Friday, March 13, 2009

Boys? Girls? Preference? I've been found out: yes, I have a tender spot in my heart for the "boys" of our crew.

It's funny, though. That's not how it was with our original two Labs (now long departed). Though I loved and enjoyed them both, if anything (at first) I felt more connected to our female, Stoney, who died a 15 yo, than I did with Strider, our male who died at 12 yo. Stoney was sweet, gentle, and people-oriented; Strider was active and independent.

Then, when he was four years old, Strider ruptured a disc in his spine while retrieving for me in the backyard (that's another story). The ruptured disc immediately left him completely paralyzed; he could move literally nothing from the middle of his back down. After five days at the vet's on IV steroids he recovered, nearly completely (again, thanks to our wonderful vet in Harleysville). The only evidence of his injury was the sound of an occasional scratch of one rear paw's toenails on the kitchen floor.

From the day of his return home from the vet's, from the moment of his return from a stay I thought would surely result in our having to put him down, he held a place in my heart every bit as dear as Stoney's. Girl? Boy? Didn't matter. In fact, he became our "Tiny Tim," our underdog, our guy who made it despite the odds (sound familiar?). We enjoyed eight more years with him after his injury. I'd almost lost him, so I treasured him even more.

I suspect that the underdog-thing is why I felt so connected to the pups from last fall's litter, boys and girls alike: we did lose one of those pups, and we could've so easily lost the rest. Maybe that's why I feel so connected to Rudy, the pup from that litter who's been with us all this time. RR knows he goes home with his new family this weekend -- and I'm really fine with it. I'm letting go of him for something better (for him and for me).

As I've been processing these letting go's, I'm coming to realize that for as attached as I've been to Rudy, I really do love the rest of my gang every bit as much -- gender isn't a factor . I'm deeply bonded to each of them, just in different ways.

It's like my human kids. I love each passionately (just do something to bring out the mommy bear in me and you'll see -- even with them all in their twenties!). I celebrate each one for his/her individuality. I delight in the persons they're becoming; I enjoy their personalities one and all (they're very different from each other), and I like them, too -- I'd pick any of my kids for friends in a heartbeat. Whether they like it or not, whether they even know it or not, I am forever connected to each one in ways I can't begin to explain (we never really do completely sever that umbilical cord, do we?).

So when it comes to the canine crew, I guess I'm more attached than I realized, and it has nothing to do with gender. I thought at first it might be a boy vs. girl thing. But I know now it's not. I treasure my girls, too. Elsie, Kenya, and Pinot (back to front above) offer a different kind of energy and affection than the boys, and have since day one, but I relish each one.

I guess letting go of Rudy is allowing me to appreciate the rest of the gang, regardless of gender, even more.

Take Elsie, for example. Our mom extraordinaire. She is our Elsie Bear: snoozy, touchy-feely, people-oriented, but with strong retrieving instincts and solid skills when she doesn't have to compete with the gang. If I had to choose one word to summarize Elsie, it would be "affectionate."

Kenya, though not affectionate the way Elsie is, loves us in her own way, and we her. She is our always-has-to-have-something-in-her-mouth, eager-to-be-with-us, faithful-to-stay-nearby friend. If I had to pick one word to describe Kenya, it would be "loyal."

And then there's the little squirt of the females, 19-month-old Pinot. If I had to pick a single description for her it would be "eager to please." Yes, she retrieves for the joy of it and because the instinct in her is so strong it drives her to, but I think she does it even more to please us. She associates retrieving with our praise, affection, and attention. She just so wants us to be happy with her. And delighted with her we are (how could we not be?).

So, despite my affection for our boys: Rudy, Tuc, and Ridge, (and Baxter and Strider before them), my affection and bondedness really is as strong with the girls -- every bit as strong.

It's just a different kind of bond -- one unique to each dog and each relationship.

Despite not wanting to appear too diplomatic here, I honestly have to say I don't really prefer either gender over the other (people have asked). It's really the personality of the individual dog that counts.

We've been blessed with wonderful Labs with wonderful temperaments.

And I love each one.

'Til next time,


AZ Colleen said...

Beautiful post.

I just recently (not even 3 weeks ago) adopted my first male dog (5 year old yellow Lab "Diego") - he is the sweetest, goofiest, most needy dog I've ever known but I never once considered those attributes to have been determined by gender but rather breed and environment (he was a rescue). However I do need to get used to the VERY gender-specific tendencies (i.e. marking every 5 seconds on our walks, being rather "amorous" with everything...) as my girls have never been concerned with such things.
Thank you so much for your blog - now that I have my first Lab, I feel I'm learning so much from here and appreciate Diego even more than I though possible.

polly's path said...

Right on.
If I had to describe the members of our pack with one word, it would go something like this: MoJo(18 yrs old)-mellow; Princess(rott/lab mix)-needy; Bud(Hurricane Katrina rescue, lab)-goofy; Dixie(the Dalmatian rescue)-hopeful.
Bud is also gender-confised, and species-confused, I hate to say. (He pees like a girl, and finds himself attracted to male cats. Don't ask.)

Chester's Mom said...

Beautiful tribute to both your 2 legged and 4 legged loved ones. You are a special lady to them all and I'm sure they appreciate it.

Kristi said...

I have had two labs. A black female and a yellow male. And as much as I loved them both, the yellow male has totally spoiled me for any other dog! He has been the best dog, so affectionate and so loyal. And he looks so much like your Elsie that the first time I saw her picture I thought "How does she have a picture of Scout?"

Rudy is going to be ruling the roost of his forever home!

Momma Teece said...

I love my girls for some of the same reasons, but I also have a soft spot for my boys - Max, my Bubbie Boy; Copper, my Duracell boy and Champ, my not so little Buddy boy!

Rachel Elizabeth said...

I get this question sometimes as well. We have one of each gender and people often ask which I prefer. I always say I love both of my dogs in there own way. Great post though.