Woman’s best friend

His hair is dark brown, like my favorite Godiva chocolates. His eyes are large and the same liquid umber color. He is long and lean; he runs fast and furious. His favorite sport is catch; he is so athletic. He is in great shape due to his exercise and smart diet of chicken and sweet potatoes, low-fat yogurt and blueberries. He is my favorite cuddle partner, molding himself to me, back to back, in my queen bed, or sometimes curled next to me, his head on my shoulder, his breath softly whiffling in my ear. He has a far grander lineage than me. His name is Muirfield Marley West. He’s my dog.

Marley is a Chocolate Labrador Retriever, seven years old, used to be male. He turns heads at the vet’s and in pet stores. He is man magnet; when we are out walking, not a male can resist his wiggly butt and eager tail-wagging. Perfect strangers approach everywhere to ask his name, comment on his beauty, pet his shiny coat. He loves the attention; he loves people, men especially. He hates most animals, though, especially squirrels, crows, cats and small dogs. He has two canine friends: his cousin, Tug, a goofy English Springer Spaniel who likes to lick his drool and carry balls for him, and Bam, the rambunctious Yellow Lab, belonging to his boy’s best friend.

I love him as only a mother of a son can love a male creature that slobbers, leaves muddy footprints across the clean kitchen and eats me out of house and home. I baby him, he provides me with companionship in my “empty nest.” I cater to him, he gives me the security of a big dog bark whenever a stranger approaches our door…or walks down the street.

But, he is such an embarrassment.  Not the kind of embarrassment that comes from an ugly mutt that you love anyway. He doesn’t act like a Lab. He looks like the quintessential Labrador Retriever. But, he is afraid of water. He even walks around mud puddles. He loves the snow, but hates the rain. He will not go near the swimming pool. He has to be coaxed into the walk-in shower for his “bath”, where he hangs his head and tucks his tail between his legs during the entire 10-minute ordeal of warm shower spray, expensive oatmeal shampoo and coconut conditioner for his sensitive skin.  I cater to his fears as best I can. He showers instead of bathes, I take the long way around any puddles and keep him away from rivers and the ocean.

On Wednesday, I took him with me on a few errands; since his boy has been gone, he gets fretful and into the wastebasket when I am gone for more than an hour or so.  I promised a reward if he waited patiently while I popped into DMV and used the bank’s drive-thru window. He was happy in the back seat on his doggie blanket, catching treats in mid-air as I rewarded him at each stop. Our last errand was at the library. I pulled into the far corner of the parking lot, near the newly completed nature trail.

Marley loves to walk in the woods, whether it is a real forest, like Kinns Road Park, or just the overgrowth along our development’s outer edges. We headed down the asphalt trail, my unsure steps on the hard surface, his paws on the grass, wet leaves and weeds. I knew the Town had recently competed a small bridge over the small muddy stream that meandered through the woods. As I stepped onto the bridge, he pulled to the right, toward the stream. I called him back. He then veered to the left, down the shallow bank. I made him come back to me and sit. I shortened the leash and told him to “heel.” I took two steps onto the planks before he brought me up short. Butt planted firmly on the pavement, tail tucked between his legs, he dropped to the ground and refused to move. I cajoled, I ordered, I scolded, but nothing I said or did could make him move. I pulled him up to sit and looked in his eyes. Abject terror. My big strong doggie boy was afraid of a small footbridge. I flushed. His tail began to wag. He turned about and headed back to our car. I looked around to make sure no one had witnessed my humiliation. My big brown dog is a wuss.

“Candy ass,” I muttered as I opened the car door for him. He happily jumped onto the backseat. When I got in, he pushed his head onto my shoulder and slurped the side of my face. In the rear view mirror I could see that all was now right in his world. Mom, car, blanket, treats, after a walk and some sniffs among some new bushes. He slept the rest of the afternoon curled up on my bed, with his big red ball, the tip of his tail twitching with remembered adventures.

It is a good thing that he has his looks to rely upon, else I am sure most would mistake him for one of those pocket-book toy poodles. Sigh.

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