I am blessed to live with dogs my entire life. As an adult, I finally chose the dog breed for me; a breed that resonated was the quintessential family dog: the Golden Retriever. I had three, and what a wild, joyful ride for me (like the E-ticket at Disneyland) and my family. People rave about Golden Retrievers. Gunner was no exception. He was fun-loving, smart, silly, and adored EVERYONE. Without exaggeration, Gunner was everybody’s dog.
He never met a cat, a human, a dog, or a deer that he didn’t like or want to get to know just a wee bit more. Sometimes I found his friendliness vexing. You might ask, “Why, how, could you get mad at him?” Because Gunner literally loved to meet every person and every dog on the trail and then maybe go back and say “hello,” again. It takes more time hiking to meet everybody, but that’s just how Gunner rolled.
On one afternoon hike, a deer was worth chasing for three hours into the night. It was dark, and I was scared I wouldn’t find him. I enlisted Friends in the search. It was the late 80’s early 90’s, so Park City was a quiet, sleepy town. When I finally found him after his deer hunt, he was exhausted, filthy, and bedraggled. But we were successful! I loaded him into his Jeep and drove the short way home. I was sick with worry and now, utterly relieved and joyous!
When I got home, I poured a bath and a lovely Chardonnay. It was a chardy party! Gunner was always so happy to drink out of my glass; not much, as I would scold him. Dogs can’t drink alcohol, and I’m very aware of that, but he would take surreptitious, little sips. The bubble over his head was, “I think I’m more of a beer drinker, but how would I know? I’ve never had the pleasure.”
First Encounters of the Best Kind
I moved back to Park City from LA with Jackson, my first Golden Retriever. I remember the first time I met Gunner. I had heard how wonderful he and his brother, Boomer were. Gunner and Boomer bounded down the stairs; they were stinky, muddy, and utterly adorable as they jumped into my freshly detailed car. Gobsmacked, I yelled at them, and they promptly jumped out of the vehicle. To my chagrin, they returned five minutes later, even muddier, and repeated the prior offense. Again, I yelled at them, and Gunner paused to look at me. This is what, I heard him say, “Hey, you big dummy, close the door if you don’t want your car dirty. We’re just having fun. You need to relax if you’re gonna stick around. You’re acting just like Boomer; lighten up.”
I ask all our dogs and cats what kind of job they want.
Then I listen to them while watching their body language. My form of communication is simple. I ask the questions, and they respond with their eyes. A blink is “yes,” and a stare is “no.” I can’t tell you how much I’ve heard with this simple technique. And then they start talking. ….. Gunner was chatty. At that point, we lived with Gunner, Boomer (his brother), Jackson (a Golden Retriever), Sancho Panza (a white short-haired cat), and Luke( a Bernese Mountain Dog). Eventually, Ajax and Argos (Newfoundland brothers joined the pack). Jackson was the pack leader, but was poisoned when he was younger, and I knew we were on borrowed time. So, I asked the other three boys, “If something happens to Jackson, who can I count on the be the boss?”
Gunner’s response was immediate. “Boomer’s the man for the job.” Boomer is badass! And you always say, Mom, that I want to wear Hawaiian shirts, drink beer, and get the ladies pregnant. “You see, that was Gunner’s idea of his job. He liked nice girls, liked to be in the water, and thought the idea of a beer sounded mighty fine. Gunner wanted to be a lifeguard. There’s a book comparing Goldens to Labs, saying that Golden’s are the type of dogs to wear a lampshade as they party. He would stuff so many toys in his mouth that he would always have to drop one or two. Gunner was the life of the party. Did I mention his name tag read, “Hello?”
I hope to have one-tenth of Gunner’s zest for life. He lived life to the fullest with joy and delight. He loved his brothers. And he smiled all the time. When Gunner left us, I swear I could hear him say, “hello, I’ll always be close.”