Lou has been with us for almost two years. At 3 1/2, she is a beautiful chocolate Labrador retriever on the smallish side of medium, about fifty pounds. Her coat is soft, deep bronze.
The pedigree we were emailed was enticing. Lots of champions; an Irish bloodline. The posed photo was what one would expect and didn’t raise any flags. Our previous Lab, Maggie, had been gone for more than three years and we needed a pup in our home again.
What we found was a hyperactive, 36-pound, underweight girl with an aging fat mountain of a man and a wife at best indifferent to the dog. I could see Buck hesitate. We’re not young people anymore and this would be our last dog, with a commitment of more than a decade.
The little dog obeyed the man’s commands and huddled on a mat in the kitchen while we sat in the living room furnished by Lazy Boy. The man wanted to make small talk about what a great deal we were getting with this fine trained hunting dog. I could see Buck making up his mind and growing less friendly by the minute. The man had told us on the phone to bring cash, but Buck wanted to hear him say it face to face, so he took out a personal check and started to uncap his pen.
“I said it would be cash.”
“You’re going to make me give you three thousand dollars in cash?”
I could feel the friction between the two men. It was clear that Buck felt only a particular sort of son of a bitch would slur his own honor by demanding cash in a business deal over a high-bred Labrador retriever. It just isn’t done.
I could hear the big man breathing and imagine sweat popping. He had the look of a man accustomed to bulling his way through with bulk, bluster and the flat of his hand.
“Yes. I told you that on the phone.”
Buck looked at him hard, then folded the check and stuck it back in his shirt pocket and pulled his billfold from his pants pocket in what seemed like slow motion. He took out the money, and counted it onto a table top.
“Bring me her papers,” Buck said.
The man tried to get all hail fellow well met with Buck, then, but it didn’t cut any ice. When he saw it wasn’t working, he turned on his heel, went to a back room for Lou’s pedigree and vet records and returned with them.
After examining a deep cut on the pup’s neck, Buck grew dangerously still. He looked at me, searching, pupil’s wide.
“Let’s take our girl and go home,” I said.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Our business is done here.”
Lou bore the scars of a difficult puppyhood:
- fear of stepping on the tile floor of a bathroom
- fear of entering a small room
- fear of plastic bags
- fear of humans touching her ears
- fear of humans reaching out toward her face
- fear of entering the house when a human is right at the door
- fear of storms (happens with many well-treated pups, but being left alone in a small metal crate on an open porch when a young pup as she was most likely exacerbated it)
- fear of humans making sudden movements towards her
And a gash on her neck that happened between the time we heard that the owner of a fine, trained duck retriever might be willing to part with her and we struck a deal to drive to Alabama and see her. We were told it was an accident caused by the dog leaping into water to retrieve a bird and being caught and lacerated by vines, but we came to believe it came from a metal choke collar being jerked hard by a big man. We remembered him bragging on how obedient she was because “if she’s bad, she knows all hell will rain down on her head.” I had hoped that was just a figure of speech.
Today, there is no place in the house Lou is afraid to go and no movement of ours that makes her flinch. She is the happy, loving dog we hoped she would become. She’s still not crazy about plastic bags or storms, and her retrieving is limited to throwing dummies and a purple football toy. She wanders the longleaf woods with us and doesn’t think the pickup truck can go anywhere without her in the passenger seat, nose out the window, sniffing the wind, ears flying.