Sunday, January 30, 2005


"Ridge" is our four-year-old yellow Lab with a gorgeous fox-red coat. He also happens to be quite neurotic (for a Lab, anyway). I suppose he has reason to be so.

Ridge didn't come to live with us until he was three years old. He came from the same breeder from whom we acquired our black Lab, Baxter, at seven weeks of age. The breeder decided to transition from field lines to show lines in the kind of Lab they wanted to produce, so Ridge, a strong field line sire, no longer fit their bill. After living with his previous owners since he was was a young pup, the three-year-old was up for grabs.

His sweet temperment and coloring captured our hearts. And he fit our lifestyle, dreams, and plans quite nicely. We'd already had Baxter neutered because of a significant malocclusion (overbite), but we still hoped to start a responsible, small-scale breeding endeavor one day. With strong hunting lines and his own field work started, Ridge was our sire investment. The day we met him, we fell in love with him and brought Ridge to his new home.

Ridge transitioned nicely overall, but we had some concerns. It naturally took him a while to feel secure here and to stop waiting for his former owners, who clearly loved him and treated him well. And it took time for him to love us, his new family. We were, after all, complete strangers. We spent hours and hours and hours trying to help him acclimate: one-on-one time; training time; snuggle time on the couch; taking him for rides in the car; giving him time with Baxter; giving him crate time to help him feel at home. What he needed more than anything else, it seemed, was affection.

Our eighteen-year-old daughter captured it this way: "I've never seen a dog more needy!" she observed after spending the day alone with the dogs. "Needy" described Ridge's behavior almost perfectly. Despite his regal bearing, athleticism, and dominance over the other Labs in our home, he needed to be stroked and touched and hugged. Talking wouldn't do; it had to be physical contact.

Ridge moans and grunts. (I've never heard a dog moan like Ridge does). His vocalizations testify to his utter delight at being touched. He rolls on his back and squiggles under our caress. If we're sitting on the couch or in the lounge chair he jumps into our laps and tries to bury himself beneath us. We joke about Ridge needing to literally get beneath our skin.

I had my reservations during the first weeks of Ridge's adjustment; I wondered if he'd ever warm up to us. Today, nearly a year later, Ridge's affection for us has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum: he's so affectionate now that he's become "needy." ;o)

I'll take "needy" over aloof or standoffish any day. Ridge's affection (and need of it) warms our hearts and reminds us of the importance of touch.

Have you petted, scratched, or stroked your animals recently? Do your humans know your gentle touch? After all, we humans need physical contact, too. A gentle touch helps us feel wanted and secure. Affection helps us know we're valued. Just like Labs, we need to know we're loved!

Have you hugged a loved one today? Have you shown affection? Your significant others (people and pets) are waiting, as are mine.

A funny things happens, though, when we give affection, especially to our four-footed friends. We find affection in return. What a payoff for so little investment!

Hmmm. Sounds good to me. I think I'll go give Ridge a belly rub. :o)

'Til next time,

Affection can be sloppy sometimes! (Ridge kissing Joan's husband, Don)Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Of Fences and Freedom

From a human perspective, one of the smartest things we did before acquiring our latest batch of Labradors was to fence in part of our backyard. We viewed the fence as protection from dangers outside: the state highway that runs past our front door; stray dogs and other animals that roam the rural community in which we live; wayward bullets of hunters who troll bordering farmlands. We put up the fence, and it's an attractive fence at that, to keep our dogs safe. We established boundaries for Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge because we loved them and desired their good.

I don't think our Lab kids understand.
  • They see the fence as confining, though they have at least half-an-acre of manicured, tree-shaded, nature-rich land on which to roam.
  • They see the world beyond the fence as vastly more interesting than home territory.
  • They see the fence as a barrier to fulfilling their dreams.

How do I know?

Ridge habitually trots the fence line when he's outdoors. Short of that, he'd prefer to lounge indoors, cross-legged of course, on the berber carpet in front of our woodstove.

Baxter, our joyous adolescent, kangaroo hops along the fence whenever a new best friend pulls into our drive (translation: any human being who approaches our gate; UPS man, mailman, pizza delivery boy, proseletyzing Jehovah's Witnesses, FedEx courier--you name it, it doesn't matter; any two-legged creature is Baxter's new best friend).

And then there's Elsie, the old-souled pup, who stands quietly gazing between fence rails observing who knows what. But stand she does. Still. For minutes on end. Wondering, I suppose, about the world beyond her boundaries.

It's amazing how like our four-legged loved ones we humans are. We hate fences, too. We see boundaries (ethics, values, laws, morals, contracts, rules, health guidelines, etc.) as restricting or confining or as killing our fun:

  • "You're ruining my social life," the curfewed teen cries.
  • Who says I can't have an affair! the bored husband rationalizes.
  • "So take the extra deduction; no one will know," the tax-padding co-worker counsels her friend.
  • "Why watch my diet? We all die anyway!" the overweight thirty-something mumbles as he consumes his super-sized fries..
But boundaries, like backyard fences, protect us, don't they? Speed limits prevent accidents. Marriage vows help spouses remain faithful. Food limits (healthy eating habits) prevent disease. Morals keep us out of all kinds of harm (STDs, imprisonment, drug-abuse related illnesses, damaged integrity).

Truth be told, I'm thankful for boundaries. Like my Labradors, I can roam free behind the fences of the laws by which I live (God's laws, civil laws, criminal laws, etc.), knowing they are there for my good.

Now if only I could convince Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge. :o)

'Til next time,

Elsie and Baxter looking over the top of the fence from our deck. Ridge has had enough and is on his way back inside. Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Meet Elsie, Baxter, & Ridge: a seven-month-old yellow Lab pup; a fifteen-month-old black Lab adolescent; and a four-year-old yellow Lab adult (fox red) who happens to be neurotic. They are all registered purebreds, and they are all a tribute to the breed. This blog is about them: their cushy lives; their daily adventures; the joyful, exuberant zest for life; and the quirky way in which they view their world.

This blog is also about their humans, this human in particular. Elsie, Baxter, and Ridge are supposed to belong to me (and my family). But, truth be told, we belong to them. They've captured our hearts and invigorated our souls. And they teach us much about what really matters.

Come, learn with me as I learn from them. These Lab Tails will lead the way.

Elsie, also known as "the squirt" or "the little squirt" Posted by Hello

Baxter, our overgrown adolescent Posted by Hello

Ridge, our somewhat neurotic four-year-old Posted by Hello