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Red, the wonderful Black Lab

Posted: July 9, 2013 11:09 a.m.
Updated: July 10, 2013 5:00 a.m.

One Saturday, my neighbor came into my yard followed by a dog, about the size of a small cow, and carrying a small bag of dog chow. I paid little attention to her, but fixated on the animal that had one dead eye and a perpetually bent ear. He looked fearsome and immediately moved toward me, tail wagging, placing his muzzle on my bare leg. He looked like the Hound of the Baskervilles. Fate has many surprises. The neighbor volunteered in saving kennel dogs about to be put to sleep. She did not accept my refusal, so I became the owner of Red. Actually, Red was much smarter than I and knew that I was a rather slow pet of my husband. Red took his commands from Robert and watched me, from that time forward, as one would care for a 2-year-old child. The name, “Red,” Robert gave him as a joke, Red being totally black -- so much so, his featured blended in a black glob in pictures.

When someone entered the yard, Red began his protection mode. He barked incessantly, refusing to heed my commands until my husband came out and quietly said, “Be quiet, Red.” Actually, the master had arrived! Since my husband often traveled for his job, sometimes overseas, he bade good-bye to Red, telling him, facetiously, “Now, you keep her at home.” For people who believe dogs do not understand commands, they do not know Red. As a teacher, I had to leave each weekday morning to get to school. No such luck! Red placed his awesome bulk in front of the door, making exit impossible. I, an educated adult, was forced to tiptoe out the opposite door, shoes in hand and walk barefoot to the car. Then Red did his usual activity of “barking me out to the main road.” I guess the message was, “My mistress is on the way in spite of all my effort, so let her alone or deal with me.”

My students often came up to the lake, riding on jet skis or boats. I was out mowing the lawn, my husband being away, when Red blasted past me like a rocket. The noise of the motor had kept me from noticing a young man docking his boat. The tall young man also took off like a rocket, his skinny legs pumping prodigiously. It was one of my students, who was smart enough not to come back on shore, even when I told him that Red would not bite. Obviously, I was wrong and could not contain the dog.

Red often surprised me, even when we were the only two around. Once, I was talking to him after giving him a treat, when he rose on his hind legs and propped his front paws on either side of my head. I braced for what was certainly going to be a heavy weight. Red balanced himself, no weight at all on me, and talked right back, his muzzle close to my face. Another time, I was out in the yard headed toward a flower bed when Red almost knocked me off my legs. I was scolding him, never having seen such behavior, when I noticed he was shaking something thin and about 6 feet long. It was a snake! I have no idea what kind, although Red killed it and lay it at my feet. He certainly did not learn those tricks from me!

My husband warned me not to go walking alone when he was out of town. I, however, am the type of person that sees a warning as a challenge, so I went walking. I tried to get Red to stay at home to no avail. I was afraid a car would strike him. One day, Red had gone off in the woods, leaving me ostensibly alone when a car full of young men began whistling and making remarks. At first I thought it was some of my students and paid no attention. Safety, after all, is sometimes with crowds. I was not fearful until the driver pulled the car to a stop, got out and approached me. Then I was apprehensive. Straight out of the woods, with no warning, emerged the hound from hell, teeth bared, dead eye quite obvious, and every hair sticking straight out, making him appear even larger than his real self. Suddenly, the dangerous situation ceased to be real, the driver and his daring friends heading down the road in a cloud of dust.

Years went by, yet Red continued to “bark me out to the road” and meet me; however, he was much slower, and I noticed a sprinkling of gray on his muzzle. The grandsons were not awed by his size or appearance, often hanging on his neck and riding him. My only granddaughter would view him as a monster and would rush to me to protect her. Red looked puzzled; I, on the other hand, was delighted, because my granddaughter would not allow anyone to keep her constrained until Red was around. He looked so puzzled! After all, here was a beautiful new charge to take the place of Robert’s pet. No matter what, my granddaughter and Red never made peace.

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