90: Man’s Best Friend

90: Man’s Best Friend

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Man’s Best Friend

You may have a dog that won’t sit up, roll over or even cook breakfast, not because she’s too stupid to learn how but because she’s too smart to bother.

~Rick Horowitz

My avid outdoorsman father decided our family needed a dog. He envisioned a well-trained hiking, hunting and fishing companion and set out to find a puppy who fit the bill. Sugar, a rambunctious chocolate Lab, seemed to be a perfect match. Even at a young age, she had beautiful lines, an overabundance of energy, and a sweet personality.

There were early warning signs that Sugar might not be the companion my father expected. My mother was told that Sugar could perhaps “find a better fit for an obedience class.”

The first hiking outing established Sugar’s innate talent and enthusiasm for finding and rolling in anything designed to make the trip home as unpleasant as possible. The second displayed her expert ability in beehive hunting and dispersing. Had my dad been a honey collector, this would have come in handy. For the average hiker, hunter and fisherman, it just meant investing in a large supply of baking soda.

My dad’s hope never dimmed, however. One day, he heard the telltale signs of the bark of a dog on an animal’s trail. He ran out to the back yard to see which animal had inspired Sugar to find her inner hunter. Sugar’s excited bark escalated through the woods, accompanied by a large crashing noise. She had a big one! Mom was the first to see the prey emerge. She giggled. We giggled. My dad rolled his eyes. Sugar stood in the back yard, tail wagging, next to the black and white cow she had driven into our yard. Dad gave up hunting soon after.

Still, the hopes for his fisherman water dog never dimmed. The first trips up to the family’s lake property, Sugar was reticent around the water.

“She’s just a puppy,” my mom counseled. “Maybe next summer.”

The next summer Dad was ready. “This,” he announced with excitement, “will be Sugar’s big water year.” He proudly gave Sugar a pep talk all the way down to the water. Stick in hand, he looked Sugar in the eyes, and tossed the stick twenty feet off the dock. “Go get it, girl.”

Sugar stared at Dad.

“Come on, Sugar, go.”

The stick floated on the surface, beckoning.

Dad got another stick.

Sugar lay down on the dock.

Dad got a treat.

Sugar left the dock.

Dad had an idea. “She’s a Lab. All Labs swim. She just needs to get used to the idea.” He called Sugar back down to the dock. “Watch this,” he said, and then picked her up and tossed her in the water off the dock.

We all called from the shore twenty feet away. “Come on, Sugar. Come on, girl.”

Her head broke the surface of the water. Sugar was not coming. Sugar was not swimming. Sugar was panicking.

Dad threw a large piece of wood for her to climb up on. Sugar ignored it. Her breaths became more and more labored as she attempted to get all four of her paws out of the water vertically. Sugar, the water Lab, was drowning.

Dad jumped in, between Sugar and the shore, to coax her in and show her the way. She spotted Dad and began swimming frantically towards him. It was working. Sugar was making her way towards the shore.

Sugar reached Dad. Instead of continuing to swim to shore, she clearly decided her rescuer had arrived. She tried to climb up on him, out of the water. The more Dad pushed her away, the more determined she was to remain on him. Now it was my dad’s breaths that were becoming more and more labored. Slowly, he managed to swim the fifteen feet to shore with Sugar scratching and clinging to his back.

After that day, Dad and Sugar came to an unspoken understanding. Dad would take his children fishing and hiking and on all his outdoor adventures. Sugar would get to be the at-home cheerleader with Mom. This relationship worked wonderfully. We children avoided all things smelly, large hives of bees, and played, waded and fished with gusto in the water. Sugar stayed at home, curled in her bed, chased butterflies (and the occasional cow) and dutifully greeted the incoming adventurers with joyful barks, vigorous tail-wagging and lots of wet kisses. She was still “man’s best friend.”

~Julie Reece-DeMarco

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