We are a two-dog household. We accept the double-whammies in dog food and vet bills, in twice as much dog fur to sweep and vacuum, in twice the number of potential sleeping dog tripping hazards. For us, the pros far outweigh the cons. Twice the tail-wags, twice the adoring looks, twice the sets of ears to scratch and bellies to rub, twice the unconditional love.
Having two dogs is not a new thing for me. True, my dog experience began with a single pet – Sam. Sam (Samantha) was a female Irish Setter who quickly established herself as queen of the house. She was regal and at times picky. But she was a great friend. Sam actually preceded my brother Jon by a few months, instantly relegating him to the very bottom of the family pecking order.
We became a two-dog family a few years later, thanks to an ordinary trip to the mall. I can’t recall what led us to the trek to the Valley Mall outside Hagerstown that winter afternoon, though I do remember it was President’s Day, so perhaps we were after deals on socks and jeans. Passing Doctor Pet on the second floor of the mall, two Irish Setter puppies spied us and turned it on. We dragged my poor mother in to the pet shop “just to look and say Hi.” The shrewd salesman saw us coming and went into action. Out came the puppies, for the kiddos to pat and play with. Game over. Out we walked with George, the male of the pair. Named George both in honor of the holiday (Happy Birthday Abe and George!) and for my Uncle George, whom this little red bundle of fur resembled more in action than looks. When we got home, Sam expressed her disapproval instantly, shunning my mother in particular. In fact, I’m not sure she ever forgave my mom for introducing this obnoxious, ill-behaved beast into her otherwise well-mannered queendom. Sam, however, showed her true feelings for her adopted “brother” a few years later, when the two of them escaped and went on an hours-long toot, only to be found miles away in a farm field. George was fast at Sam’s side, and she seemed to gracefully if begrudgingly accept her role as his protector.
My life continued without full-time dog company from my gap year abroad through college. Upon getting engaged, I realized I had a package deal, with Lisa came Rowdie, an enormous Golden Retriever. Rowdie had a wonderful personality. He occasionally accompanied me to the design studio during architecture school, happily lying by my drafting table, napping and scarfing up various items on the floor, some edible, some just available and within reach. His trips to school ended after one afternoon, when I got up to for some reason and when I returned, I was greeted by a sea of trash, an overturned trash can, and Rowdie, his head covered in black graphite dust, from the many lead sharpeners me and my classmates frequently emptied in the trash can. Time to return to home-schooling for Rowds.
As Rowdie’s time was nearing its end due to an aggressive form of cancer in his sinus cavity, we returned to Ohio, to Lisa’s Dad’s farm where Rowdie grew up. He died in our arms at the vets, and was buried by the barn. He has since been joined by his “sister” and some of his offspring.
Our dog-less existence didn’t last long. Rossall joined us shortly after Shriver entered the scene. The beautiful Golden was a year old when he arrived, after washing out of hunting dog school in Oregon. We should have known we were in for an interesting ride when we witnessed his first experience with stairs. He managed to make it up just fine, but coming back down was quite a different story. He took a giant leap from the top, hitting one maybe two stairs on the way down. No worse for wear, thus began Rossall’s long list of unique experiences. He was a gorgeous dog, though we believe that this was due to the fact that he likely went through the “good looks” line at least twice, and by the time he got around to the “brains” line, it was closed. Still, never was there a kinder soul. When it finally dawned on our son that we had a dog, he and Rossall became instantly inseparable.
As Rossall was nearing the end of his run, we realized how much his loss would impact us all, none more than Shriver. So we moved ahead with acquiring the “replacement dog”, thus starting our current run of being a two-dog family. Lucy, another cute Golden, joined us in the midst of a September hurricane, arriving at the baggage section of BWI, having been flown to us from a breeder out west by Lisa’s dad. Rossall was appropriately tolerant, mainly laying on his side or back, jaws open, tail wagging, waiting for this little creature to stray near him so he could attempt a playful nip. Lucy delighted in teasing and tormenting him, and he returned the favor by teaching hersuch important dog traits and duties as sleeping on one’s back, paws up, tongue out, and the need to eviscerate any stuffed animal toy you encounter.
When Rossall died – again in our arms at the vets – it became quickly apparent that Lucy was terribly lonely. Our search for a canine companion led us to the rescue route, where we spied a goofy guy named Marlowe. Marlowe is a Bassador, a hybrid mix of a Bassett Hound and a yellow Lab. He was waiting for us in Blacksburg, and proceeded to bark the entire 5+ hour drive home. Lucy was thrilled to have another “brother”, this one much more energetic than the one that recently left. Similar in age, they got along famously, engaging in daily zoomies, killies and general mayhem.
Despite his short legs and odd frame, Marlowe displayed a love of walkies and jogs. He quickly became my jogging buddy, and especially liked our trail runs through the Patapsco. One winter morning I noticed he was dragging his rear legs. This rapidly accelerated into full-blown loss of his rear half. An x-ray and follow-up MRI revealed a ruptured disk. Immediate surgery was needed if we were to have any chance of him ever walking again. We didn’t hesitate, and hours later the surgeon called saying that he felt it was a success. He proved to be right, after many months of recovery. Today Marlowe walks almost as good as new.
A few years later, our two-dog status endured another test, as Lucy developed cancer. Though she was only eight, the vets offered no course of treatments that would extend her beyond a few more months. We spent the next many days soaking up as much of her as possible, including a beach trip so she could romp in the waves one last time. Lucy died one evening just seconds after her nightly sprint out of the house to greet me as I got out of my car after work. She followed me inside and then collapsed at the door, having a seizure. She died in Lisa’s arms as we rushed to the vets.
Committed to a dual-dog life, we embarked on our search for Marlowe’s “second sister.” We met Millie, a beautiful black English Lab, at a breeders in Mt Airy. We also met her mom, a diminutive black lab, and her dad, a huge goofy 2-year old yellow lab with paws the size of dinner plates. As Millie grew, she (luckily) favored her mom, and is now a wonderful pest of a dog. Like most labs, she lives to eat and be active. She has no dimmer switch, and can go from full-bore zoomies to dead asleep in minutes.
Like most dog owners, we have assigned our dogs human voices and personalities, doing our best to match them with their actual personalities. We imagine their dialogues, where they refer to one another as “brother” and “sister.” For instance, we quickly realized that Marlowe had much in common with the novel character, Ove. Especially as he has gotten older, he displays a near fanatical need for calm, order and caution. First with Lucy, and now with Millie, he seems to be always trying to keep them from harm. All he needs is a life guard whistle, and the act would be complete. He practically has a heart attack wheneverMillie plays with her “cousins”, circling them and barking warnings, fearful that someone will get hurt or lose an eye. Millie plays the part of the obnoxious bratty little “sister”, taunting him, nipping at his tail, and generally testing his patience at every turn.
Recently I have been taking them both on long walks, to get us all some much needed exercise. Beyond the cardio, I get an amazing workout. I scoff at those in the gym who do those heavy rope workouts. Meer child’s play compared to the workout I get trying to control two large labs, straining at their leashes as we walk the neighborhood, lunging at squirrels, rabbits, cats, other dogs, and leaves, often in diametrically opposite directions. They also test my agility as I try to untangle myself from two criss-crossed leashes, while simultaneously trying to pick up their droppings, dodge cars and fend off other neighborhood dogs. P90X makes me chuckle after that.
Still, they are inseparable, best of friends, like every other pair of pups we have been privileged to have. No, they are more than friends. They are brother and sister. True, from different mothers and misters, but bonded like brothers and sisters nonetheless.