We recently bid a tearful farewell our beloved Labrador Retriever, Charlie. It’s been a very rough loss. He was just a young pup when I was first diagnosed with cancer back in 2003, and he was eleven years old when my cancer returned after almost eleven years of dormancy.
Throughout the worst of the initial chemo treatments I received, Charlie’s intuitive concern was a tremendous comfort to me in a way I can’t even begin to express in words. He hovered close on the darkest of days. His unspoken devotion was more meaningful to me than any form of written expression.
I knew from all the statistical data of my medical diagnosis that Charlie would very likely outlive me. But, as it turned out, the ‘Emperor of All Maladies’ (cancer) silently and aggressively claimed his life before any of us were prepared to say goodbye. In my effort to stay steady, especially in the presence of my hubby and our daughter who has been at home these past several months, I’ve managed to keep myself ‘together’ pretty well, as they grieved their own profound sense of loss. We all miss him so much. But the ache in my heart remains substantial. And the quietness of the house…well, it’s become an uninvited guest that I’m ready to boot out.
So, in my effort to look forward, I’ve turned my attention towards the search for our next pup. Of course, with the high standards that Charlie set, this makes the due diligence somewhat more intensive.
I’ve researched purebreds and breeders, and I’ve researched rescues too, of all kinds. Hubby and I stopped by the local animal shelter and filled out an application. We looked at the many dogs already there awaiting for their forever homes. 95% were either Chihuahua types, terrier crosses or Pit Bull hybrids. None seemed a good match for us.
I spoke at length with the founder of a German Shepherd rescue group, who happens to live just a few blocks away. As convincing as he was to consider bringing a Shepherd into our home, a rescue leaves me very wary…especially given that we have young grandchildren to consider.
So, while clicking around on the internet to consider all angles, I came across a kennel in neighboring Sonoma County that raises AKC quality English Labrador Retrievers, both for show and hunting, as well as for service dog temperament and trainability. But, what really caught my eye on this particular website was their fostering program.
After careful review, I contacted the kennel owner and arranged a visit. We spent an hour there, learning about her breeding program, her training methods, her fostering families, her lengthy wait list for those simply purchasing a pup. We met her on-site breeding dogs, we played with the most adorable puppies and left feeling very happy.
Here’s how it works:
The owner of the kennel selects a female pup for the continuation of high quality breeding standards, and rather than keep that pup in the kennel environment, the pup is placed with a loving family. (Studies have shown that happy well cared for dogs produce healthier litters.)
When the pup is one year old, confirmation through x-rays and blood work will determine that she is sound genetically to produce high quality litters. The breeding process and the whelping process are managed by the kennel, so the pup is away from the foster family for ten days or so initially (when she comes into season), then again for five to six weeks during the whelping period. Aside from that time away, she is home with the fostering family as a beloved pet.
Here’s the BEST part though: From the litters she will produce, one special pup will be donated to a recipient in need of a therapy dog…a soldier returning from Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD, a child with autism, someone who is hearing impaired. As the foster family, we get to help choose who that recipient will be.
Now, that just warms my heart…perhaps because the holiday season is upon us. But the opportunity to help someone in need is so compelling in this way.
So as to leave no stone unturned, I’ve reached out to other foster families who have all given heartwarming reviews of this breeder and her dogs. And, a local vet who worked at Guide Dogs for the Blind over the course of ten years also gave this kennel an outstanding endorsement.
Yes, raising a puppy will be work, but so is pretty much anything that’s really worth doing, is it not?
And once she’s had her third litter, she will be “retired”…she’ll be spayed and the best part: she’ll be ours permanently. The breeder also gives us the option of a parting gift: a free puppy from that 3rd litter. Gee, any bets on what we decide there?
I’ve not yet signed the contractual agreement for fostering but that will be done ceremoniously on Thanksgiving Day, which is just days from now.
For me, it can’t get here fast enough. I am more than ready to detach from the talking heads and divisive rhetoric on social media, and instead foster a season of holidays that asks us to reflect on the blessings that are inherent in our own lives.
Hopes and dreams, compassion, and heart; they all weave each one of us together in our shared humanity.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.
(Charlie at 10 weeks old)