Posted by: Jenny | January 6, 2009

The Original Girl

From the time Brian could speak, he requested a dog for his birthday and for Christmas. Two more sons and many years later, my husband and I finally felt ready to take on the responsibilities of a dog, and so Brian, at age 11, helped us research types of dogs, breeders and methods of training. We settled on a Labrador Retriever and found a breeder who had an upcoming litter in June of 1995.

We visited the expectant mother, a beautiful black Lab, and the boys romped with the proud father, a gorgeous yellow Lab who came from impeccable lineage. This was serious business – the breeder had hunting-quality, show-quality, work-quality and pet-quality dogs, and so when a litter came along, based on  temperament and looks, she knew how to place each puppy.

We got the call June 22 that the pups had arrived, but our selected baby – a “pet-quality” girl – was the runt and might not make it. Well, make it she did, and we christened her TL’s Regina of Woodridge, her AKC name, but her real name was Reggie. Naturally, coming to live in a house with three Indiana boys, she was named after Reggie Miller.

Her brothers and sisters were twice her size, but she managed to thrive. We visited her almost weekly to watch our Reggie girl grow. She had silky black fur, making her difficult to photograph, but we snapped rolls and rolls of pictures, the few good shots we have are of her playing with 5-year-old Andrew in the breeder’s family room.

We should have known what was in store for us when she was about 6 weeks old. We were at the breeder’s house for a visit and it was dinner time for the pups. The large dish of kibble was set out for the gang, and all the puppies circled around the dish…except for little Reggie. She pranced up to the dish, wiggled her way in between the crowd, and hopped up into the dish to feast. She bowed down to no one – fitting, I suppose, for a girl with the regal name of Regina (Queen), and it was obvious who was alpha in the crowd.

Reggie came home at 8 weeks and proceeded to tear down the wallpaper and peel up the vinyl floor in our newly renovated kitchen. She was merciless when it came to eating window sills, doorway molding, chairs, the antique china cabinet and the new Crate and Barrel coffee table. We sprayed Bitter Apple and tabasco sauce on everything, and she thanked us for the delicious condiments. Nothing got in her way when she decided to chew. The boys learned quickly to keep everything out of reach and behind closed doors, or it would become her afternoon snack.

Brian signed up for 4-H dog obedience classes, and Reggie promptly took over. She jumped all over him and grabbed the leash from his hands. She was possessed. She was too disruptive for the rest of the docile students and was asked to kindly come back when she settled down. Brian and Reggie never returned.

She was impervious to the invisible fence and regularly brought us the neighbor’s newspaper. She escaped every chance she got, probably more for the fun of the chase than anything else. She would return to us only when the secret passwords were used – either “bologna”, her favorite snack, or “bye-bye”, her favorite activity. Many chases ended with Reggie happily sitting in some hapless family’s minivan.

She was a bad girl but a perfect dog for three boys. The summer that 10-year-old Kevin and his friends decided to dig a replica of the Wabash River in the back yard, Reggie was along side them, digging to the point of exhaustion. She went on long runs with Brian, wrestled with Kevin, and snuggled with Andrew, and never tired of any of it.

She and I had a difficult relationship. Being the only two females in the house, and both of us feeling protective of our boys, we butted heads more often than not. If she could speak, she probably told me no less than a million times “You’re not the boss of me.”  I think Reggie was preparing me for the day that I’d have a teenage daughter.

Until she was 10 years old, she was wild and incorrigible. When she settled down, it was as if the years all caught up with her at once. She needed medication for the sudden arthritis and other issues that slowed her down. She couldn’t hop up on the sofa – or over the sofa – like she had in the past, and her runs with Brian turned into walks.

As she aged, so did the rest of the family. Brian went off to college, Kevin and Andrew were busy with high school activities, and my husband and I divorced. Many days, it was just Reggie and me, missing our boys but enjoying the quiet. We had reached a comfortable truce in our relationship, forged out of our acceptance that our roles in the boys’ lives had changed. They no longer needed us as they used to. And so, the competition for their affection gone, we became friends.

I remarried and gained a 10-year-old stepdaughter; Reggie had a girl to look after, but Sophie’s experience with Reggie was nothing like her brothers’ experience. Their time together was spent quietly reading or watching tv, although Reggie would sometimes muster up some energy for a romp in the back yard.

We adopted Catie, a mild-mannered yellow Lab, when Reggie was 11. We had always been anxious when Reggie was around other dogs, because she definitely did not appreciate their presence, but Catie infused energy into Reggie and brought out the rascal in her again. Because she has a submissive personality, Catie did not threaten Reggie’s place as top dog. They played in the back yard and wrestled in the family room, and up to the very end, Reggie would sometimes sneak up behind Catie and snatch a toy away from her.

reggie-and-catie1

Andrew was just beginning kindergarten when Reggie came to live with us. His senior year of high school, she showed signs of dementia. Sometimes we’d have to help her figure out how to get back on the porch to come inside; she often stood, puzzled, trying to sit down.

It was heartbreaking to watch the rapid decline of such a beautiful, vivacious creature. As she neared her 13th birthday, we knew that every day might be her last. She could no longer climb the stairs, and every morning, I dreaded going downstairs. I would never forgive myself if she died alone.

And so, we made the decision to help her along. My ex-husband came over, and he and Andrew took her on a final walk through the neighborhood. Brian was  living out of state, but the rest of us went with her to the vet. We all sat on the floor and held her, stroking that beautiful black fur, telling her how lucky we were that we were her people. We hoped that she knew how loved she was; we knew how much she loved us. She died quietly and quickly, in the arms of people who adored her. We should all be so lucky.

Catie was lost without Reggie. We left Reggie’s collar out for a few days, and Catie would often search the house, then return to the collar and sniff it. Catie was a different dog without her companion – easier in some ways, but we knew she was lonely, and we missed having two dogs in the house. So the search was on, which is how we found Abbie, a mutt who is part Golden Retriever, part hound, and all stubborn.

The two of them are a lot of fun, and we have no regrets getting Abbs so soon after Reggie died. They bring a different energy to our home, and it’s nothing like the energy Reggie provided. We love them both, and know that when the inevitable comes, we will once again be heartbroken. But we knew that we could not live our lives without the joy that a dog can bring, and we owe that to our Reggie.

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Responses

  1. Wow, great work, Jenwriter!!

    Like

  2. Wonderful dog, wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing both.

    Tobi-Dawne
    deardogma.wordpress.com

    Like

    • Thank you!

      Like


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