There’s something special about Yellow Labradors. Obviously, I would think this. I am intentionally and understandably biased. I’ve known only two such creatures up-close and personal, but that’s enough to solidify the belief.
It was the summer of 2005 and Pop was ready for a new puppy. We learned of free ones by way of my mom who worked for a local animal hospital. I don’t recall the reason this litter was free, but they were, and that was enough to make us load up the kids on a hot June day and drive miles out into the country to pick out a puppy for Papa. My kids were 3 and 4; my nephew, Lucas, was 2½. And, as they say in poker, these kids were “all in.”
Victoria had the privilege of choosing the pup, which she did with wholehearted enthusiasm. She picked out a fluffy, short-legged, ivory female and we all passed the pup around to inspect her cuddle-worthiness. Lucas got the honor of naming her, a task he performed with equal dedication. Victoria recalls vividly that without hesitation Lucas declared the pup’s name would be “Lady,” in honor of his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine train, a purple locomotive that Lucas “carried with him everywhere,” according to Vic.
This next picture makes me wonder if Lady, on that first day at her new home, was looking at Pop’s feet and knowing she would follow them all the days of her life. For all the love and attention she got from the members of our family, she was – first and foremost – Papa’s girl, and she knew it! When we built our home next door to Mom and Pop in 2012 we were already accustomed to Lady following him wherever he went. They seemed to be joined together, so loyal was Lady to Pop. Any time I saw Lady wandering the property without Pop in view, I would ask her, “Where’s Papa? Take me to Papa.” And she would.
Over the years Lady earned more than a few nicknames. “Lady Bird” was the most common in the early days, though that sometimes just got shortened to “Bird,” and then “Bird Dog” was the next natural progression. But our favorite nickname of all was the one she earned while our home was being built. Lady and Pop would walk next door to see the progress each day, and Lady was comfortable enough with the various people on the property that she allowed herself some exploration time while Pop visited with our builder. One morning on her daily building inspection, she wandered out to a pickup truck whose door had been left open. She jumped inside and stole the breakfast burrito of one of the gentlemen who was working on our house. That move earned her the name “Burrito,” and ensured that all workers on our property kept their car doors closed.
Lady loved trailing Pop on new adventures, and she left her sweet little mark wherever she went, even in the cement of the pad of my front steps.
I used to love looking out of my kitchen window to see Pop watering his plants in his front yard, with Lady wagging her tail faithfully beside him. If Pop drove away, Lady waited patiently at the driveway, eyeing every car that drove down the street to be sure she didn’t miss the very moment Pop would arrive home. I remember the day I drove Pop’s truck somewhere, and Lady ran at the truck with unbridled joy when I returned with it and pulled into the drive. She was noticeably disappointed to see me emerge from the vehicle rather than Pop. I tried not to take it personally; I knew who her favorite person was.
Sometimes when I would pull my own vehicle into my driveway at the end of the day, Lady would come to greet me. There was more than one occasion on which I opened my door without knowing she was there, only to have her lunge in at me in a tail-wagging welcome. It was our custom to greet her and love on her for a few minutes before saying, “OK, Lady, go home.” She would wag her tail some more and then head back toward her own house, stopping several times to look over her shoulder at us, as if providing the opportunity for us to change our minds.
Lady loved being a part of any adventure, so when Pop chose to be indoors she would often come check out the activity at our house. One day she decided to help Dom with the yard work and climbed up on the riding mower with him.
Lady loved to be close, and if we offered to pet her while visiting with each other in the yard she would lean into our legs, rest her head in our lap and raise one paw up to place on our knee. Mom was forever telling her to put her paw down. For the promise of more ear scratches, Lady always obeyed.
Dom and Victoria were Lady’s beauticians. They would pull up a lawn chair and brush her whenever she started looking too scruffy, which – considering that she was an outdoor dog – was pretty often. One day last summer we commented that it was time for another brushing because the fur on her haunches was collecting like cobwebs. Three days later, we noted that Lady was looking finely coiffed and I complimented Dom on the brushing he had obviously given her.
“I didn’t brush her,” he replied. “I guess Vic did.”
So we complimented Vic on the job well done, and she replied in a similar fashion. Wasn’t her. Must have been Papa.
Pop claimed it wasn’t he who brushed her, and the mystery remained for the rest of the week. On Saturday we were tinkering in Pop’s garage when we noticed Lady was not in her usual spot at Pop’s heels. After searching the property and coming up empty, Pop got on the four-wheeler and Dom and I got in the truck to go looking for her. We turned separate ways at the end of the street. We searched for about twenty minutes before Pop called us. Lady was home again. He had found her walking toward home, away from a large pond about a quarter mile away. She was soaking wet and happy as she could be. We determined that she must have taken up bathing at the edge of the pond where the water rushes down a bed of rocks, fueled by what I think is some sort of fountain system for the subdivision that edges it. The speed of the water must have provided her a good brushing, not to mention some relief from the summer heat.
When Pop got sick this past Spring we started noticing Lady really showing her age. Right after Pop’s third chemo treatment a couple of weeks ago, Lady had taken to laying around in the garage and not doing much socializing. I sat down next to her and loved on her a bit, thinking that she was sad because she hadn’t seen Pop in several days. He just hadn’t felt like coming outside. As I rubbed her ears, I thought of the 80’s movie E.T. and the potted geranium that wilted as E.T.’s heartlight began to fade. “Are you and Papa connected that much?” I asked her. I heard Mom over my shoulder say, “I think they are.”
Lady tried to bounce back a little for a couple of days once Pop was feeling better, but her appetite waned. Then yesterday, she wouldn’t get up at all. In what seemed like a matter of mere days, her eyes aged and grew tired; her body withered. We made an appointment with our veterinarian today, and even though I hoped for good news and a treatment plan, my heart knew the truth my mouth could not speak. It was time to let Lady go.
At Mom’s request Lady is buried in our backyard next to Mason. Together they are the two most generous, most loving big yella dogs this earth will ever know, and I am honored to have had them in my life. I thumbed through a list of quotes today that I selected when Mason died, but as I remember how little our kids were on the day we got Lady and how she has been a part of every day since, I think Luke Bryan’s 2015 song says it best:
And I thought we would be together
Go on and on just like that, forever
But I was young back then, I guess I just didn’t know
Little boys grow up and dogs get old.
Rest in peace, sweet Lady Bird. And please give Mason our love.