And Puppy Makes Three
"Slow down, dingo, or you're going to miss it," Jenny scolded. "It should be coming up any second." Jenny was my wife. That January evening in 1991, we were driving through inky blackness across what had once been Florida swampland. We had been married for a little over a year and decided it was time for another family member. A dog, to be exact. We were on our way to look at a litter of Labrador retrievers.
Our headlights shined on a mailbox. The numbers on the side reflected back at us. This was the place. I turned up a gravel drive that led into a large wooded property. There was a pond in front of the house and a small barn out back. At the door, a woman named Lori greeted us, with a big, calm yellow Labrador retriever by her side.
"This is Lily, the proud mama," Lori said. Lily's stomach was still swollen even though she'd given birth five weeks before.
Jenny and I got on our knees, and Lily happily accepted our affection. She was just what we pictured a Lab would be—sweet natured, affectionate, calm, and beautiful.
"Where's the father?" I asked.
"Oh," the woman said, hesitating for just a fraction of a second. "Sammy Boy? He's around here somewhere." She quickly added, "I imagine you're dying to see the puppies."
Lori led us through the kitchen into a utility room. The puppies stumbled all over one another as they rushed to check out the strangers.
Jenny gasped. "I don't think I've ever seen anything so cute in my life," she said.
The litter consisted of five females and four males. Lori was asking $400 for the females and $375 for the males. One of the males seemed particularly smitten with us. He was the goofiest of the group and charged into us. Somersaulting into our laps, he clawed his way up our shirts to lick our faces. He gnawed on our fingers with surprisingly sharp baby teeth and stomped clumsy circles around us on giant paws that were way too big for the rest of his body.
"That one there you can have for three hundred fifty dollars," Lori said.
"Aw, honey," Jenny cooed. "The little guy's on clearance!"
I had to admit he was pretty darn adorable. Frisky, too. Before I realized what he was up to, the rascal had chewed off half my watchband.
"We have to do the scare test," I said. I had told Jenny the story many times of picking out Saint Shaun when I was a boy. Sitting in this heap of pups, she rolled her eyes at me. "Seriously," I said. "It works."
I stood up and turned away from the puppies. Then I swung quickly back around, taking a sudden step toward them. I stomped my foot and barked out, "Hey!"
I didn't seem to scare any of them. But only one plunged forward to meet the assault head-on. It was Clearance Dog. He plowed full steam into me, throwing a cross-body block across my ankles. Then he pounced at my shoelaces as though he was convinced they were dangerous enemies that needed to be destroyed.
"I think it's fate," Jenny said.
"Ya think?" I said. I scooped him up and held him in one hand in front of my face, studying his mug. He looked at me with heart-melting brown eyes and then nibbled my nose. I plopped him into Jenny's arms, where he did the same to her. "He certainly seems to like us," I said.
Clearance Dog was ours. We wrote Lori a check, and she told us we could return to take the dog home with us in three weeks, when he was eight weeks old. We thanked her, gave Lily one last pat, and said good-bye.
Walking to the car, I threw my arm around Jenny's shoulder and pulled her tight to me. "Can you believe it?" I said. "We actually got our dog!"
Just as we were reaching the car, we heard a commotion coming from the woods. Something was crashing through the brush—and breathing very heavily. It sounded like a creature from a horror film. And it was coming our way. We froze, staring into the darkness. The sound grew louder and closer. Then in a flash the thing burst into the clearing and came charging in our direction, a yellow blur. A very big yellow blur. As it galloped past, without stopping or noticing us, we could see it was a large Labrador retriever. But it was nothing like sweet Lily. This one was soaking wet and covered up to its belly in mud and burrs. Its tongue hung out wildly to one side. Froth flew off its jowls as it barreled past. I detected an odd, slightly crazed, yet somehow joyous gaze in its eyes. It was as though this animal had just seen a ghost—and couldn't possibly be more thrilled about it.
Then, with the roar of a stampeding herd of buffalo, it was gone, around the back of the house and out of sight. Jenny let out a little gasp.
"I think," I said, a slight queasiness rising in my gut, "we just met Dad."