my other favorite creatures in this world, besides my husband, are our two lab mixes. zuzu is my heart dog, the one who captured my heart first when i saw her on petfinder one morning just over two years ago, before we'd even driven up to butler to the rescuer's home to meet them. we had no intention that day of bringing them home (overtly, anyway). we just went to meet them. but the rescuer said it would be really helpful if we took them that day. this, despite the fact that we had no leashes or collars with us, no bowls, crates, or anything else at home, totally unready. we'd anticipated meeting them, going home (to the apartment in which we still lived that allowed no dogs--we'd just closed on our new house the day before, but had no movers coming for our furniture for another 2.5 weeks), making a smart decision about the dogs, and returning for them later if we decided to adopt them.
but the rescuers were having none of that. they had a tiny house teeming with dogs, a small child, and another baby on the way. they'd rescued luxo and zuzu (then called baby boy and bertha) from a humane society shelter in west virginia, where they'd been turned in with zuzu's 10 puppies and another adolescent dog. zuzu was about a year old and luxo about six months at the time. they weren't listing the dogs as having to be adopted together, but when i saw that they were the only two left out of 13 turn-ins, and i knew we were about to have this house...
yeah, i should back up even more. i never wanted labs. i'd had a lab mix before, with my first husband, and it had been a disaster. i mean, the dog wasn't a disaster--luke was a great dog--smart, affectionate, and as sweet as the day is long. eager to please. and gorgeous. but i was the most clueless owner ever. i knew nothing about having a dog, and certainly nothing about having a big, smart, sporting dog. we'd had a scottie when i was growing up, but my parents' idea of "having a dog" was chaining it up outside in the woods all day and keeping it in the garage all night. for a couple of hours in the evening, maybe it would be allowed in the family room or kitchen, but only parts of the family room where there was no rug (which meant pretty far from any humans). poor angus really led a pretty tragic existence, when i look back on it. so i don't, very often.
anyway, so my first and second dog ownership experiences were disastrous (angus and luke). i won't go into details about luke, but he went to another home after about a year with us where i know he ended up much happier, as he deserved.
i waited 10 years, years i spent learning a lot about dog psychology, training, and behavior, before adopting another dog, and i'm so glad i did. and one of the things i knew was that i needed to get the right dog for me. a mellow dog that didn't require constant attention. i wanted a bull breed, because they tend to fall into that category (and because i simply adore bull breeds): mastiffs, bulldogs, great danes, pugs, and boston terriers were all on my list of favorites.
so in the weeks leading up to the closing on our house, i'd cruise petfinder and other rescue sites every day and show smartboy dogs i liked. he'd show polite interest. but every once in a while, i'd spy what i knew he really wanted--a retriever (golden or lab, he's not particular)--and show him.
and his face would just light up.
he'd coo. he'd sit up. he'd get excited.
these were the ones he really wanted.
so...you know where this story goes, and not only because you've seen the pictures. the man is a good, good man. he doesn't ask much of me in this life. i thought, if we can find the right retriever, maybe we can make this work.
so i kept looking. and one day, on petfinder, i stumbled across zuzu's picture. i wish i had saved that picture. it was soulful. it spoke to me. i knew she was the one for me.
i also saw that she had a buddy, and he looked...boisterous. wow. he was a lot of dog, already, at six months. what were we going to do with this lab-shepherd mix? yikes.
so, i thought, we'll go meet them. just meet them, and see whether they're the right ones for us. if they're not, we'll just come home without them and keep looking. no problem, right?
yeah. so, we get to the rescuer's house, teeming with dogs, totally chaotic, she's on the phone, her husband doesn't really know what's what, her kid is running around, there's cats, there's toys. yow. zuzu, of course, is lying down peacefully amid all of this, and luxo is playing with the other dogs, roughly. and amid all of this, somehow, we reluctantly agree to take them both, that day, and the rescuer's husband cobbles leash-collar contraptions out of some old leashes. loop-de-loop and there you go.
we drove the dogs straight to the big pet superstore at the waterfront, bought a couple hundred dollars worth of pet supplies, though even more than that was already on the way via mail order (i had ordered a bunch of stuff in preparation for some dogs, it just hadn't arrived), and headed to the new house. we moved a mattress into the living room and lived in that house with no furniture until the movers brought it all over 2.5 weeks later.
in their first four months with us, i took them to obedience classes at every nonprofit training center in the pittsburgh area (clicker training at the western pennsylvania humane society on the north side was my favorite by far--i heart maribeth hook!). luxo is still pretty reactive to other dogs, but zuzu passed her canine good citizen and therapy dog international tests on her first try.
ah, yes. luxo. luxo is more smartboy's dog than mine. it's funny how much the dogs are like us. luxo is a smart boy, and, like my smartboy, he is perpetually cheerful and optimistic. he cheerfully trots into his crate every morning so that zuzu can go on her walk, because he knows that the sooner she goes on her walk, the sooner she gets back from her walk, and as soon as she gets back from her walk, he gets to go for his walk. seriously. he does all that math in his head. it's called the premack principle. do something you don't like so much first, and you get something you really want later. it totally works. and he totally gets it, the brilliant little bugger. he also is the quintessential retriever. ask him to bring, and if he can figure out what you want him to bring, he'll bring it. proudly. tail wagging. he loves to bring the remote to anyone who'll let him, because he sees how joyful its recipient is (because the first time we figured out that we could get him to do this, one night when smartboy was on one side of the room and i was on the other, and we were both too lazy to transport it, we were really psyched that he could and would do it for us). his truly favorite things to retrieve, though, are (1) shoes, because their recipient are at least supposed to take him for a walk (smartboy taught him this by teaching him to bring shoes every morning for their walks) and (2) food balls, which are the hollow rubber balls we use to dispense their meals each morning and evening. at meal times, we say, "bring food balls!" and he runs around looking for one, then a second (there are four), bringing them in turn to the food bin, where we fill them with cloud star kibble. they only get fed in their crates (not only prevents food aggression between the two of them and confines messes, but also reinforces the notion that the crate is a great place to be, which is necessary on all sorts of occasions), so luxo runs straight to his crate after he ensures that we're filling the food balls. zuzu usually watches the whole process, then sprints to her crate after watching the last bit of kibble. supervising, i guess.
so they have some pretty mad skills, our labs. but those aren't the ones we love most about them. i love that they wag. and lick. and smile. all the time. when we walk into the room, they're happy to see us. the day i was completely and utterly alone and had just had kuan yin die in my arms, they were with me all day long, sweetly licking my tears every now and then, wagging their tails, and lying right beside me and at my feet. when we're laughing, they're wagging. when we're upset, they're concerned. when we're sleeping, they're beside us. when we've slept longer than they wish we would, they lick, or nuzzle, or otherwise check into things.
in short, the thing they do better than anyone else, the thing i learn best from them--or at least try to--is loving. totally. unconditionally. without judgment. man. i have got to be more labby.