Living the Life With Labradors

I read this wonderful piece on DogStarDaily this week. At first, I was thinking, “Yeah! Right on!” as I was reading, and then it made me think about how I got to where I am today, as a dog owner, I mean.

I know that my three dogs are all rescues and most of the dogs I have owned and loved have been rescues. So it might seem like I might be “anti-breeder” but I’m not. I have purchased a puppy from a reputable breeder exactly once and I honestly can’t tell you if I have it in me to do so again. I was in a time and place in my life then, where I was ready to raise a puppy. I had all of the patience in the world for that puppy and I don’t find myself in that frame of mind right now so I’m not shopping around for a breeder. If I ever find myself in that frame of mind again though, I will.

This doesn’t make me some evil person. I will never purchase a puppy off of the back of a pickup truck in a parking lot. I will never purchase a puppy from a pet store. I will never buy a puppy based on an ad in a newspaper. That’s not how I roll. I will adopt a shelter dog before I consider those routes, because I believe in saving lives and I also believe in not paying someone for being an uneducated pet owner. What it makes me, is an educated dog owner.

Becoming an educated dog owner isn’t hard. It’s just something that you have to actively do. I did a lot of research for years before finally adopting my first shelter dog. I decided, rightly so, that with two small children in my home that it wasn’t the right time for a puppy. I decided an older dog, that had been socialized with children would be a better fit because I didn’t have time to house train a dog. I chose my breed carefully, with a lot of consideration for a lot of factors. I took the dog’s exercise needs into account. I took my needs into account and then I settled on our first Labrador Retriever.

Reilly, summer 2008.

Reilly was the perfect first dog.

This doesn’t mean that he was “perfect,” but he was the perfect first dog. When my daughter was little, he bit her on the cheek. I was frantic for weeks while trying to figure out what to do. Just frantic. I finally took him to the vet and my vet looked me in the face and said, “This dog is amazing. He has never acted aggressively toward anyone on my staff. I’m going to refer you to a behaviorist, but I don’t think the dog is the problem here.” What he didn’t say in that conversation, a friend said to me later, “Your dog is fine. Get your kid under control.”

Once my vet and my friend put my head on straight, we ended up having a wonderful life with him. He passed in 2009 and never have I felt so lonely in my life, as I did the day he left me behind. I knew that day that I would get another dog someday and I knew that I was prepared for everything that would come with that choice because Reilly had paved the way. He taught me so much that I can’t even sit here and give you an itemized list, but I can encapsulate it all in one sentence.

He taught me how to be a good dog owner.

Mugen, at 12 weeks old

When our puppy came along, I was ready. I took him to obedience classes. We went everywhere together in the car. He was not a maladjusted malcontent. He loved everyone and everything. He was perfect. He was my perfect dog. Sadly, human ignorance cut his life short and it wasn’t even my own ignorance. It was the ignorance of my neighbors, who had no idea that such a thing as secondhand poisoning existed. And we all learned.

My neighbors now have a puppy of their own. They use traps, instead of poisons for their pest problems and I’ve given them a flyer for the dog training club where I attend classes with my dogs. They will have a wonderful life with their puppy because they have taken the time to learn about her and are setting themselves up to be successful dog owners.

Old dogs are the best dogs.

Since then, I have rescued four other dogs. Two of them have been seniors. People think I’m crazy for adopting old dogs, but I have to tell you, if you have the disposable income to care for a senior pet, adopting an old dog is one of the most rewarding experiences you could ever have. Perfectly behaved, wonderful companions do not come any easier than adopting a senior. The other two, however, are problem children.

They were dumped by previous owners. One got away from his owner on a walk and they never bothered to look for him. The other was dumped by several owners in succession, who all got in over their heads with her. They had no clue what they were getting into. They were uneducated. They didn’t know or understand that dog training takes work. Dogs do not train themselves. They didn’t know that poor behaviors can always be corrected. They thought that was “just how she is.”

That thinking is wrong.

In a year of working with them, they both earned their CGC certificates from the AKC. I’m so proud of that, not for me, but for them. Jet was a holy terror when we brought him home. Now, I can’t imagine my life without him. He is so incredible. Those people that gave up on him? They have no idea what they missed out on. I’m not saying that to spite them. I’m saying it because it’s true.

Jet and Me: Living the Life

Jet is the perfect example of how dogs end up in shelters. It’s not because of the hobby breeder who is breeding puppies to show. Jet was certainly not bred to be a show dog. He doesn’t even come close to looking like a show quality Labrador. It’s the uneducated dog owner that is the reason why animal shelters are overflowing with unwanted pets. It doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. They’re just uneducated and it’s sad because they could so easily learn.

If you find yourself in this place, with a dog that has a problem behavior that you have no idea how to correct and cannot figure out how to live with. Don’t take your dog to the shelter. Find a local dog training club and go to class! Your eyes will be opened to this amazing life with your best friend that you never knew you could have!

I know, because I did it and I’m living it.

And yeah, it’s awesome.