SLICE OF LIFE- THAT DOG THING


I am having coffee with a friend on the patio at Starbucks. I notice the teenagerish golden retriever, past the puppy stage, but not quite a full grown dog, hanging out of the back window when a car drives up, but we are deep in a discussion about aging parents, and I don't pay much attention. Or I don't pay much attention anyway until I feel a wet muzzle under the table, pawing at my hand. The woman tries to drag her dog away, apologizing that her dog, a total stranger, is now licking my hand.

My friend, Terri, just rolls her eyes. She knows me. "She's used to it," she says to the woman. "She's a dog person. Strange dogs come up and lick her all the time."

My new friend, Mavis and I have exchanged pleasantries. I learn that she is seven months old, and has a sister, Mildred, that's a dachshund. I tell her Mavis' mama how much I love golden retrievers, and how much I miss Ramsey, the fifteen-year-old golden I lost about five years ago. She tells me puppy stories of chewed up shoes and neighborhood escapes. All the while, Terri watches in amusement.

Fifteen minutes later, the woman ties my new friends to a table and heads inside to buy her coffee. Terri shakes her head and says to me, "Carol, when the boys are gone, you need to find a volunteer job at a shelter, or with an animal rescue or something. That dog thing…"

I'm not quite sure when this dog thing came into play, but I'm pretty sure Terri's right. Take last night, for instance. I am walking my dog, Star, down 17th Avenue. The houses on 17th are big and stately (nothing like my 1200 square foot bungalow), and many have wrought iron fences around their front yards. Star and I are marching along, minding our own business when a huge black lab, carrying what's left of a blue Nerf football, lopes up to the fence to say hello. I acknowledge him and he hurtles his ball over the fence.

"You want to play?" I ask, stopping my dog to pitch the ball back over the fence. Star and I continue or walk, but we have not gone 25 feet when the blue partial football lands in front of me again. I pick it up  and hurl it back again. And again we continue our walk. And once again, the ball lands in front of me. As I throw it back a third time, I wonder how many times a day this crazy guy finds a playmate. I wonder how many people are stupid enough to stop and play ball with a strange dog, or whether this crazy guy ever encounters someone who leaves his ball on the wrong side of the fence. I can't help throwing it back.  It's that "dog thing."

And then there is my current obsession. Several weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a new website. Www.explore.org has webcams in various habitats and locales all over the world. Right now, one of their cameras is set up in a whelping pen at the Warrior Canine Connection, an organization that raises golden retrievers and labs to become service dogs for veterans with mobility issues. Interestingly, the service dog puppies are actually trained by other veterans  from Walter Reed Hospital, working in conjunction with a certified service dog trainer. Training the service dog puppies is part of the soldiers' therapy to recover from their own injuries.

On June 24th, Holly, a golden retriever mama, gave birth to six puppies. The puppies will eventually go into training to become service dogs (they already know how to sit!), but right now, they are just roly poly bundles of fur, playing jungle gym on top of their mother, biting each other's tails, and ferociously wrestling with a plethora of toys. The camera is on 24/7 and I can't even tell you how many times a day I have to check in with the puppies. It's that dog thing.

Next year, after the boys are both gone, I am thinking I will need a new hobby. Not sure whether I will work at the Dumb Friends League, or foster for the Golden Retriever Rescue, or work with a service puppy, but I'm pretty sure I will do something with dogs.

I just can't help that "dog thing."