We have a real blessing in our home. It comes to us in the form of a medium sized yellow dog, who is a bit shaggy at the moment, our golden retriever/lab/chow mix named Maddie. Maddie is short for Madeline, a name that my wife, who is a first grade teacher and has a whole library full of children’s books, chose after one of her favorite characters. For those of you not into children’s literature, Madeline is a little girl who attends a girl’s boarding school in Paris.
Maddie came to live with us in 2000, when she was about eight weeks old. We picked her out of a litter of about seven or eight squirming, jumping little puppies at a house in Channelview, Texas, on the opposite side of the Houston metropolitan area where we lived at the time. We like to say she was the best $25 we’ve ever spent. Her first day with us was quite traumatic. She was dirty, and needed a bath, along with all of the initial shots and care from the vet. By the time she got to the vet’s office, she was fast asleep. She was a little shy, and missed her mother and litter the first night, but she got used to her surroundings quickly. She adjusted quickly because, with both of us being teachers, we were home for a lot of the day during the summer.
As a puppy, Maddie stayed in the house most of the time, separated from our cat, who was older and completely uninterested in adding a dog to the household. When she got big enough, she spent most of the day in the back yard. Most evenings, after we’d get home, we would let her inside to play for a while, or go out to the yard to play with her, and she slept in a crate in the dining room at night. She became acquainted with a number of “critters” that we never knew were part of the environment until she arrived and alerted us to their presence. We always knew there was something in the back yard when she would run back and forth from the door to the side or back of the house, not wanting to come in and wanting to get our attention.
The first time this happened, it was because she had a couple of possums sitting on top of our fence, perched on the top for dear life, just high enough to be out of her reach. They weren’t moving until we could get her inside the house. Another time, she was leaping and lunging at a hook-nosed rat snake that she trapped underneath of the outside wall of the garage. One night, a furry paw was reaching through the slats of our fence, trying to get at her, and she was dancing around the back porch barking at it. It turned out to be a mother raccoon, with four babies sitting on the driveway on the other side. She would also spend a lot of time, probably more than we knew, chasing squirrels around the yard.
Her favorite outside play activity was to chase water coming out of the hose. We put a small wading pool in the back yard because she kept playing in her water dish. When I would fill the pool, she would jump in and out, and chase the stream of water around the yard. She would never grow tired of doing this. I would finally have to just stop and put it away, only to hear her splashing around in the pool after I came back in the house.
When our cat died of cancer a few years ago, Maddie got to spend a lot more time inside. It still took a while for her to “learn to be a dog,” since everytime she came in, someone had played with her and she expected that kind of treatment every time she came through the door. My wife had taught her several tricks, to sit, to roll over, to stay, to speak, and to give her paw. She was too impulsive to “stay” very long without the reward, which was a doggie cookie, but she could do the other tricks without any problem. It was a nightly ritual for her to do them all, with the last one being to wait until one of us counted to five before dashing into her crate for the night.
When we moved to Pennsylvania a year ago last July, Maddie had to get used to the whole new lifestyle of being an inside dog, since we did not have a fenced in yard any more. The trip from Texas to Pennsylvania was also a concern, but she handled it very well, with a little help from a sedative that the vet gave to us. She’s adjusted to living inside quite well, completing her training at learning how to be a dog. The only difference has been that after a few months, she insisted on sleeping at the foot our our bed at night instead of in her crate in the basement.
The blessing is that we still have her, after twelve years, and that she is still active and loving. Coming home at the end of the day, we are greeted with the patter of paws coming down the stairs and a yellow ball of fur that is as happy to see us as we are to see her. She still likes to chase small animals around in the yard, mainly the rabbits that come around frequently. She’s still not quite sure what to do with the deer that occasionally wander into the yard out of the woods along the creek. She’s discovered snow for the first time in her life, and loves walking around in that. We are lucky to have her and we are blessed by this big yellow dog. She’s a great member of the family.