If you've had several dogs over the years, there's always one that's a little above the rest. It's like the Border Patrol agent I recently interviewed who told me that his first canine partner would always be his best one. The dog was just plain special. And so it is for us. The canine who merits top dog in our family was a yellow Lab named Buck.
He came into our home as a four-year-old. That in itself was out of the ordinary. We'd always had puppies. But after the demise of a dog who looked for every chance to escape the yard, our vet suggested we get in touch with a local breeder. Buck was a handsome boy who'd sired quite a few litters, but had been retired early from that job. Neutered, shots up-to-date, and AKC paperwork in hand, we took him home to see if he'd be a good fit. He'd been shown in the breed ring, his obedience skills were well established, and his laid back personality were all big pluses.
In no time, we were sure Buck would be a great addition to the family. Our youngest daughter, who was interested in obedience training got involved with 4-H and won ribbons at the county fair and state fair in short order. I even tried my hand at a couple of dog matches and came home with ribbons too. Buck was an absolute gentleman. He never jumped on anyone, and exhibited that wonderful Lab temperament, one of the hallmarks of the breed. The standard from the AKC states: "The ideal disposition is one of a kindly, outgoing, tractable nature; eager to please and non-aggressive towards man or animal. The Labrador has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence, and adaptability make him an ideal dog." That was indeed Buck.
Champion Obedience Dog
He came by it honestly with a pedigree of British champions a mile long. He wasn't perfect, however. Thunderstorms were his nemesis. The hint of thunder sent him into a tizzy. We had several incidents that were rather startling. He was put in his crate to try and soothe his nerves during a storm, but he bent the metal door apart, and escaped. Relegated to the pantry another time (BIG mistake) he took a bag of flour off the shelf and spread it everywhere. Cans were taken off the shelves and bore his jaw marks. The pantry looked like a Lucy episode. He would shred papers, plastic, furniture, anything in his path during a storm. Medication was very helpful and definitely took the edge off the destructive bent.
His accomplishments were quite varied and he had his 15 minutes of fame. He and I went to therapy dog training through the Delta Society and became certified. We made regular visits to an assisted living facility, made presentations in classrooms, and at children's events. Buck made instant friends wherever he went and loved to be in the middle of a crowd of kids or seniors. He brought a lot of happiness and fond memories to the seniors we visited. I heard lots of stories about their dogs and how much they missed having a four-footed friend. He showed off a few tricks, sat patiently, and wore his therapy dog vest with panache. Buck always seemed quite pleased with himself when we headed for the parking lot.
His biggest claim to fame was starring as Sandy in the musical "Annie" at our school. He was 10 at the time and was slowing down due to arthritis. He took to the stage in no time and although he wasn't exactly energetic, he won the hearts of the cast and audience. After four shows, I was sure he'd be glad to flop on the living room floor. He was not. Buck sat by the door ready to go at 6:00pm, waiting for me to load him in the mini-van. That goofy Lab face was actually disappointed when I told him the show was over and we didn't have any more performances. He kind of pouted for a couple of days after that.
The Retirement Years with Clancy
Buck rode across the country from New York to Arizona with my husband in an unair-conditioned pickup in October, 2003. It was pretty hot when they hit the New Mexico border, so bags of ice were placed under towels to keep him cool. They both arrived safely and Buck adjusted to retirement and desert life quickly. He did miss peeing in grass though. It took him awhile to get used to dirt. He and his buddy, Clancy kept each other company for three more years. Thunderstorms didn't bother him as much when he started losing his hearing, which is a good thing in Arizona. He plodded along after Clancy and my husband for walks until he just couldn't do it anymore. Old age and arthritis finally caught up with him at 13 1/2--a very advanced age for a Lab.
If there was ever going to be a dog who gets to heaven, it would be Buck. A darn good dog and companion, a real top dog.