Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Much is That Doggie in the Window?

We were dog-less and I was looking for a Golden Retriever-type dog.  A mix or a rescue would have been fine, but I wanted a guarantee of the Golden personality.  Our last dog, Riesling, had to go after he bit 5-year-old Kelsey on the face.  We needed a dog that had a gentle nature, trainable, and a large breed.  Sorry, but small dogs just aren't "real dogs" to me. I called the shelters and rescue organizations with no luck.  Finally, I found a Golden Retriever breeder who had two female puppies remaining, a blond and a red.  My next task was to convince my husband Jay that we were ready to get a puppy when we had just recently put a deposit down on our first Maine Coon kitten. 

Of course, Jay argued that it was too soon, too much money.  I was planning on starting a Maine Coon breeding program with the kitten I would get in June and a dog would be a problem, he protested.  I countered with how well socialized our kittens would be by growing up around a dog and children; it could be a selling point.  Besides, you just got your bonus, right?  I ended my phone conversation with my husband by asking, "So you want me to call the breeder and tell her we're coming tonight?" and Jay caved. 

Knowing that I wanted the blond puppy, I made sure that we got to the breeder's house before her next scheduled appointment for a puppy buyer that evening so I could pick first.  This was in 2001, before everyone had websites and Internet access.  The two puppies were much larger than I expected for 7 weeks old, weighing in at 14 pounds each.  While I signed papers and talked to the breeder, Jay and Kelsey (Tyler was at a baseball game, oblivious to what we were doing) held our choice, a darling blond Golden female puppy.  When I came back outside, I found my formerly reluctant husband holding the puppy like a baby, tears running down his face.  Jay realized then how much he already loved her, our precious new family member. 

Chardonnay at 2 months, trying out the swing
The rest of the family agreed with my name suggestion of Chardonnay.  I was into the wine theme and had had the name in my head for some time.  We brought Chardonnay home and the real work began.  Golden Retrievers are a mouthy breed, chewing anything and everything.  Our wooden steps at the front of the house have been gnawed down.  Our picnic table benches have rounded edges.  Tyler's action figures were dismembered.  Shoes, socks and anything left on the floor were destroyed.  It's a minor miracle that with everything Chardonnay ate, she never had a problem with passing it.  She pooped out pieces of plastic and the Spiderman doll's head in the yard.  We had her crate in the kitchen and later put up a gate to keep her in the kitchen.  She chewed through the gate twice.  Now Goldens are supposed to be one of the more intelligent, trainable breeds, but our dog wasn't completely house-broken until 8 months.  I don't want to hear from anyone whose puppy was housebroken at 8 weeks and never did anything wrong.  I swear Chardonnay was mentally challenged up until her first birthday, when I finally began to see signs of intelligent life. 

As a puppy, Chardonnay liked to play by nipping our heels with her sharp puppy teeth, leading to her being banned from outside family sports most of her first year. I often felt like I was chasing a toddler around, constantly cleaning up after her, sticking my hand into her mouth to pull out whatever non-edible item she was eating, yelling reprimands, buying rawhide by the bag to keep her occupied, chasing her down outside to put her back in her crate....she was exhausting and frustrating to live with. I often threatened to put her outside for a year until she grew up enough to listen.  I promised myself then that I would never get another puppy. The only thing puppies have going for them is their undeniable cuteness.

Chardonnay has given us a couple of scares.  One of the more memorable times was when we took her to the pond at the Westbrook Fishing Club where Jay frequents.  It was winter and a great time to ice skate and ice fish.  Chardonnay's favorite ice game is "grab the hockey puck and run".  Jay had warned the kids to stay on the pond and not to try to walk across the frozen stream below the dam because that ice wasn't as safe.  He forgot to tell Chardonnay that rule and sure enough, she fell through the ice, about 10 feet away from the bank.  Since I'm married to Mr. Safety, we all knew better than to go out on the ice ourselves to pull Chardonnay out of the water.  If the ice can't hold a 75-pound dog, it certainly won't hold an adult human.  Most of her body was submerged, her head and shoulders held up by her front legs hanging on to the edge of the hole she'd created.  Jay tried throwing a lasso around her several times with no luck.  Goldens are bred for swimming in cold water, but after a while Chardonnay started to whine.  I worried that with the extreme cold of the water even she could suffer from hypothermia, get tired and go under.  Our dog would be swept under the ice by the current.  I was haunted by images of my children watching their dog die right in front of them.  Finally, someone remembered there was a row boat nearby.  The kids and I carried it down to the stream where we were able to lay it across the ice and Jay could reach down from the boat safely to haul her up.  Not knowing how cold she'd gotten, I ran Chardonnay up to the fishing hut where we had the wood stove going and she enjoyed an Oreo cookie snack while she warmed up.  Within a few minutes, Chardonnay was ready to go out and chase the hockey puck again, her brush with death forgotten.  

Racing Jay and Ben down the hill this past winter
The other time when we were afraid of losing our dog was two years ago when I found a large tumor under her tail.  I blogged about that event in "Mother's Day".  Cancer is prevalent in Golden Retrievers and although Chardonnay's tumor was benign, the fear of what might have been reminded us of how much she means to our family.  I was made aware of this again just yesterday when Logan, a fellow Golden and service dog who I've blogged about before, lost her battle with cancer at only five years of age. 

True to my persuasive argument with my husband, having a Golden Retriever has been a positive selling point to potential kitten buyers.  I have had kitten buyers tell me they will wait for one of my kittens because they also have a dog and it's important to them to have cat-dog harmony.  Chardonnay is an important part of their socialization, enabling my kittens to walk into a new home without a fear of dogs.  She also considers it part of her job to clean, snuggle and occasionally play nursemaid to the kittens. 

"You can try all you want, but I'm telling you guys I don't HAVE any milk!"

Our neighbor has a year-old Standard Poodle he's trying to train.  The other day he was walking his dog and Jay was walking with Chardonnay.  Chardonnay sat on command beside Jay while the other dog jumped excitedly at the end of her leash like Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh.  Our neighbor chastised his dog, "Why can't you act like Chardonnay?"  Jay replied, "I hate to break it to you, but it took ten years to get her like this."  Actually, it didn't take that long.  Other than Chardonnay's bad habit of jumping on new acquaintances and coprophagia obsession, she's pretty well-trained.  I can point to a spot on the floor where I want her to be and she'll sit there.  She will usually stay on command even if I go out of sight.  Chardonnay will even stand still without any restraint or a collar on while I bathe her with the freezing cold water from our garden hose.  She only chews on her own toys now, though she will occasionally still grab my shoe if she feels I'm ignoring her, smiling as I go after her to retrieve it from her mouth.  Chardonnay doesn't chew on the shoes; she just relocates them for her amusement.

I've blogged before about how Chardonnay defies her breed's nature to hunt; she not only doesn't bother our chickens, but protects them from predators.  I was talking to another chicken hobbyist and Golden Retriever owner the other day who lamented about how many chickens her dog had killed.  I naturally bragged about Chardonnay and how good she is with our hens.  Jay and I have often said that we'll never get a dog as wonderful as Chardonnay again.  When the day comes to add another dog (and it'll be an adult), we'll have to lower our expectations.

Happy Tenth Birthday Chardonnay!


  1. This was a lovely story, Sharon. I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading. Wonderful, funny, informative! Typical "you" writing and I gotta tell you I really enjoy your stuff!