Category Archives: golden retriever

Ruminations on posterity

3 generations

Sabrina, Victoria and me

I stepped away from center stage some time ago, ceding the spotlight to my children and, with it, the drama attendant in staring in one’s own story. Every once in a while, one of their dramas sloshes over into my life or I am invited or even summoned to pull on maternal hip waders and plunge into the guck welling up from the drains . . . This provided that I remember that my role is a supporting one and that any advice I might proffer will probably be ignored. Just as I, during my turn in the spotlight, ignored much of my mother’s advice. To my considerable detriment.

As regards the Afterlife, I put no stock in the Resurrection. There are just too many logistical problems. Which body gets resurrected: the sixteen year old body or the eighty-six year old body? Is there a choice? Because, if there isn’t, I’m inclined to give the whole operation a pass. And the only Heaven of which I can conceive is reintegration into the cosmos as energy, an obliteration of personhood that is surely the opposite of why people conjured up a Heaven in the first place – so that they could imagine a way in which they might continue to exist as individuals. That becomes less and less important to me as time goes on and I realize that, though unique, I am no big whop, and, in truth, the only creatures with whom  I, at present, might long to be reunited are my mother and various, deceased pets, all of whom, in fact, do live on in a way I will explain.

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The Golden Retriever

After our beloved golden retriever Buddy died, plunging us into the most terrible grief, I encountered a woman who had owned a string of goldens. She advised me to get another pronto. “They are so alike genetically that, in no time at all, it will seem as though you never lost him,” she told me. She was right. Five years ago we bought our Nellie and now I remember Buddy with great tenderness, love and gratitude, but never grief, never pain. Nellie has effectively taken his place. She has become,  unequivocally,  The Golden Retriever.

Me, Mom, Brina_NEW

Mom, Me and Sabrina, 1990

As for my mother, she lives on in me, in my daughter Sabrina and now in my granddaughter Victoria, whose birth  has caused me to reflect on these things . . . that and the fact that  I have taken on my mother’s last great role – that of grandmother — and, as such, one whose death would not be entirely unexpected.    I may not  long for eternal life in any personal sense, embodied or no, but, when I first looked into Victoria’s navy blue eyes, I realized that it was my mother’s eyes looking back, that Mom was in there all right, tangled up in the DNA that expresses itself in her first great grandchild. Just as I am.  Just as my daughter Sabrina is.

And that’s fine with me.

Not on my watch

Buddy and me.  I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy.

Buddy and me. I might have been a little overprotective of Buddy. Just a little.

Last night my husband and I had an argument.

Well, a nano spat.

We were about to watch an episode of Borgen, when, remote in hand, he suddenly closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and pressed the fingers of one hand to his forehead, looking stricken. It occurred to me that he might be having a stroke. After all, it’s not as if fifty-nine year old Type-A men don’t ever have strokes and Ken’s life is not entirely without stress.   For example, he is married to someone who, by her own admission, can occasionally be a teensy bit of a demando-guts.  Also, a decade ago, he had a bout of Central Serous Retinopathy, a condition brought on by stress — in CSR, fluid buildup under the retinal pigment epithelium of the eye results, temporarily in his case, in vision distortion. As disconcerting as this was, it did come in handy one Christmas, when two of our semi-adult children were going at each other, hammer and tongs. Finally, unable to stand their bickering and recriminations a second longer, I leaped to my feet, pointed dramatically in Ken’s direction and cried, “If you don’t stop this immediately, your father’s eye is going to explode!” Whereupon they took it outside. (They get along fine now.)

So, bearing in mind my husband’s advancing age and blood pressure issues and aware that, one day, one of us is going to not be OK and could that moment . . . that terrible moment possibly be this moment, the moment everything changes and all is lost? Bearing all that in mind, I asked, “Are you all right?”

To which he responded with a terse, “Quiet!”

I waited, leaning forward in my chair, my eyes fixed on him.  I waited some more. Then, because his demeanor had not altered and remembering that, in cases of stroke, it’s important to act quickly though in what precise way I can never remember, I tried a second time: “Ken,” I asked, enunciating carefully, “Are. You. All. Right. Question mark.”

Sabrina and me

Sabrina and me

Now, I admit I can be overly solicitous on occasion. When my daughter Sabrina was a baby, I was so terrified she would succumb to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that I used to creep into her bedroom when she was sleeping and hold a mirror under her tiny  nose. If ever she seemed suspiciously still to me — and this was not infrequently — I would wake her up to make sure she was alive.  Neither of us got a lot of sleep that first year.

Once, in a sun-baked and utterly deserted park in Mt. Olive, the pickle capitol of North Carolina, I ignored cries for help from the same husband for whose health I was now so solicitous in order to save Buddy, our aged and very infirm golden retriever, from nothing at all.   This is what happened. At the same moment as a colony of fire ants was inexplicably swarming up Ken’s bare legs, I  spotted a lone car on the distant horizon. And I mean distant. Convinced that this same car was going to suddenly accelerate, cover the half mile or so that separated us in a matter of seconds and flatten Buddy, I left Ken to fend for himself while I  took off after the dog, flailing my arms and crying, “No! Buddy! Stop!”

Just the other day, I tried to get our current golden retriever, Nellie, up for her late afternoon pee. To no avail. This was beyond alarming, especially if you’re me, hence, easily alarmed; Nellie came into this world spring-loaded; she is the canine equivalent of Tigger.  The prospect of a walk, any walk, sends her into virtual paroxysms. What could possibly be the matter with her, I wondered?  Was she sick? Then I remembered the asphalt on her paws from an earlier outing with our dog walker.  Had she licked her paws and, in so doing, poisoned herself? Was she dying?  I consulted my iPad for an antidote to asphalt. Finding none, I gave her a bowl of milk, because, you know, milk. I then made an emergency vet appointment for an hour later and commenced pacing frantically back and forth, wringing my hands.  Was this it?  Was this how Nellie died?  Was I going to lose my baby?   Then  I offered her a dentabone. Turns out, a long-lasting oral care chew was all it took to reinvigorate her. Up she leaped, out we went; she peed. I wept with relief, then called the vet and cancelled the appointment. We went on with our day.

Nellie was born spring-loaded.


Meanwhile, here was my beloved husband, frozen in an attitude of pain, his expression that of someone who has just had an ice pick driven through his forehead.

“Are you all right?” I repeated for the third time.

“Damn it!” he said then, opening his eyes and glaring at me.  “I was thinking! Can’t a person think?”

Not if they look like they’re having a stroke, they can’t.  Not on my watch.

Clan of the Dog People

Cave painting of girl with dog

Cave painting of girl with dog

When National Geographic’s Genographic Project was all shiny and new, my husband Ken and I joined 678,632 other individuals in over 140 countries in sending in samples of our DNA to be included in the database. This was not inexpensive, but we figured it was our contribution to scientific research and, besides, who doesn’t want to unlock the secrets hidden in their DNA?

In due time we received a package from National Geographic and the big reveal was this: our ancestors originated in Africa long, long ago, but had more recently hailed from Northern Europe.  To which we could only say, “Duh!”   As it turns out, we had opted for the Economy DNA Package. If we had wanted to know whether we had inherited a genetic predisposition to like cilantro or what percentage Neanderthal we were, well, that’ll be extra.

Or would it?

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise?  Not really.

Our ancestral path from Africa to Northern Europe. Surprise? Not really.

My grandfather, James H. Zant, who liked a good story, told this one about an acquaintance’s visit to a local Cherokee chief.   “Dig deep, White Man,” the chief reportedly told his visitor.  “Puppy at bottom of pot.”

A few nights ago, I found myself sitting in a darkened room, mired in thought,  when our dog Nellie deposited herself before me, trawling for attention. I obliged, closing my eyes as I scratched her ears, and conjured up an image of myself in my mind’s eye.  However, instead of picturing the little old lady  I am all too rapidly metamorphosing into and her (sort of trusty) dog,  what I saw was a girl — nine or ten, Neanderthal, grubby and sitting on a rock in a dark place barely illuminated by flickering fire light, scratching the ears of a wolf cub.

Now, my view of reality has always been a tad elastic — the result, no doubt, of coming of age in the late sixties and early seventies and all that that entailed — so it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to conclude l that what I had glimpsed in my mind’s eye was a distant ancestor, one embedded in my DNA, that  I had, in fact, descended from those humanoids who, laboring in different places over vast expanses of time, succeeded in the magic trick of turning wolves into dogs,  that, just as our domestication of dogs impacted their genome, so their domestication of us  has impacted ours, meaning that the term “Dog People” describes something not superficial, but very fundamental.    Which explains SO much. Why I cannot imagine a happy and contented life without a dog. Why my father, speaking of his life in the nursing home, says, “The only thing I really miss is a dog . . . ,”  his voice trailing wistfully off.

Golden Retriever?  Hummm...

Golden Retriever? Hummm…

Back when we acquired Nellie, we were unconvinced that she was, in fact, the Golden Retriever the Kijiji ad purported her to be, given her ridiculously long legs, her narrow muzzle and crooked tail, and, all of it, the whole nine yards, completely wired. While we never suffered from Buyers’ Remorse – well, maybe just a little when she hoovered up a finishing nail, necessitating a $2,500  surgery – we were, nevertheless,  curious to know the ancestry of our whacky little bundle of fur and fun. So we tested her DNA.

Turns out she’s a Golden Retriever – quel surprise! — just the way it turns out Ken and I are Northern Europeans. As for delving any more deeply into our DNA, there’s really no need now. Not after my little epiphany.   I know who I am, down deep:  a  Dog Person with slightly more than a dollop of Neanderthal. As for Nellie, she’s clearly a wolf.


See Spot Run!

fatNearly thirty years ago I found myself in Newtown, Connecticut, celebrating the Fourth of July with some second cousins of my first husband whom his mother had browbeaten us into contacting when we moved to Cambridge, MA. Steve was a cop and Lynette was a secretary. They lived in a neat little Cape Cod on a well-manicured street and had two spindly little kids, made all the more spindly by the fact that each of their parents weighed in at well over three hundred pounds. They were also really nice folks, Steve and Lynette, salt of the earth. Steve confided to my ex that the few extra pounds had proven an asset in his line of work, since it increased the intimidation factor. “The bad guys,” he said, indicating his formidable paunch. “They don’t want to mess with this.” Pre-Adam Lanza, Newtown was a sleepy little burg, clearly untroubled by serious malfeasance if would-be preps could be deterred from crime simply by the prospect – as alarming as that prospect was — of being sat on by one of Newtown’s Finest.

Lynette wore her arm – which, both in size and appearance, resembled a large ham — in a sling. She had broken it rolling down the stairs the previous week. “She got wedged at an angle between the wall and the bannister,” Steve explained. “Like really stuck. We had to call in the paramedics to dislodge her.” Lynette laughed and shrugged. “I get stuck a lot.” I brought a pecan pie for dessert. It had raisins in it. Lynette was surprised. “Raisins in a pecan pie,” she said. “Well . . . that’s different!” She did not appear to hold out much hope for a pie that contained both nuts and dried fruit.

After dinner we retired to a park to watch tiny boys play softball. We sat on lawn chairs arranged alongside a baseball diamond — all the parents did and every single one of these parents, without exception, was spherical. This would not perhaps have been so striking had not each and every one of the tiny boys, without exception, looked like escapees from a North Korean orphanage. The juxtaposition of the leviathan adults sprawled like beached whales atop groaning lawn chairs, lustily bawling at their spindly offspring to, “Run!” “Stop him!” and, “Slide! Slide!” all the time mowing down jumbo-sized bags of potato chips and vats of sugary drink, struck me at the time as . . . as what? The word that came to mind at the time was, “grotesque.”

Fast forward thirty years.

Nellie having a blast at Lake Nellie

Nellie having a blast at Lake Nellie

Later this month we will travel north to Timmins, Ontario to visit my in laws. If the weather cooperates, we will spend a day at my brother-in-law’s cottage on the aptly named Nellie Lake.

This is what will happen at Nellie Lake.

Everyone will park his or her ass on a lawn chair, down one alcoholic beverage after another and watch Nellievision. Nellievision is what happens when a half a dozen adults and a few bored recent escapees from adolescence blearily eyeball Nellie, our four year old golden retriever, as she proceeds to have the absolute time of her life treeing squirrels, frantically digging in the mud in the hopes of finding toads to lick or varmints to inhale and swimming out to fetch sticks thrown far out into the Lake. “Chase those geese, Nellie!” everyone will cry. “Don’t let them poop on our beach!” And obligingly off Nellie will swim, in dogged pursuit of the offending geese.

And the sight of all of us drunkenly urging the dog on to new feats of athleticism somehow puts me in mind of that long ago Independence Day in Newtown. Only the word that comes to my mind this time is, “Fun.” It seems that, with the passage of time, I have become less judgy. Also less possessed of a waist. And, yes, I believe I will have another and, Nellie, clean up that goose poop for us, won’t you? Because, God knows: you’ve eaten worse.  Yes, you have.

Rolling in Dead Things




It happened again. I turned the corner onto a path in the Fingal Wildlife Management Area just in time to spot our golden retriever Nellie suck up a toad, spit it out and, lips curled back in a hideous grimace, start foaming wildly at the mouth. And when I say ‘wildly’, I’m not exaggerating. Imagine a firefighter spraying flame retardant on a raging fire from a hose. That’s the kind of volume we’re talking about — the kind that just keeps coming.

One time she licked a toad just at the start of our walk and I had to drag her back to the car to wash her mouth out. We encountered a group of Downs Syndrome children out for a walk with their parents. I was concerned that the sight of a grimacing dog foaming at the mouth would frighten them. “She’s not rabid,” I explained. “She just licked a toad.” Far from being terrified, they offered us their water, which was very helpful since I had a limited supply in the car. You need a lot of water to wash away toad juice; the procedure is a violent one and not unlike water boarding.

Every time Nellie licks a toad and we go through the tantamount to torture thing, I think, “Well, that’s the last time she’ll try that!” Time and time again, she proves me wrong.   That’s because Nellie isn’t very bright. What she is is enthusiastic. One of the things she is enthusiastic about is toads.

Another thing Nellie is enthusiastic about is visitors. When Nellie spots someone coming up the walk to our house, she becomes unhinged, ricocheting around the hall like an Asian Carp in a bath tub. Think Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away when he finally glimpses the ship that will rescue him from the desert island on which he has been stranded. It’s all I can do to keep her from exploding through the front door and flattening the hapless visitor. I hold her at bay with one arm while I slide my body through the smallest crack in the door I can manage  and onto the front porch to see what this person wants. Of course, there have been occasions when I have let Nellie have her way – the time the Jehovah’s Witness came to the door, for example. As it turned out, Nellie’s extreme pleasure in greeting the Jehovah’s Witness proved a more powerful deterrent to future visits than my insistence that I am a secular humanist and uninterested in that sect’s blood-soaked brand of Salvation. Good dog.

(Right now some of you are saying, “Why doesn’t she train that dog properly?” And you would be right. And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.)

Another thing Nellie likes is dead things. All dogs like dead things, although, for the life of me, I don’t know why. I go out of my way to avoid dead things. Nellie goes out of her way to roll in dead things. My previous dog, Buddy, was an intellectual. He may have liked to roll in dead things, but he didn’t publicize it. He was discreet.  Not Nellie. The moment she gets a whiff of a dead thing, she hurtles towards it like Superman towards a disaster in progress. She hits the ground rolling, her legs joyously pumping in the air and a big canine grin on her face. Right now there are a lot of dead things at Fingal. I know because Nellie has rolled in each and every one to the accompaniment of me shrieking: “No, Nellie! Stop that! I just bathed you! No!”

Nellie is a water dog, which you would think might lend itself well to living on a great inland sea as we do. There are, however, a lot of dead things on the beach – mainly fish, but also the odd sea gull or tern. Once my daughter and I took Nellie and my grand dog Albert to Port Burwell’s dog beach. It was a little off season and there was no one there to watch as Sabrina and I ran after the two dogs, flailing our arms and screaming, “No! Put that down! I mean it! No, stop! Don’t eat that!”

Pond at Fingal Wildlife Management Area

Pond at Fingal Wildlife Management Area

Over the Easter weekend, my husband and I took the dogs to the pond side of Fingal. As we were finishing up the walk, Nellie fell behind. We called and called and eventually she appeared. She was a little dirty so my husband threw a couple of sticks far into the pond for her to fetch before we loaded her in the car and started back to Port Stanley. On the way home we sang along to bluegrass music. We sang loudly. When we arrived home and opened the back of the car to let Nellie out, we found a pool of vomit. In the pool of vomit were three tiny critters, each about three inches long. Apparently Nellie had discovered a nest of baby animals, snarfed up three, gone for a couple of energetic swims, then upchucked the poor things in the boot of the car in that extravagant way dogs vomit, all the while my husband and I were yodeling away in the front seat to “Little Miss Blue Eyes.”  The babies were intact, not chewed. She had literally hoovered them up before spewing them out. We tossed them in the ravine, feeling bad that they had died for naught. Later we asked our exterminator what the animals likely were. He said they were probably moles. We dined out on the story for weeks, but we changed the critters from moles to bunnies. It was Easter, after all, and that made for a better story.



This was the picture of Nellie in the Kijiji ad

This was the picture of Nellie in the Kijiji ad

When Buddy, our previous  dog, died in March 2010, I phoned my daughter Sabrina and asked her to call her brother and sister and other family members to let them know. “I can’t talk about it,” I told her between sobs. My husband and I took a couple of days off work, which we spent poring over photos of our darling boy, weeping and gulping whiskey. Then my dear friend Linda Nicholas came over and helped us craft a collage made up of Buddy’s photographs, celebrating his life from precious puppy to elder states-dog. Finally we were healed enough to resume our lives or, at least, to go outside.

But not truly healed. I understood that the desolation I was experiencing could only be assuaged by procuring another dog. This is because I am a Hardy and that’s what we do when presented with the gaping hole in one’s heart that is no-dog – get another as soon as humanly possible, notwithstanding the occasional disastrous consequence. (See my post on Crocapuppy.)

My husband, however, is not a Hardy. He is a Trevenna. He loved Buddy every bit as much as I did, but saw no need to replace The Perfect Dog. And he wanted the relative freedom that comes with no dependents. He prevailed upon me to wait for one year before getting another dog, figuring that by that time I would realize how liberating it was to go pooch-less. When Sabrina heard about this plan, she was skeptical. “He doesn’t know our family,” she said.

To heal ourselves . . . and because Buddy’s infirmity and our unwillingness to leave him in a kennel had meant that, for the past several years, we had gone nowhere we couldn’t drive to in a car with him in tow . . . we traveled  to Hawaii.  While  there, prior to a hike through the jungle to a waterfall,  we toured a  taro farm and, together with a family of four from the States, enjoyed one of those slightly cringe-worthy cultural experiences wherein you are exposed to traditional culture and  compelled, in front of other people, to admit the reason why you came to this remote part of Hawaii, so far from the beaches of Waikiki .  I can’t remember precisely what the family said — something having to do with togetherness and adventure and being a family.   Then it was our turn. “We are just trying to recover from the death of our dog,” we said, feeling pathetic.  “We’re taking a year,” my husband added.  “To mourn.”    Later the wife pulled me aside and whispered, “Just get another one.   Don’t wait. What’s the point?”

All in all, I lasted five months, during which time I spent my leisure hours immersed in puppy porn on the Internet. I knew where every golden retriever puppy within a one hundred mile radius of our house was at any time. Then one day I saw an ad on Kijiji – a four month old female golden retriever in Toronto looking for her “forever home.” The puppy in the photograph was adorable; I couldn’t get her sweet image out of my mind. For a week, I kept returning to Kijiji, returning to that photograph. In my head I named the puppy Nellie, after my mother. I fantasized about Nellie and our life together, of walks and swims and couch cuddles. Then on the seventh night I dreamed that she was calling me, crying for me to come and get her. The next morning I told my husband about my dream.

Then it happened: he had a moment of weakness. “Call the number and, if she’s still there, we’ll go and get her,” he said.  Clearly he was counting on such an adorable puppy having a short shelf life. He was out of luck: she was there.

“If we go and get her, are you going to resent me going forward?” I asked.

“Probably,” he said.

Nellie  in her "Little Lamb" pose

Nellie in her “Little Lamb” pose

I considered this for a moment, but decided that I would just have to find a way of making it up to him. We got in the car and drove to a downtown Toronto address, two hours away, and a young Chinese woman named Kathy buzzed us up to an apartment in a high rise building.  She explained in broken English that she and her husband had never owned a dog before and hadn’t realized how much of a commitment it was. They worked long shifts and the puppy was left alone a lot. “She is lonely,” Kathy explained.  “She needs to be somewhere with people.”

Nellie at five months

Nellie at five months — all sinew and nerve!

No sooner had we walked through the door than a ball of fur and legs came hurtling through the air as though  shot from a cannon and began to maul us in frenzied greeting.  We were later to learn that this is how Nellie greets everyone; at the time we thought it was because we were special.  To our great surprise,  this puppy didn’t look like any golden retriever puppy we had ever seen and certainly not like our Precious Boy.  Rather than being soft and furry and pudding-y, she was all sinew and nerve —  leggy and thin with a crooked tail and a narrow muzzle. It didn’t matter. She was a puppy and I had her in my arms; there was no way I was going to not take her with us.  Tucking her, squirming and thrashing, under one arm, we summarily  forked over the cash and headed out, Nellie in tow, poor Kathy, waving and tearful as the car pulled away from the curb. In my haste to make off with the goods, we had, I realize now, not given her time to say goodbye to a puppy she loved enough to want a good home for.

And that is how it came to pass that today, when once again I took the now four year old Nellie, with whom I am, incidentally, utterly besotted,  to Fingal Wildlife Management Area and she, once again, rolled in  shit, compelling me to bathe her for the second time in so many days, I do not complain, but am only grateful that she is our dog and that ours is her Forever Home.


Whoa, Nellie!