Filling the Void: The Next Lord or Lady of Goose Creek

Eight week old lab-shepherd mix: What should we do?

UPDATE: We’re going to see all three “blond” puppies (2 females and one male) on Saturday. Wanna bet on us coming home without one?

So very much has happened over the past few days, during which I have pretty much been in a fog and struggle to figure out what day it is.

We waffle and second-guess, sometimes hot and sometimes cold: we should take some months to move beyond Tsuga, so we don’t subconsciously make the impossible comparison of a new, younger, untrained animal to our finished product and best friend in Tsuga. We should wait until after winter. We must have a dog immediately because the emptiness is becoming an abyss and we could have one trained by summer if we start now. Let’s just not get another dog, ever; they are too much heartbreak.

Some–many–of you know the push and pull of thinking ahead, while trying not to stick your tongue too often in the empty socket just to be sure the thing is really gone. It is, and it isn’t, and get used to it. Even so, you try to do the next thing, pretend you’re stronger than you are, and vacillate between peaks and troughs and try to imagine paper training all over again and wonder which of your favorite shoes will be chewed up this time.

These pups we just learned about last night. They are lab-shepherd mix and in Hillsville. We have expressed a genuine interest, and think this might be the right thing at the right time. I’m sure, if we go this way, we’ll be momentarily convinced we made a mistake during the first sleepless nights, at the first flagrant defiance, at the seeming disconnect and asymmetry of love and affection that we will feel already, but the new pup will have to accept and return, eventually.

It struck me powerfully yesterday that the thirty years that connect Zachary’s birth and Tsuga’s passing contain a hundred wonderful stories of place, of relationship to family and critters, and a memoir of a life made complete by the bond between a man and a labrador retriever.  I think I would really enjoy pulling that together and sharing widely.

So I’ll be looking at pdf format that can be e-reader viewable–full of pictures and all the stories about our animals that are already in Slow Road Home and What We Hold In Our Hands, on the blog going back to 2002, and still in our minds and hearts, untold.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Great idea, Fred, on the pdf-format eBook. Also like the idea of the lab-shepherd mix. They make very good pets, from all I’ve heard. All the best assets of each breed. Best of luck on this tough decision.

  2. Lab and shepherd sounds nice, make sure the parents have no hip problems. Get the pup vetted right away, before you’ve lost your heart to an possibly unsound dog. E-book sounds great, everyone loves a good dog story, especially with your great photography.

  3. What sweeties! Love how they mimic each other’s stance – as if Mom said, “Left paw’s forward – look cute, now! Bet they could make short work of those bows.

  4. Okay Cate–husy yo mouth! Ann has broached that subject, but she can barely (and sometimes not at all) control one on a leash on the mountainside. Two, going north AND south might pull her in two.

    We will hope to frequently borrow companions from the dogs of our neighbors. one in particular, a 120 pound golden, was a good buddy of Tsuga’s. It would be a few seasons before a new pup could keep up, but something to hope for.

  5. Fred and Ann ,

    When I read the news about Tsuga I was in shock, he was such a wonderful goofball. I know that with time the sharp pain of loss does dull to a softer ache but it never goes away completely. Since retiring I have adopted only seniors and so have lost 8 dogs of my own, two foster dogs and one senior foster horse in the six years that I have been here. But the simple pleasure of their company always outweighs that loss for me.

    Is your heart set on a puppy? Or might you consider a young adult dog and hopefully not have to deal with housebreaking, chewing everything, etc.

    I have lots of wonderful books and several DVD’s on training and your more than welcome to borrow any that might interest you, just send me an email.

    Whatever you choose I know that dog will have a wonderful, loving home and that you will share many of those stories and pictures of “life with dog” on your blog that bring smiles to all of your readers.


  6. Oh boy; I can’t wait to read the next chapter of this good saga. Having three to pick from is good. Don’t do what I did. I brought 3 pups home when I was at a low point in my life, and chose the most subdued one, because I wasn’t in the mood for puppy energy. She was a sweet dog, but definitely not my favorite of the dogs I’ve had. Go for the one who seems to be the most interested in playing with you, is what I say.

  7. The most assertive but friendly of the litter–that has been what we have looked for before, but generally had 8 to 10 to chose from. We have always chosen males, but this time, might go with a female. We wanted the lighter color (there are some black ones, too) because we found it much easier to keep up with a light colored dog in the shadows than a black one.

  8. Well, as one who drove across France from west to east (and ended up in Belgium) to buy a puppy and came home with two, I’d say take a pair, brother and sister….

  9. Fred, I agree with Ann, two (brother and sister) would be good, and one person doesn’t have to walk them both at once, do it one at a time or with both of you out and about, each with a pup on a leash perhaps. If you come home with three or more pups, now that would be interesting…

    Lab/Shepherd crosses are usually lovely critters, inquiring minds, plenty of spunk and personality, the best of both breeds in fact, and they are terrific companions and watchdogs. Do ask about the temperament of both parents.

  10. Okay you people.

    This morning over coffee in bed, Ann offered “What if we get all THREE!” setting the stage for me to counter with TWO and feel like I had accomplished a masterful concession.

    Mother is shepherd mix and a sweet dog. Father’s lineage unknown, but for certain mostly lab, and I never met a mean-tempered lab. He probably offered to marry her, after the fact.

  11. Oh, Fred!
    Those faces! I doubt you’ll be able to resist at LEAST one. I agree with Ann that two dogs really keep each other company. However, the fact that the neighbor’s dog comes to play would argue for getting just one. Although I know you love labs, there are many athletic, smart, smaller breeds & mixes, which might make Ann’s life easier (so she can control and transport them).

  12. Umm… I will go against the grain here. As a trainer for many years, I strongly advise against getting two puppies at the same time – especially littermates! I think that the close personal relationship that you are looking for with your dog will be very hard to find if you take both.

  13. Two dogs, especially if any size, just is not practical or wise. A good bit of our trekking is on “mountain land” that is both steep and rocky and often snow-covered. Not to say that the wife is not equal to the task, but her 105 pounds is no match for 60 on the ground tracking a rabbit. With two dogs, one might want to go north while the other sprints south. I can’t imagine handling two leashes.

    And I agree with doggeek’s point about relationship roots being more easily gained with all one’s attention on a single dog.

    We have at least one play companion nearby–a good buddy of Tsuga’s–who will someday become an occasional companion to whatever dog we bring home in the near or not too distant future.

  14. I agree that two dogs can be more than twice the mischief. Two will sometimes bond more with each other than with the humans. Two will find at least twice as much reason to leave on a doggie trek. Resist, resist, resist!

  15. When all three puppies are tugging at one’s heartstrings, it can be difficult to decide which one to bring home. I am absolutely hopeless when it comes to picking one wee person out of a litter.

  16. Jay was mainly a shepherd lab mix – strong herding instincts – very good at looking after babies – smart – but had his own views about things – I am sure you will do well with one or more of these.

    Warning had a friend who was in same situation as you – came home with 2! In the end reason can go out the window

  17. Fred! Fred! Fred!
    I wouldn’t be in your shoes for anything. WAIT! I AM in your shoes right now. Still, I know what’s going on in your head. I only recently struggled with making a similar decision. My heart tells me I’ve done the right thing, my logical mind continually calls me an idiot and makes it difficult to sleep for long at night worrying about the choice I made. Another sleep stealer is because Chewy, whom I frequently find myself calling Choo-Choo or by our recently departed Jenny’s name is pawing at my face or giving me juicy wet-willies in my ear. It’s funny how I react when that happens.

    I’m guessing you come home with at least one puppy. Personally, I can’t imagine a two pup situation, but only you can make that decision.

    With all the experience you’ve had, I’m sure your decision will be based on a vast storehouse of knowledge and accumulated wisdom. Still, I also know how difficult it is to shut out a love for animals.

    I wish you peace of mind and a future filled with warm puppy kisses.


  18. I have been a week and a day without puppy slobber, and I don’t like it. Though I do wish we’d be able to channel the next pup’s affection away from the tongue. Maybe just a gentle nudge of the head would get the job done. Tsuga was very mouth-centric, our other labs not quite as much. Buster would lean against you until he’d almost knock you over–not a good thing if you’re on the floor loading the wood stove. But Tsuga licked.