When our youngest son knew he was about to become an ‘only child’ – when his next elder brother went off to college – he basked in anticipation of his ‘onliness’ for about two days and then said, “We need a dog.”
My husband, The Prof, no push-over, said, “Take care of the cat for a year and we’ll think about it,” believing firmly that Son Number Three would do no such thing. In fact, though, he did.
So when Son Number Two departed for university the next fall, I said, “We need to find a dog.”
Not a puppy because Son Number Three didn’t think he wanted a puppy. He was eleven, and he wanted a dog to “do things with.”
So I got a book about second-hand dogs which was very informative about social adjustment and how to fit a ‘pre-owned’ canine into an already established family. It gave good advice. It also helped us settle on the sort of dog we wanted – big, cheerful, easy-going, unhyper, not given to barking needlessly, able to keep up with an energetic eleven-year-old, capable of dealing with small children if required to do so – a perfect dog, in other words.
And we found one.
A three-year-old golden retriever, he had spent his first years in the kennel of a breeder. He was a stud dog, very handsome, but more than that – he was all of the long list of things we had been looking for. And he was delighted to have a boy of his own.
He gave us – and especially Number Three Son – six wonderful years. He died much too soon, at age nine, the week after ‘his boy’ graduated from high school.
We had, because of him, already become a three dog family – two rescued golden girls had joined us by that time. But even with them already in our family, we knew we would continue to make a home for other second-hand dogs. We owed AJ that for the joy he’d given us.
Not many months after AJ died, Gunnar, a flatcoat retriever of sorts, came to stay. Our vet tech said, “He reminds me of AJ. And he needs a home.” All he really had in common with AJ was four feet and an ability to worm his way into our hearts. A more hyper, moody, temperamental, barking, opinionated dog would have been hard to find.
But his fur, a glossy boot black, felt like AJ’s when I stroked it. And after he jumped through the dining room window (which was closed, by the way) the first day he came “to visit,” I realized he wasn’t going to immediately endear himself to anyone else. So yes, he did need a home. He brought as much joy to our lives, in his way, as AJ and the golden girls did.
And when he found the girls boring (they were LOTS older and not given to rough-housing. It was like a teenage boy living with two elderly aunts), we ended up adopting Jake – an eight year old golden who also needed a home. Jake kept Gunnar in line. He charmed Kate Walker. He charmed everyone who came his way from crawling babies to my unhappy-to-be-in-Iowa mother. He never met a sentient being – dog, cat, rabbit, skunk (don’t ask), frog or person – he didn’t like. The feeling was mutual (except for the skunk).
And now there are Micah and Mitch – the trouble twins. More goldens. Mitch came to us a three months – the youngest dog we’ve ever had – because his breeder who had intended to keep him, couldn’t. Micah was fourteen months when his owner had to move into a multi-story apartment building and could no longer get him out to play.
Today – this very day – there will be Duke. He’s Number One Son’s dog right now, rescued from a home that no longer wanted him. Number One Son struggles to make time for him. So this week he will be ours. And next week, if everything goes well, he will be on his way to Montana to become the forever dog for Number Three Son’s family who recently lost a beloved golden far too young.
There have been others – dogs we’ve rescued and taken into our homes and into our hearts – since the day AJ came into our lives. They have all been distinct personalities. They’ve all had baggage of one kind or another. But they have made our lives infinitely richer. They have given us furry bodies to hug, enthusiastic friends to walk and run with, cheerful grins to make us smile, empty plates where the chicken we intended to cook for dinner had been left too close to the counter’s edge (thanks for that, Jake!), and more joy than we ever believed possible.
Puppies are great. Puppies can bring love into lives from the very start. But I wouldn’t trade the second-hand dogs we’ve known and loved for anything on earth.
If you’ve never considered bringing a ‘grown-up’ dog into your life, think about it. There are dogs beyond counting who need forever homes. AJ – and Number Three Son and I – would be happy to tell you that it’s a simply superb idea.
Wherever you live there is likely an animal rescue shelter near you. If you are interested in a particular breed, check the internet for “rescue” and then add the breed of dog you’re looking for. These rescue programs are usually staffed by volunteers who work very very hard to make sure that the dogs in their charge are people-friendly and that the homes they let them go to are a good fit.
Have you opened your home and heart to a ‘rescue dog?’ I’d love to hear about it. I’ll bet others would, too.
AJ thanks you! I do, too.