Labrador Retrievers are the most popular breed of dog in the United States. Excellent family dogs, Labs are prized for their temperament, their intelligence, their loyalty, their looks -- and their gentle way with children. Unfortunately, popularity has its down- side. And many wonderful Labs are homeless, abandoned, or abused. And rescue organizations have difficulty placing them all. Gail Conway tells the story of one sweet Lab who was lucky enough to find a new home late in life.
by Gail Conway
When I filled out the paperwork for Lab Rescue and mailed it on August 1, 1995, I knew wanted an adult dog. I had heard great stories from people who had adopted older dogs and felt I was ready for one. A month later, during Labor Day weekend, I got a call about a yellow female. The catch? She was nine.
I couldn't believe it. Nine! Who gives up a nine-year-old? Who adopts a nine-year-old? And could I handle the trauma of possibly losing a geriatric dog so soon after adopting it? When I specified "adult" on the application, I was thinking six, not nine years old. All kinds of horrible scenarios ran through my head. I would be adopting vet bills. The dog would die within a year. Yet in spite of my trepidation and fears, I agreed to hear the dog's story.
The woman from Lab Rescue told me the dog was a product of divorce--the family was splitting up and initially the husband had kept the dog. A month later he told his wife to take the dog. He didn't want it anymore. But the wife had moved into an apartment that didn't allow dogs over 20 pounds. She took the dog anyway and tried, unsuccessfully, to find it a good home. Finally, she took the dog to the vet. Since the dog was healthy, the vet wouldn't put it down, but gave the wife the number to the local Lab Rescue. The owner called. She could keep the dog only through the weekend.
They told me the dog was in good shape for a nine-year-old, housebroken, good with kids, spayed, and up-to-date on all her shots. The adoption fee would be waived since she was a senior dog. All they wanted me to do was look at her. Take some time to think about it. They didn't really want to place the dog in the kennel. It would be traumatic for the dog and costly for Lab Rescue. Not many people want to adopt such an old dog, the woman explained. She might never get adopted and then Lab Rescue would have to determine if she was worth the expense...
I panicked. If I didn't look at her, she might be put to sleep! I couldn't have that on my conscience, so I decided to call the owner. She gave me directions. I called a friend of mine and off we went to drive one hour north to look at a dog. I hadn't even bothered to ask the owner her name.
I was so nervous I missed the exit on purpose and kept driving to Kittery. I thought a little shopping might calm me down. One hundred dollars later, I was still nervous, but on my way to see a dog.
When we arrived at the apartment, the owner's daughter greeted us. She asked me if I had come to see Penny. I didn't know. Nobody had told me the dog's name. Now I was really spooked. When I was a kid, my first lab was named Penny.
I heard one "woof" and met a friendly, overweight (approximately 75 pounds) yellow female with a slight limp. All her stuff was packed and she was ready to leave. Leave! And I was just supposed to look at her. She had a dirty red collar, no leash--only a rope--and a thin bed. I spent about 20 minutes learning all about Penny's medical history. She had ACL surgery as a puppy. She was definitely overweight, but otherwise fine.
I went outside with my friend. "What should I do?" I asked.
My supportive companion said, "Take the dog! Or give me one good reason to leave her behind and we will."
I couldn't think of a thing. Overweight. Friendly. With a bad knee. Just like me. How could I leave her?
Penny walked with us out to my car and jumped in. She never looked back. She was a perfect lady the whole trip home.
That first night I kept checking on her every two hours to ensure she was still breathing. Honest. Of course, she slept soundly the whole night.
Over the next few days, I though I was going to die. She came with fleas--and she was allergic to them. She was scratching and chewing herself raw. But I didn't know it was because of the fleas. I was in tears, talking with the Lab Rescue people, thinking she hated me. They suggested I make an emergency appointment with the vet, where we determined the real cause and got the right medicine.
While the house was being sprayed for the evil little pests, Penny and I spent all day at the park, visited some friends, and we began to make friends with each another. Maybe not best friends, but friends.
It took her about a week to learn the routine. Get up, have breakfast, go for our walk. Then I go to work. When I come home, we have dinner and go for a walk. It was working out great. She started sleeping in my room at the foot of the bed. She came to see me at the door when I got home from work. I lost a few food items, but otherwise we were doing just fine.
Then came the real test. A friend of mine was getting married and I had to fly to Chicago for the weekend. So I packed Penny's stuff and took her to stay with my mom. Penny spent the entire weekend following my mom's black rescue lab around the house--and eating everything within reach. I called several times to check on her, and the only complaint my mom had was that Penny had somehow managed to steal a stick of butter off the counter and eat it! When I arrived late Sunday afternoon to pick her up she was so excited to see me she cried. I cried too.
As I was putting her things in the car, I heard a thud. Penny had tried to crash through my mom's storm door. I think she thought I was going to leave her again. There's still a dent in the door where her head hit. That night, she jumped in my bed when it was time to go to sleep. That's when I knew she was my dog and no one else's.
Now, Penny and I are best friends. She helped me pick out my husband--in fact, she's in most of our wedding photos. We go everywhere together. I just wish I could find a job where I could bring her with me to work.
Penny turned 12 in January, and is going strong. At a svelte 61 pounds, she's beautiful. She still loves to retrieve, but she gets tired a little sooner than she used to. She loves to come skiing with us and adores all the neighborhood kids.
We still do lots of Lab Rescue work, and Penny is the poster dog for adult labs. Everyone wants a younger dog until they meet Penny.
And to think I almost didn't want her.
Copyright © 1998 by Gail Conway.
Gail Conway volunteers at Lab Rescue of Massachusetts.
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