By Dave Simpson, columnist
“This is absolutely the LAST DOG we’re ever going to have,” my wife proclaims on a pretty regular basis. “And I mean it!”
I don’t know what Mitch did this time – tore up his dog bed to hide a bone, or chased the cat across the living room.
When someone’s at the door, Mitch’s bark could wake the dead.
Mitch is a black Labrador Retriever, and I can’t tell you how old he is, or what his name used to be. That’s because he was on the lam from Mitchell, Nebraska, four years ago, and crossed the state line into Wyoming – no doubt at a dead run. He ended up in the Torrington pound, where they called him Mitchell. So we do, too.
He’s not like the other Labs we’ve had – Jake, Woody, Sam, Jack, their ashes arrayed in containers on a shelf in my den – who were overweight. After four years, you can still count Mitch’s ribs, and his vet says it’s a pleasure to see a dog without a weight problem.
Mitch and I go for walks every morning and afternoon – good for both of us – and he chases rabbits. He loves patrolling the prairie behind our house. Then he leans up against my leg as I sit on an old bench, watching the trains go by, and he begs for biscuits.
Black Labs run in the family. When I was a kid, my college-age brother brought home a black Lab puppy from his summer job at the company where our father worked. We already had a Boston Terrier, and our mother figured one dog was enough. But Labrador pups are irresistible.
The guy who gave the puppy to my brother was one of our dad’s bosses – a guy named Cecil.
“As far as I’m concerned,” my mother announced, “that dog’s name is CECIL!”
It stuck. And our dad took some ribbing at work over having a dog named after one of the vice presidents. But he loved that dog, and 12 years later when they had to put Cecil to sleep, it was the only time my mother saw my father cry.
My wife and I had Cleo, a svelte black Lab/Border Collie mix from the Laramie pound, a great dog with feathery hair, who loved to go cross-country skiing with me in the Snowy Range, bounding through the powdery snow.
Then there was Jake, born on Casper Mountain, whose mournful howls saved two lives one night, when a propane lantern consumed all the oxygen in a rain-soaked tent. We got out of the tent in time, and Jake shook it off in about an hour, a hero.
Woody was a handful, eating part of a couch, and only graduating from obedience school on his second try.
Sam had lived on the streets in Cheyenne, and knew how to open our storm door, and how to tip over garbage cans to get a snack. He died at the vet’s office the night before he was to have a splenectomy.
Jack’s elderly owner died, and the family – having heard about Sam’s death – kindly let us have him. One Friday afternoon he was chasing rabbits, and the next morning he couldn’t get up from his bed. He was riddled with cancer, and we had to put him down that Saturday morning.
I figure Mitch has some pretty good miles left in him, despite some gray on his jowls.
I’m not worried about my wife’s vow that this is our last dog. We’ve noticed that friends our age, going through serious health challenges, get a lot of support and unconditional love from their dogs.
And if a dog outlives us – a consideration in your 70s – well, that’s why God gave us a daughter. A daughter with some Wyoming prairie of her own.
So I’m pretty sure I can beat back this “last dog” business. I’d do some serious pouting if she ever tried to make good on that threat.
Those morning and afternoon walks just wouldn’t be the same without the latest in a long line of black Labs at my side, giving the rabbits a run for their money.