Sasha: Raising a Labrador

It’s a good thing that I only found out after accepting Sasha that Labradors remain “puppies” for a full 18 months.  She was 6 months old, so one year to go – one more year of clumsy, crazy, adorable antics and mischief.  I’ve had many dogs, but never a lab, and yes, they are different.  I get why some people are crazy about them.  Not that she is pure-bred, you understand.  Oh no, a pavement special, with legs that are too short for a lab, but the beautiful face and light-brown eyes are perfect.

I took her because I wanted a bigger dog to keep Irang (Chihuahua/Jack Russell) young and to protect me after the burglary, but also because my son, Julian, had come to love her and now her owner, his landlady, was going to give her to the SPCA, which would probably be a death sentence.

I can’t blame his landlady too harshly, because her sister had dumped Sasha on her when she moved, although she knew she never wanted a dog.   So she put her in the backyard and occasionally remembered to put out food and water. Julian said her sister must have done even worse, because Sasha was terrified of people.  When he went out to say hello, she ran and hid behind the cardboard box that was her kennel. Patiently, he reassured her and she started to play with him.  The game was that when she saw Julian, she would run and hide, wagging her tail, and he would come and give her love, food and fun.  It took quite a while for her to run towards him to welcome him

When she came to my house, she was dusty and thin but very willing to give and receive love.  Julian and I gave her a bath, which she submitted to happily, and welcomed her as an indoor dog.  She rejoiced at her good fortune with clumsy gallops and happy licks, even for Irang, who growled at her.  Irang would be showing her fangs, clearly saying, Keep your distance, Interloper! But Sasha would give her a big kiss – one lick was enough to cover her whole head – in passing, on her way to galumph around the living room one more time.

Not only was she a backyard brak celebrating her new life, she was unhouse-trained and on heat.  Julian said she had escaped through the garage once and probably been covered by the street dogs.  I’ll spare you the details, but luckily it took barely a weekend to house-train her because she is so eager to please and do what you want her to do, but just not unconditionally. After all, she has irresistible desires of her own, like wanting to try the potatoes in the vegetable rack (she ate all three – big ones) and absolutely needing to shred the book on my bedside cabinet.

To be fair, she kept her shredding for when I wasn’t around.  Obviously she would go on a wild fun party when my back was turned.  It’s much better already, but at first I could not even take a shower without Irang growling and barking to tell me, “She’s jumped on your bed!  She’s gobbled down her treat and stolen mine!  I hate her!  How am I supposed to teach her some manners when she weighs five times as much as I do?”

These days she’ll give me three hours.  If I come back within that time, all I’ll find are crumpled mats and scattered scatter cushions.  Any longer, and a scatter cushion will have a corner chewed off.  Once, she took an extra pillow that I had washed and put on a rack to dry and bit it open.  It was stuffed with foam rubber.  Little bits of foam rubber.  Lots of them.  They were all over the carpets of two bedrooms and the landing, as well as the beds.   That took time to clean up, I can tell you.

When I yell and point at the destruction that has enraged me, she looks away, apparently indifferent.  But she does listen, and she tries hard not to displease me.  A recent exception was my handbag.  She was lying near my feet, chewing her favourite ball, with her neck across my bag.  I know: I asked for it.  When I glanced down, she had been unable to resist chewing just a small square of leather out of the bag.

The ball started out as a blue monkey toy for dogs, with four long cloth limbs.  It’s the best investment I ever made, giving me returns out of all proportion to the price.  It took her a long time to chew off all the limbs, they were that well attached.  Now she has the blue ball, made of astonishingly strong rubber.  She chews at it mercilessly and it just bounces back, pardon the pun.  Of course, the real bouncing is what she loves with a passion, and you can never throw it often enough.  When she sees that Julian has arrived for the weekend, she rushes to fetch the ball and place it at his feet – only the best for Julian.

Once I hid the ball in a knee rug on a spare bed, hoping for a break.  She came into the lounge, trailing the whole rug.  Her body language shouted, “It’s in here somewhere!”  I had to laugh out loud.  She will drop the ball beside me, confident that the sound must bring me happiness.  Irang is not a retriever.  She also waits for me to throw the ball, so that she can go yapping after Sasha to say, “Now keep running and get lost!  Can’t you see Mommy doesn’t want that ruddy ball around her?”

When Sasha looks straight at you, head lifted up, her mouth appears to be downturned as though to say, “This isn’t funny.  You haven’t thrown that ball for me for at least five minutes.”  I see her now, sitting on the porch, eyes glued to the neighbour’s cat below.  What a noble profile, and her coat is very dark chocolate brown in the sunlight, not black.    My guardian angel, my pal.  Luckily for the cat, the porch is glassed in.