This piece is dedicated to my middle sister April.
Philadelphia, PA – 1978
My middle sister April always wanted to get a dog. So my parents finally relented and agreed.
She knew exactly the kind of dog she wanted. A black Labrador Retriever. Had to be female.
I remember the day my father, my sister, and I drove up to where we were to get the dog. It was somewhere in rural Pennsylvania.
We get to the house and met a nice older couple who bred dogs. They take us down the basement and there is the parents of what appears to be six crazy puppies running around everywhere. Literally bumping into our legs. They’re all black and the scene is chaotic.
My father wanted a pure bred animal so he found these folks who had papers on the father and mother’s pedigrees.
The gentleman is picking up the puppies one by one and checking the sex of each one. He finally finds the only female. She’s naturally a bit smaller than the males but that fairly common. She’s a cute little nugget head.
My dad does the necessary paperwork and payment and we’re off with a new puppy dog! I don’t even know what we got her home in. Was she in April’s lap, in a little box, or a carrier? I just don’t remember.
I do remember getting her home and we set her on the floor. She ran through the kitchen and then under the dining room table. I follow her and see the first thing she did upon arriving in her new home, was to go to the bathroom on the carpet under the table.
“Mom! The dog is doing its business under the table!”
“Come grab a wet rag and wipe it up.”
“It’s not the kind you can clean up with a rag, Mom!”
“Oh my God!”
The dog had been in residence for less than a minute and managed to shit on the dining room floor.
But that’s normal puppy stuff. It usually isn’t long before they want to go outside to do their business. Dogs are den dwellers. They don’t foul their nests.
The Labrador Retriever, or just Labrador, is a type of retriever-gun dog. The Labrador is one of the most popular breeds of dog in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
A favorite disability assistance breed in many countries, Labradors are frequently trained to aid the blind, those who have autism, to act as a therapy dog, or to perform screening and detection work for law enforcement and other official agencies. Additionally, they are prized as sporting and hunting dogs.
A few kennels breeding their ancestors, the St. John’s water dog, were in England. At the same time, a combination of the sheep protection policy in Newfoundland and rabies quarantine in the United Kingdom, led to the gradual demise of the St. John’s water dog in Canada.
In the 1830s, the 10th Earl of Home and his nephews the 5th Duke of Buccleuch and Lord John Scott, had imported progenitors of the breed from Newfoundland to Europe for use as gun dogs. Another early advocate of these Newfoundland dogs, or Labrador Retrievers as they later became known, was the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury who bred them for their expertise in waterfowling.
During the 1880s, the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch and the 12th Earl of Home collaborated to develop and establish the modern Labrador breed. The dogs Buccleuch Avon and Buccleuch Ned, given by Malmesbury to Buccleuch, were mated with bitches carrying blood from those originally imported by the 5th Duke and the 10th Earl of Home. The offspring are considered to be the ancestors of modern Labradors.
The dog was a bit rambunctious. But I had never owned a dog so I didn’t know what they were like to live with. It seemed like many of our neighbors had dogs, mostly German shepherds. (That was a very popular breed back in the 60’s and 70’s.
As she grew, she would sometimes have these snap fits. No biting. That never happened. But she would start running through the house like a rabid dog. We didn’t have wall to wall carpets back then. Just hardwood floors with large area rugs throughout the house. The force and thrust generated by this dog would literally roll up the carpets during her trajectory. My little sisters and I would just leap up onto the furniture in the living room to get out of her way.
My mother would just open the back door leading to the yard and out she’d go. Running like an animal possessed.
The dog chewed up and destroyed a few things in the house. One time I went into my room and saw that the entire back of one of my sneakers had been bitten clean off. It looked like a billiard ball-sized shark bite. The shoe was ruined.
Another time I walked into my room and one of my songbooks were ripped apart. I flipped out. That was a book of lyrics and chords of the original songs I had written.
“Mom! Look what the dog did!”
“You shouldn’t have left it on the floor.”
Things were getting worse. The dog would pull when you tried to walk her. I mean like pulling really hard and gasping. I couldn’t understand why the dog would choke herself like this. But again, I knew nothing about raising a dog. I was just a teen dude that wanted to play guitar and write songs. The dog was just kind of a pain in the ass.
Sometimes she would get out and run away. We’d find her up the street and have to chase her around and bring her back.
Remember during this time we were living in Philly and my dad was working at a bank down the shore. He would just swing in on the weekends. We were all cool with that, but we were all getting to a breaking point with this feral animal. It was time for a family meeting.
So when dad returned on the weekend, we all sat down at the dinner table as a family and talked out the situation. We all explained our feelings about the situation. It was like a court case. Everyone had input. Even my baby sister Gabrielle.
There was talk of getting rid of the animal. Most of us were leaning towards that. We really were at our wit’s end. I can see my sister April’s face even today. A grimace of mute protest. Tears streaming down her face. She must have felt terrible. She was the middle kid. She was the one that was always fighting to get attention. Not Janice the number one first-born and daddy’s favorite. Not the son. Not the baby Gabby. So well-behaved and intelligent. She was just April in the middle. I never felt that way about her. I always thought of April as the one who was tough on the outside but would give you her last dollar and the shirt off her back if you needed it. I always considered her the most beautiful of all of the children in the family. She was always my little pal growing up. We used to play together and fight like any other siblings, but we always made up.
It was breaking her heart. We were all visibly upset. We took this little pup from its parents and brothers and now we were talking about banishing her from our lives.
We pleaded our case and we need to reach some sort of resolution. A decision needed to be made.
Tune in tomorrow for the conclusion to this story.
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