joe is leader of a motley pack
The first Gabe was a tiny golden retriever I met when Dad opened the front door, set the puppy on the living room floor, and said, “Happy birthday!” I picked the pup up, looked in his eager face, and became a dog owner.
His name came from a Falstaff beer commercial featuring two guys, Gabe and Walker.
The second Gabe was a $25 yellow Lab we picked from a litter when our two oldest boys, Hunter and Jack, were little and our youngest was yet to be born. Hunter and Jack, who hadn’t known the first Gabe, readily approved the name. When we were expecting our third child, I suggested to Cathy that Gabe would be a good boy’s name, but she said we weren’t going to name a son after a dog. Or two dogs. Or a beer commercial. So we went with Sam instead.
As the second Gabe began to age, growing stiff and gray, we decided to get another yellow Lab as a companion for him. I thought we should pick the most rambunctious, big-footed pup of the litter. So we did, and we named him Cooper.
Cooper was too much for Gabe—and, frankly, for us. Our backyard became too small. That cute pup grew into a blockheaded, destructive devil-dog whose roughhousing was driving Gabe toward an early grave. He chewed everything (What happened to the stair banister? Cooper ate it.) and peed acid that browned backyard grass overnight. The final straw was when he stripped the bark off the young maple we had planted and nurtured as the centerpiece of our cobblestone patio. We gave him to a farm family with room for Cooper to be Cooper.
“How’s he doing?” we asked a while later. “Oh, he bulled through a wire fence and we had to take him to the vet for stitches,” his adopted owner said.
The second Gabe finally wore out. One morning I heard him whimpering and found him unable to get up and out of the way of the backyard sprinkler. I told Cathy we had a decision to make. But Gabe made it for us. During lunch that day, Sam found him in the yard, peacefully gone. Cathy, the boys, and I took the rest of the day off and drove Gabe to our cabin on the lake where he liked to run, roam, and swim. We buried him, wrapped in his favorite blanket, on the edge of the shelterbelt behind the cabin. The boys found a rock to mark his grave.
“No more dogs,” said Cathy, who can’t resist big dog eyes that go from sad to happy with a pat on the head. I thought we’d stay dogless for a while to see how it went. But Hunter heard about a litter of yellow Labs, and that’s how we came to have Quigley (Cathy’s grandmother’s maiden name).
Quigley cost 50 bucks. A bargain, right? Sure, if you don’t consider—so far— dew-claw removal, shots, licensing, and that emergency run to the vet for a walleye jigging spoon dangling from his nose.
Quigley is not a great hunting dog, and neither were the Gabes, for that matter. Willing, eager, and trained to fetch, come, heel, sit—the basics. Owning good family dogs is enough, I guess, but we really should have polished their training. They thought it fun to chase a downed pheasant and maybe carry it toward you. They thought because they had caught the bird, it was up to you to claim it from them.
Once, on a dove hunt, the second Gabe went on a retrieve with one of my buddies. When they returned, we asked, “Where’s the bird?”
My buddy frowned at Gabe, who was smiling a happy, satisfied Lab smile.
“He ate it,” he said.
But whatever my dogs lacked in hunting prowess, they always made up for it as faithful companions. Quigley is eight now and graying at the muzzle, but he still has the enthusiasm of a pup.cathy says no more dogs after him. But I’ve heard that before.