A New Friend Is Golden
By: Story and photography by Dana Kazel, Living North
The plan seemed perfect. We wanted two dogs, so why not
adopt two puppies from the same litter? They’d comfort
each other during those first difficult days of transition away
from their mother and would grow together as lifelong friends. Plus,
we wouldn’t have to deal with the jealousy that would surely come
if we waited a few years to bring a second dog into our home.
Oh, thank goodness we were talked out of that plan.
We knew puppies were a lot of work. We’d been through this
once before – 11 years ago. But somehow, in the ensuing years, we’d
forgotten just how much patience-testing, sleep-depriving, sanity stressing
work such a sweet-smelling bundle of fur could be.
Our first dog, a golden retriever, had grown into a wonderfully calm
and well-behaved member of the family. We adopted Maggie in our
first year of marriage and she very much was our first baby. Through
her, my husband and I discovered – and worked through – our
differences in parenting styles. It was with her we welcomed two
children. When our son arrived home from the hospital, Maggie greeted
him with gentle curiosity. Two years later, when we came home with a
daughter, Maggie’s expression told us she knew she’d just slid another
rung down the priority ladder.
Maggie was forever loyal and loving – everything we could ever
want in a dog. Which made it that much more difficult to learn earlier
this year that Maggie had osteosarcoma – a cancerous bone tumor. The
horrible options outlined by our veterinarian included amputation of
her leg, amputation plus chemo-therapy, or euthanasia. Based on the
cost of the first two options, plus the odds that we’d extend her life by
only a year at most, we nursed her along for several months on pain
medication before ultimately having to say goodbye.
A few weeks later we learned of a Duluth breeder whose golden
retriever had just given birth. We reserved one of the puppies and
started visiting them when they were just a few weeks old.
The first visit was surprisingly difficult for me. How could one of
these tiny creatures, eyes barely opened, ever fill the void left by
Maggie? But with each passing week and subsequent visit, I could see
the puppies growing remarkably – both in body size and personality.
At six weeks, we picked which puppy would become our “Gustav
the Golden.” We call him Gus. More accurately, we let him pick us.
While the other puppies wrestled with each other and swarmed around
my kids, one quietly and strategically approached my husband. Excess
fur wrinkled his brow, and the fur on his ears curled slightly. Once
picked up, the puppy who would be Gus contentedly snuggled in my
husband’s arms and nuzzled his neck. We looked at the other puppies,
but it was pretty obvious no other compared.
Eight days later, we went to pick him up for good. All of the
puppies crowded at the gate to greet us. The breeder inched her way
in, searching for Gus, using a scanner to read the microchip implanted
in each puppy. As she worked her way across the kennel, all of the
puppies followed her, a moving mass of fur around her ankles. All
except one, who stayed by the gate staring up at us with gentle brown
eyes. The scanner soon proved what we seemingly already knew. He
In his first week with us, it’s hard to gauge if we’re making progress
house-training him, or just better trained ourselves at watching for
signs he needs to go outside. Why is his tail in that position? Is he
squatting? No, no, no – you just came inside!
Gus is sleeping better and whimpering less. He’s grown more
comfortable with us, and with that has become bolder and more
confident. He likes attacking ants, doesn’t like his leash and no longer
barks at his reflection in the mirror. He gnaws on anything and
everything, and I fear he’s going to be a digger. He’s a very messy eater,
leaving crumbs in a 10-foot radius around his dish.
He’s also cute and sweet as can be. His excitement to see us when
we arrive home from work overshadows any stress from the day and
reminds us of all the wonderful reasons we ever wanted a dog.
He’s no Maggie, but he’s an awesome Gus. And if he doesn’t drive
us crazy in the meantime, we just might do this all again next spring.