In late 2000, when I was recovering from a heart attack, Marie and I began to discuss the merits of dog ownership. Mostly, we just felt like we wanted a dog. We also spoke of the value of having a dog for our son Blaine, who, at the time, was home almost exclusively, given his disabilities and the fact that he loves it at home too. I mean, with DSL, and oodles of cable channels, (and a step-dad to razz constantly), what more could a guy want? Besides a dog, I mean.
I once owned an Australian Terrier, who I named Toffa, after a childhood friend of one of my daughters. I love Terriers, but we thought we might go for a more calm, big lug of a dog, like a Lab. We dug out the dog book to do our research, to find a dog that would fit into our world, and yep, we decided a Lab would be the way to go.
We found a Lab breeder, and went out to visit her kennel, where she had a new litter of Chocolate Lab puppies. Talk about cute! The puppies weren’t quite old enough to leave their Mom yet, so we made a plan to come back later in the month. We put a sold sign on a little male. We kept quiet at home, intending to surprise Blaine.
On the appointed day, we loaded Blaine up in the van with the promise of a drive in the country to be followed by lunch. But oops, we detoured to the kennel, and before long, there Blaine was, sitting in the rear of the van, one smiley twenty-something, with a Chocolate Lab puppy in his lap, and me, the guy who cries at commercials, with tears in my eyes.
We all three contributed then, as the days went by, to the “name the dog” conversation, but I think it was Marie who ultimately came up with the winner, which I thought was a great choice, “Chestnut”. We went forward then, buying every dog toy known to man, a bed, a kennel, on and on. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t spendy to have a dog. And then we fell in love with him.
Chestnut was a great puppy, totally cute, rambunctious, hungry, all things Lab. A typical Lab tennis ball chaser, a dog who loved his walks, and a dog who could waste your shoes with the best of ‘em. As the house husband with a heart to heal, I was appointed chief dog walker. Chessy and I left the house several times a day. As he grew, our walks became longer, and by the time he was 6 months old, he was dragging me, as my heart got stronger, to the dog park about a mile away, twice a day. That’s 4 miles, every day. I am sure it was one of the things that contributed to my improving health. One might say, in fact, that my relationship with Chessy was a major factor in my recovery. I remember thinking, as he pulled me along 24th, past Lincoln and over to the park, how lucky I was to have my dog.
At 14 months old, however, Chessy got sick. He had just completed obedience training, and he had done well. But he was exibiting several different nasty symptoms of illness, and our worst fears were confirmed. Chessy, at such a young age, was going to die, from cancer.
At first, when you find out that your dog is going to die, you can’t believe it. So on the day that we were advised of Chestnut’s fate, we took him home. We made an appointment with a specialist, and I took Chessy for a walk to the park. He was still able to walk all the way, and he even pulled a bit. I knelt to praise him a bunch, as he basked in my approval. At the park, I tossed the tennis ball as usual, and he would run for it. But when he got there, about 30 yards away, he just stood there, and then turned back to look at me, long faced, energyless. It broke my heart.
Several days later, at the specialist’s office, we put Chestnut to sleep. For those of you who have never put a dog you love to sleep before, it sucks. For those of you who have, I offer my sympathy. We drove home silently, Marie, Blaine and I. These days, we speak lovingly of Chestnut often. I know that Marie and Blaine had a special bond with Chestnut, and that it was ever so difficult to see him go. But for me, it almost feels like he came into my life to help me recover from the heart attack, and then move on. We loved him so much, and he is deeply missed.
When he was a puppy, I wrote a song titled “We Got A Lab” which appears on my 2002 CD, “Useful Information”. Blaine “calls the dog” during the solo of the song. Click here to listen.
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