My 7-year-old lab Hannah is at her happiest in the fields around the farm. Like me, she’d rather be outside most of the time (in any season other than winter). Except her tastes tend toward rolling in dirt or jumping into the pond, even at the height of summer when algae blooms outnumber the fish 2 to 1.
She will turn 8 in September. She still has the energy and demeanor of a much younger dog. Most people that meet her think she’s still a puppy, mouthing their hands and sprinting around.
But no, like most labs she’s just a spaz. She’s small too, most likely the runt of the litter.
I got Hannah as puppy a few months after my dog Doug passed away from cancer, the same disease that claimed both my parents’ lives. Some people thought I shouldn’t have gotten another dog so soon. My neighbors at the time were critical of my choice, seeing it as trying to replace Doug, as somehow disrespectful to his memory.
But Doug could never be replaced. No animals really can, I think. I just took in another one to love, that’s how I always see it.
And my collie mix, Gordon, was lonely. Doug has been his brother, his playmate, his companion, too, as much as he’d been mine. So one dreary November day, I put Gordon into the back seat of my car and drove to the mall.
I’d seen a little brown puppy there the day before, taken her out and played with her. She had run around me in circles, getting dizzier by the moment. Having adopted so many animals from shelters in my life, I thought a pet store was the last place I’d ever get a dog. But in the end, all those animals need homes, too, I realized. Someone has to take them in and love them, whether they were born in a puppy mill or not.
The store let me bring Gordon in to meet Hannah. He liked her immediately, and she liked him. Their noses touched, large to small, brown to black. It was the only sign I needed, and home we all went together.
As a puppy, I can’t complain much about Hannah. She chewed a few pillows but no furniture, house trained easily, helped me learn to like getting out of bed before 6 am. Gordon played with her as if she was his equal in size, but was always gentle and careful with her, as is his deepest nature.
Between the two of us, she turned out to be a pretty good dog. She has her issues, of course. But even though she may run and run through the fields on her own adventures, she always turns around and comes home.
Now, several years later, Gordon is showing his age. Arthritis has set in, he sleeps a lot. But Hannah is still there, bugging him, getting him riled up to play sometimes, keeping him young (and occasionally annoyed). That’s what little sisters do, I guess. They are a team now, you can’t pet one without the other wanting in on the action.
When it comes to running like a madwoman though, Hannah is in a league all her own. I hope to spend many more years watching her dash through the tall grass, the “chocolate rocket,” as she’s been called. And to have more moments when she finally stops, alongside me, to pause for a moment and stand in the light of the sun.