 card. “Labradoodle. Free to the right home. Male. Neutered. Two years old. Has all shots.” And a phone number. She stared. She caught her breath. She called the number. (I was in Stockton without clue number one.) The call was long. It was like a job interview. The Muse was the applicant. It was a tough interview. But it seemed to go well. She was invited for a second call.
We met at home the next evening. She told me, with a bit of trepidation. I was ecstatic.
We made the second call. It was a sad story. She had six dogs and had to lighten her canine load. She had three with behavior issues and she know no one would want them. She had to find homes for her three angels. Chewy was her favorite. She had rescued him from a neighbor who has a poodle and a lab. Chewy was an unofficial labradoodle. An F-1, as they say in the breeding world. The guy took no care at all of the pups and she rescued them. They were all in bad health and ridden with ticks. She got them all back to health and found homes for them. She kept her favorite. Chewy. Now she had to find a home for him. She’d been interviewing people for six months. None had been acceptable to her. After a long conversation, she asked if we wanted to drive up for a meeting on the coming weekend. We did. Saturday came and we made the three-hour drive.
We met in a park in Shingle Springs. Chewy was introduced. Same size as the one we’d met a year earlier. Jet black. Fleecy hair. We talked. Chewy knew something was up. He was nervous and clung to her. To us, he was diffident. He preferred not to be touched. He would just quietly move away.
After forty-five minutes or so she told us that we seemed like the right people and asked if we were interested. We were. On the way back to the parking lot, she was having a hard time keeping it together. Chewy was visibly confused. In the parking lot there was the awkward moment of Chewy trying to get into her car and being directed to ours. He was shaking. She was holding back tears. We were sort of numb.
It was 364 days after we’d first seen a labradoodle.
On the way home, the Muse tried to comfort him. He was stoic. A brave soldier. We stopped half-way to give him a chance to do his business. Not interested. Offered him a treat. No thank you.
The Muse and I discussed the name she wanted for him: Charley. She didn’t really like the name, Chewy. I argued that he’d lost his home, his human pack, his canine pack, his territory, his familiar smells. At least let’s let him keep his name. He remained Chewy.
We got home at around 6:30 p.m. Time to do your business, Chewy. No thanks. Food? No thanks. Water? A little bit, please. Thank you. We offered him a dog bed. He chose the floor. We got the feeling that in addition to his obvious unease, he was trying to be polite.
Bed time. Do your business? No thanks. My God, it’s been hours. Are you sure? I’m sure.
We slept the night.
The morning came. Outside to the designated relief area. Nothing. I got the distinct impression that he didn’t want to offend me by desecrating my ground. But Chewy, this is the place. A beat passed. Inspiration. I unbuttoned my jeans and relieved myself. He watched for a few seconds and then let go. An eternity later, he was done. He looked at me gratefully. Our first bonding moment. He did eat the breakfast we offered him.
That morning we got him a proper collar and leash and took him for a walk at the Fremont Older Open Space Preserve. There he engaged in part two of relief — but we noticed something interesting: he went far off the trail to do it. He very obviously didn’t want to dirty the trail. Being very considerate, he never failed to do this. (The photo above was taken on the same trail a few months later.)
When we got home, we again offered him the bed we’d gotten. No thanks. The floor is fine, thank you. We left the room to do other things. When we returned a while later, he was on the bed.
He was home.
(To be continued…)
(Canon PowerShot Pro 1, Editing in Adobe Photoshop.)