How Much is That Doggie: Sticker Shock

Girls and dog running
Image by fred1st via Flickr

Regrouping. Thanks, all for your support, encouragement and ideas. Like others who have lost their dog companions after a number of years, we are hit hard by the increase in cost to buy a pure bred yellow or golden retriever. We have had labs since Zachary, our first, who came to live on Greasy Creek with us in Wythe County in 1981. We’ve only raised our dogs from puppies, ostensibly so they will behave, but not always being as consistent in our training between a permissive and a strict “parent.”

So, today, I’ll stop by the pound, just to get in the frame of mind that would have us think outside the Labrador Retriever box we have been in for thirty years. We don’t quite know how to measure risks (of neurosis or physical defect and unpredictability) against the prospects of new personalties, smaller size to be more manageable, and a different relationship than we have come to know with our three labs.

Some have spoken of “rescue dogs.” We’ll have to see what that is all about. Again, we’d have to be very selective about taking in what others have cast out, knowing that sometimes it is just a matter of convenience for the previous owner to return or give up a perfectly wonderful animal. Some of you have shared your stories along these lines.

I confess, this morning for the first time, this decision has been muddied by the encroaching memories of all the DOWNSIDE of having a new dog in the house, especially a puppy. So much for concentration and focus; so much for uninterrupted naps or night’s sleep. And be prepared for disasters of bowel and bladder and at least one of your favorite things chewed into bits. Remember the hours you’ll be outdoors holding a leash in the ice and snow and wind; the hours you’ll be the object of a needy beast when your own needs will be put on indefinite hold. Remember what it’s like to have a dog that hasn’t a clue what you want it to do, so unlike Tsuga who could look at your eyes and anticipate what you were going to ask him to do.

And so the loss of Tsuga takes new turns, and the empty hole in our house is never far from our thoughts. I pull in to park down by the garden, and first thing, look up towards the house to see his face (and if the light is right, behind that, his wagging tail, in the window. I turn the key on the lock with my left hand, because I know he will want my right hand gently in his mouth the second I step in the door, as this was his greeting.

I suppose in time these reflexes will die away, and that will be sad, too.

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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. Fred,
    I would start by Googling Lab Rescue. There are several active groups in the area. There also used to be a site 1800PETS.COM.
    Are you looking for a puppy? If so, I would suggest calling some of the kennels in the area out of the Yellow Pages. They are dog people and know good breeders around the area.

  2. I love poodles, great breed in many ways. I have given one wonderful dog to poodle rescue. Rescue groups are wonderful. They attempt to evaluate the dog and place it with an appropriate family. There fees are reasonable. When you take in a rescue dog you know some of the characteristics of the breed. Here’s the link to Mid-Atlantic poodle rescue, they have some good information about rescue dogs in general. To find a rescue group, go to, find the breed club in this area and they will have rescue group contacts. Or start with the AKC rescue group, go to breed and area. Good luck finding your new best friend. My dear Rosie died a year ago and now I find I think of her with joy mixed with the sad.

  3. Maybe mourning Tsuga until the early summer might help. If you are going to cope with a puppy, better weather and a space to heal?

    I found that I could not love Mildred as she deserved in the first 4 months of the loss – I just wanted Jay back. I know that makes me seem mad but the loss was that great. I was not available for another even the one we had. I am now and have bonded with Mildred in a much deeper way.

    Time is working its healing magic

  4. What a wonderful greeting you and Tsuga devised!! I have never heard of that sweet gesture. You will indeed miss him.
    I have been reading your blog since Tsuga was a pup in ’03. I am looking forward to the new series of puppy tales that you are sure to write in the coming months. There will probably be several posts about missing Tsuga before the new pup arrives, and that is as it should be.

  5. I think you may be surprised by what awaits you at the shelter or from the rescue groups. Many, many people turn in purebred Labs because they failed to understand their energy levels and lacked the knowledge to train them. Also, in this down economy, shelters are reporting marked increases in dogs brought to the shelter because their owners can’t afford them any more. It is tragic for the dogs to end up this way. So think about the fact that when you adopt a dog you save a life, and create a space at the shelter/rescue for another life to be saved as well. That’s a lot of bang for relatively few bucks!

  6. I second the recommendation for You can search for rescue groups there, and many of the groups foster animals in private homes, so those foster-homes can give ideas about the pup’s personality. And then there’s my old vet’s advice: an exhausted puppy is a good puppy. Good luck.

  7. I just sent you an email about some lab pups in rescue. Getting a shelter or rescue dog can be a little bit like the proverbial box of chocolates, but sadly, you can find many, many perfectly good dogs (and puppies) that people dump for all manner of stupid reasons. All my dogs have been shelter or rescue dogs. I compete in dog sports, and most of the dogs we compete against are purebred from the very best lines, often even imported from overseas. My shelter mutts can and do hold their own, even at the highest levels of competition!

  8. We have some good connections locally now for finding a rescue or pound pup that matches our needs, and this feels right. Thanks again for all your thoughts, prayers and suggestions. We’ll see where this goes from here. And you’ll likely (should you be interested) read about the process at Fragments over the coming weeks and months. Deja vu, all over again.

  9. My Kaylee is a recued mutt of dubius parentage. She has a black tongue, and I have a photo of her with her chow-ish mother when the pups were a day or so old. For the rest, she looks like a small-ish, black, long-haired retriever with a tail that curls in a full circle. Girl is not smart, but she has the nicest personality of any dog I’ve ever owned. I got her from a foster parent with Castaway Critters when the pups were weaned from the also-rescued mom. I also have a purebred dog, a Belgian Tervuren, in my household who’s now rather elderly. I got him from a great breeder, but even then I suffered from sticker shock. When the time next comes, I’m going back to a rescue group. They were very good about trying to match me with a suitable dog, and the price was reasonable.

    I can commiserate about dealing with a puppy in the winter. Perhaps you should consider waiting until spring, when the weather will make those constant trips outside less bothersome.

  10. We adopted our Betsy from a pet rescue service after the death (Addison’s Disease) of our beloved lab Julie Black Dog Naima. Julie was adopted as a puppy and we reared her with our children. All were sad to witness her steady decline after such a happy existence. Betsy was an adult dog who was fostered by my sister-in-law. She obviously was well loved and I expect it’s her husky roots that caused her to run away from home. It was a good choice for us – no housebreaking, no chewing and a sweet temperament. However, she is very afraid of thunder, guns and has other peculiar habits regarding food. We don’t let her run free though when she’s escaped, she has found her way home, exhausted, covered with burdocks and mud and smelling like everything rotten in her path! In contrast, we dogsit on weekdays for our son’s yellow lab who is still very much a pesky puppy but sweet natured and he’s learning some manners! Good luck with your difficult decision.