Bender in Prison

I recently wrote an essay for an MBA program answering the following prompt:  How does your intellectual curiosity drive your professional and personal growth? I half completed about a dozen essays in a week. Finally I read an article about writing good MBA essays that said “don’t impress me, move me” and “write about what you love”. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and write about Bender. Yikes.

I’ve adapted the essay for the blog here:

Shortly after college I had an embarrassing realization: I had no idea how the internet worked. Of course I could use it like any self-respecting millennial college graduate can, but the inner workings were a mystery.

I was eager to learn, so when Nate bought me a domain for my birthday I googled “how to build a website,” and I was off! After about a week of learning to hard-code HTML and CSS, I contributed a fully functional (very mediocre-looking) site to the world wide web. This experience built confidence and taught me some of the fundamental skills I needed to eventually get a job as Website Manager in Boulder CO. 

I have a few more examples of curiosity leading to professional growth, however, instead of expanding on how my ambition to learn makes me an increasingly better employee, I’m going write about personal growth and my dog. Cliché, I know.

I got Bender as a bright-eyed, sharp-toothed, puppy, and in my eyes he was perfect. However, despite months of training, he still took commands as suggestions, and I knew I’d gone horribly wrong somewhere along the way. Naturally, I took to the internet.

I came across a mention of a Denver prison where inmates train dogs, and an image of my dog yelping amidst an inmate brawl immediately came to mind. I quickly moved on to other forums.

Not quite the vacation spot you imagine for your puppy.

Not quite the vacation spot you imagine for your puppy.

Later I found myself absentmindedly researching the program. I learned that they take in rescue dogs and train them as companions or service animals. I watched a few documentaries and began to chastise myself for forgetting that people who have committed crimes are still people. Dogs adore people despite their past, their looks, and their location. Through the program inmates feel loved, worthy, and capable, regardless of the fact that society has told them they are not.

I was inspired, and months later we were on the steps of Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Anxiously, I walked Bender through the remotely operated chain link fence and thick metal doors to the recreation room full of women in green. I had flashes of the imaginary mob scene with my dog in the middle, but the women instantly eased my apprehension. They were genial, they cracked jokes, and my dog, void of judgement, wagged his tail happily as they scratched his ears. I felt strangely calm as they walked him away.

When I picked him up five weeks later he showed effusive joy, but his handler was teary-eyed. In that moment we shared a humbling and profound connection. We were strangers living very different lives, who completely loved and were loved completely by the same dog. Now his tail wags vigorously when he sees that barbed wire building, and I am proud to leave him safe in the inmates’ care.


It is easy write off the unknown as confusing and intimidating. I certainly never thought I’d trust prisoners with my dog’s well being, but an initial curiosity set me on a path towards leaving my judgement behind. Now the prison is my favorite place to leave him.

If you have any questions about the prison program let me know! I’m a huge supporter and advocate of it now. And you can adopt dogs they’ve trained!



Zero to Sixty

Sigh. He’s sprouting like a weed. All of the sudden he has these legs that are way too long for him, he’s so tall he can barely lick the floor (one of his favorite hobbies), his bark is hilariously deep, and his puppy collar barely fits around his snout. He is almost 5 months old, and he weighs 49 lbs.

Bender, a golden retriever puppy, wearing a USC scarf and modeling his very long front legs.

Look at those legs! They don’t even fit in the picture!

On May 7th, 2013 my friend Tory was visiting for Derby Day (Derby is a big thing for us). We were chatting in the kitchen post-party when my computer dinged and I saw a gchat from my mom.

9:16 AM

Mom: Hey kid, I HAVE GREAT NEWS!!! are you there??

me: Hey mom, what’s up?

Mom: There is a grandmother in our family

me:  … what?

(No one in my family is the type to be popping out any secret babies.)

Mom: There is a grandmother in our family and it is not me 

(I’m an only child so, yes, I was pretty sure the secret grandma was not her)

me: Is it me??? Are there puppies?!?

Mom: YUP

me: Yay!!!!! That IS great news!!

Mom: but you would actually be a great grandmother

me: What’s the situation?!? Where are they?? How many??

(NOTE: I had been bugging my mom for years to orchestrate a litter of puppies from this family for me)

Mom: PUPPIES!!!!!!!! 3 male 3 female, born yesterday

(At this point I called her because she types like a grandma and I needed answers)

Puppies. 6 perfect little fuzzballs were squeaking around in New Jersey.

A very small puppy about 2 weeks old. He has just opened his eys.

This is one of the male puppies at just two weeks old. Possibly Bender!

In September of 2007 Bailey became a mother. The last puppy to leave our house was a little girl we’d named Champagne, when she was 9 weeks old she headed up to Hopewell, New Jersey.

Brady, an 8 week old golden retriever puppy in a red pick up truck headed to her new home.

Bender’s mom, Brady, on her way home

We didn’t hear from Champagne again until that day in May. My aunt ran into the man who had adopted Champagne (now called Brady) and he happily told her that Brady had become a mother the night before! My aunt called my mom, my mom gchatted me, and I devolved into a whirl of emotions.

Brady sits nursing her six golden retriever puppies in the whelping box

Brady with her litter of three week old puppies.

It started off with OMG OMG OMG I CAN’T WAIT TO GET A PUPPY OMG OMG!!! Then spiraled into holy crap I can’t handle a puppy, that’s a living being! What am I thinking?! I barely take care of myself how can I keep a puppy alive and healthy and well trained and happy?! My logical side was continually battling (and losing to) my emotional side (that seems to be a trend with me). Every time doubts crept into my head: how will you afford a puppy? do you know you’ll have to wake up every night to let him out? what will you do when he cries in the crate? are you going to leave him in Colorado when you go away for 2 weeks at Christmas? how will you ever travel again? what if you forget to feed him? what if he eats a rock and dies when you aren’t looking? what if he jumps on little kids and barks at everyone and humps the neighbors?

Bender at 10 weeks chewing on a bike pedal

Just the occasional chewing on a bike pedal

I thwarted these mostly logical (slightly sensational) arguments with one answer: I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. I’m not very good at preparing for disaster. I do a lot of “winging it”. Nate is decidedly more of a preparation guy and forced me to at least create a budget. While I was dreaming of great dog names — Mason, Duffman, Porter, Lager, Spuds, Tank — Nate was having nightmares about $5000 a year vet bills and 40lbs of dog food a month (and chewed up computer cords, pee in the house, never getting to go to happy hours again blah blah blah — like I said, slightly sensational). Nate had never had a dog before so our friends’ stories about machine gun diarrhea around the living room and the complete destruction of their possessions really hit him hard. I assured him that our dog wouldn’t do those things (convincing myself it was the truth or whispering under my breath “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it”).

Bender at 10 weeks in a basket of clean laundry

Searched for a few minutes and finally found him in here.

So after a lot of coaxing he agreed to bring a dirty, cuddly, chewy, loving, stinky fuzzbutt into our house & hearts. I woke up 3 times to let Bender out the first night we brought him home. We moved into the guest room the next night because we had less possessions in there for him to destroy. With no socks and hardly any furniture in the guest room he set about ripping apart the box spring from under the bed. We didn’t sleep a lot. In some of my gravest hours — 4am watching Bender pee and bolt around the yard with no chance at going back to bed — I thought maybe I’d made a huge mistake. This will pass I thought. This is me getting to the bridge and crossing it I thought. Soon it will be over I thought.

Bender at 11 weeks, lying on the floor in front of the fireplace trying not to sleep

4AM fighting sleep

That seems like a lifetime ago. Back then I was deliriously googling “how to get my dog to sleep in” in the wee hours of the morning. Now he sleeps through the night till at least 7 — sometimes 8 or 9 on the weekends! — and now we can let him out without watching his EVERY move. We have to watch a lot of his moves, but not every single one. Now he comes when we call him. He only chews on underpants he finds lying around (and has only successfully eaten half of one pair – which led to lots of purple poops).

Illustration of purple fabric stuck in some poop

I won’t include a real picture…this gives you an idea….

And in the last few weeks he has started losing his baby teeth like it’s going out of style. He had these huge purple mounds in his gums where his molars were coming in and they have finally burst out of his gums. It must hurt so much! It’s a wonder he’s not just whining all the time. Luckily this teething stage has not lead to any chewing on our possessions. Just a few bloody raw hides when his old teeth fall out.

Bender, open mouthed, with his new teeth poking through his gums

New teeth poking through his gums

Occasionally I miss the days when he could cuddle comfortably on my lap, (now he’s a tangle of legs and a tail too long). But mostly I’m excited to see what kind of dog he matures into. He’s an observant, calm, intelligent and loving puppy, I’m sure his adult self will be just as wonderful, and I’m excited to see him grow up.

Dogs will be Dogs

I love how Bender just instinctually knows how to be a dog. I don’t mean like he wags his tail when he’s happy and barks at strangers and wants to murder every moving thing that crosses his path (toys, spiders, squirrels, hummingbirds) although those things actually also fascinate me. It’s that he loves the things dogs are supposed to love. It’s one of those instances where all the stereotypes are true.

Bender, 10 week old golden retriever puppy, sleeps on his back

Show me a puppy that doesn’t sleep in the least comfortable position ever.

The first time he stuck his head out the car window you would have thought I’d presented him with a big slab of steak that he was allowed to eat off my plate while getting a tummy rub. His tail was wagging so hard that his butt was basically bending him in half. He almost fell off the car seat. His first few car trips were not so great, he either barfed or sat there whining until it was over. Then he discovered the window. It was a real game changer.

Bender, golden retriever puppy, in a harness with his paws on the window sill looking out the car window

Don’t worry, he’s got a makeshift doggy seatbelt. And we have accident health insurance for all dogs riding in our cars.

In other dogs will be dogs news, we started taking him for walks to the park now that he’s got most of his shots. Across the street from our house is dog’s best inanimate friend. A fire hydrant. He loves it so much. I’m kind of sad it isn’t bright red. At the beginning of a walk we leave the front door, he trots around the front yard for a second, chomps on a dead hydrangea flower for good measure, and then out of the corner of his eye he sees the hydrant and all distractions are forgotten. He bolts. (Waits for me to tell him it’s safe to cross the street like a good puppy) and then accosts the hydrant for a few minutes. He loves going for walks but I think if I let him, he’d just hang out at the hydrant all day. The layers of dog pee that have built up over the years on that thing are just too tantalizing.

bender sits next to a light green fire hydrant looking at it lovingly

Oh fire hydrant, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

And then yesterday he discovered bones and his little life was complete. Bender has a best friend, a mini australian shepherd named Leo who lives next door. Lucky for Leo the fence between our yard and his is only about three and a half feet tall. It took Leo about a week to master the art of jumping it, if I’m ever quick enough to get a photo of it I’ll put it up. Anyway, so now Leo visits pretty much all day, he’s a little older than Bender and every day Bender gets a little bigger than Leo. This seems to have cultivated a sort of napoleonic complex in young Leo’s head.  Because, like a bully, he has started stealing Bender’s toys. He hops over the fence, grabs a toy and then bolts back over while we scold him and Bender wags his tail. He drops his prize on his side of the fence and then comes back over to play with Bender who, naturally, has no idea what has just happened to him. Every week I cross the fence (less gracefully than Leo) and retrieve five or six toys for an ecstatic Bender. Leo watches and plots his revenge which lately, has been the decision to only poop in our yard. He literally jumps over, does his business and then goes home. Our neighbors haven’t used a pooper scooper in weeks.

Bender lying next to his best buddy Leo, a mini Australian shepherd

Leo and Bender are BFFs

But I digress. A few days ago Leo must have been feeling very gregarious, or Bender must have let slip that he’s never gotten a bone to chew on, because Leo went home, picked up a huge femur bone and brought it over for Bender to check out. It was a very friendly move by the bully/bestfriend. Bender was stoked. He never chews on anything for long, but he went at that bone for like an hour.

bender chews on a bone

mmmmm tastes like deer leg

Bender chews on his bone and Leo sits in the background making sure Bender's doing it right...

Leo’s in the background making sure Bender’s doing it right…

Until of course Napoleon the Bully Next Door decided Bender was done, distracted him, stole back his bone and went home. Bender sat at the fence staring longingly late into the night. So now I’ll go ahead and spend a few hours scouring Amazon or the dirty empty shelves at Marshall’s till I find one good enough for Bender to call his own. Which, naturally, Leo will promptly steal.

P.S. You can follow Leo on Instagram too! @gordievantuna

80% Perfect, 10% Jekyll, 10% Hyde

Bender sleeps like 80% of the day. The other 20% is split into two states. He is either a half drowsy, wonderful, cuddly puppy who just sits and observes the world going on around him, or a bitey intolerable monster that cannot sit still and wants to eat every rug, foot, sandal, pant cuff and lint ball that comes within five feet of him. He even finds and eats those horrifying balls of my hair that I gag about when I find them under the couch or stuck to my recently cleaned t-shirts.

Before Bender finally arrived at our house and stole our hearts I spent a weekend digging a bunch of weeds and plants out of a tiny polygon of a garden. The deck behind it was about 8 inches off the ground there, plenty of room for a curious puppy to crawl through and get stuck under. So I shoved some logs in the space and dumped like 5 bags of mulch on top for good measure. It looked really nice when I was done! After a year of looking at a gnarly rose bush and a mass of snap peas surrounded by dirt and dead leaves, it was great to see a few irises poking out of a nice clean bed of mulch. Sigh.

bender chomps down on some irises; 9 week old puppy eats flowers and destroys garden

It didn’t take long for Bender to decide the irises were a formidable and dangerous enemy that must be vanquished.

After his successful iris conquest he must have decided that they were guarding some kind of secret gateway, because now he’s made it his mission to dig through as much mulch sand and dirt as it takes to see what lies beneath the irises.

Bender digs a hole in the garden

He’s persistent, we’ll give him that….

12 week old puppy sleeping on top of the hole he's been digging, with a grumpy look on his face

When he’s not digging to China he guards his progress ferociously.

Today during a break from his tireless efforts to really destroy the only garden in our yard I’ve ever worked on, he bolted, feet a delicious mixture of mud and sand, into the house and down into the basement living room.

Lazily I stood up to retrieve him and take out of his mouth whatever possession of ours he decided to destroy. I got down to the basement to find a liter of water spilling out of a Nalgene all over the coffee table, tv remotes, and rug (narrowly missing one of our computers), and a muddy Bender, standing with all four feet proudly on the couch. What. A. Jerk.

muddy pawprints on our couch

Thanks buddy, great job redecorating the couch.

He jumped down about as soon as I found him there. I cleaned up the muddy paw prints and the spilled water, and then marched upstairs and took my revenge: I dumped an entire bottle of Tapatio in the polygon of kicked up mulch and dug out dirt. That’ll show him…

hot sauce sprinkled on the garden to stop the dog from digging

Tapatio on mulch looks suspiciously murdery

His Mr. Hyde self is not very pleased about this latest obstacle between him and garden destruction, but I’m sure he’ll find a way to overcome it. At least for now his Dr. Jekyll half is just snoozing happily at my feet. Dreaming of couches and irises yet to be ruined.

Puppy Love

There have been a few times that I knew I loved Bender. Before I even met him I was having nightmares about losing him.

Bender on my leg on his car ride home

Car ride home

The day I did finally meet him I could have cried tears of joy…or pain due to the whole hair chewing situation….or sadness due to the watching him beg to go inside and then pee and poop on the rug situation…hard to say. But it makes my heart hurt looking at his little face.

Then there was the time he devoured a corn cob and I rushed to the internet to see if he’d be ok. Turns out that was a mistake, the internet is a horrifying place. It decidedly told me he wouldn’t survive the night. I called my mom in tears and inspected way more poop than any person should have to.

Bender snuggled into a blanket

What a love

But today I think I discovered real love. We put Bender in his crate around 10:30. He cried yelped, whined, howled, barked, and bayed till eleven. Then woke up again half an hour past midnight. He sleeps in his crate in the living room, which he hated at first but has been getting way better at. He wasn’t having it.

Heart aching from the previous half hour stint of howling, and already having decided that starting tomorrow night he sleeps in our room, end of story, I lept up to get him and take him out.

I’m not one to wake up early but for this guy I’m out of bed in seconds all hours of the night and morning. So I think a lot of that is love. Heartaches, tears, internet searches, early rising, poop inspection.

But I think the real telltale sign came after I let him back in. I took him downstairs to the basement and slept on the couch next to him so all three of us could get some sleep.

Just as I was dozing off he let one rip. I’m not talking one of those infamous silent but deadly dog farts. This was so loud I woke with start, and so did he. I sat for 2 or 3 excruciating seconds. You know what I mean. Where you sit and hope that it’s going to be one of those innocuous farts. The occasional acceptable bowel situation that’s alarmingly loud but odorless instead of silent but deadly.

It wasn’t one of those.

Bender, golden retriever puppy, cuddled into a blanket and farting away

Sleepy fart machine

Holy shit. It was horrifying.

It didn’t end there. He fired off audible stink bombs for at least twenty minutes. These farts are the kind that make you cry. It hurts to breathe. I cowered under the blanket one hand on his head one covering my nose.

So I think that’s love.

What happened to a good old thump on the noggin?

So I’m beginning to realize something here, this positive reinforcement thing is a real pain in the ass. It goes like this: your puppy jumps up on the couch, you lure him off with what they call a “high value treat” also known as a tiny stinky piece of a horrifying meat log made of beef lungs, turkey liver and potatoes. This meat log situation is seriously enough to make you rethink the whole pet ownership thing in the first place. Anyway, sooner or later your dog realizes that whenever you see him up on the couch and start coming for him he is going to get a treat so he makes the decision, on his own (read: tricked into it by me and my horrible meat treat), to get off the couch. Once he has started making that decision, you add the command “get down” “off” “stop ruining my couch you asshole” etc. and he starts to associate that command with his decision to get his dirty-from-digging-up-the-garden-you-worked-on-all-Spring paws on the floor where they belong. Before long every time he jumps on the couch you can tell him to get down and he will!

positive reinforcement doesn't seem to work on bender, the golden retriever puppy with two paws on the couch looking like he's done nothing wrong.

Don’t mind me…

Of course that doesn’t solve the problem of him jumping up there in the first place… Or the larger problem that I’m coming across: when he wants a treat he goes and jumps on the couch and then gets down and comes and sits next to me expectantly. So that’s awesome, I’ve successfully trained him to hang out on the couch for a few seconds. Bravo me!

Bender, two paws on the couch, looking like he's done nothing wrong

I’m just here for the treats

 What happened to the good old days where a thump on the noggin was allowed during dog training? Now it’s all about you manipulating him into making his own decisions. They tell you to be the alpha in the relationship, but doesn’t letting him make his own decision to remove his furry butt from my couch make him feel like he’s in charge? I guess only time will tell. And, to be fair, I trained him to sit using positive reinforcement: treat by his nose, back it up so he sits, click the clicker and give him a treat. And now he sits all the time without me asking. Maybe he’ll start not getting on the couch all the time one day real soon. Or maybe I’m just supposed to give him treats whenever he isn’t on the couch? That doesn’t seem very efficient….

Bender with a mouthful of white down comforter


But let me tell you the most demoralizing part. Sometimes, in moments of weakness, all I want is to hold that little furball on my lap on the couch while I rewatch the 3rd season of Futurama for the fifteenth time. I mean really that’s why I got a puppy in the first place right?! So I scoop him up from the floor by our feet, he yawns and, half-asleep, he flops into my lap hiccuping every few seconds. 

Bender in my lap for a few short seconds


For a few moments it’s fantastic, and then the other shoe drops, his hiccups wake him up more fully, and he realizes “Oh gross! I’m on the couch! This place is the worst!” and squirms his way back to the floor to sleep on cold tile with his head resting on a chair rung. I take this to mean that he’s just a treat-junky jerk who never even wants to be on the couch at all! At this point all my optimism flies right out the window and in my frustration I decide to write a grumpy blog post. 

bender with his head asleep on a chair rung

That’s more like it.

Disclaimer: No dogs were thumped on the noggin during this blog post. Or any other time.

Four Decades of Dogs

In 1976 John Brown unknowingly began a lifelong, generations-wide tradition. He gave his daughter a golden retriever puppy and my life, one among many others, was changed forever.

Wrinkles, golden retriever puppy, sitting in the tall grass looking at the camera

Wrinkles as a puppy

That tiny puppy from John Brown’s arms became Wrinkles, or Wrinx, and my mom took her everywhere: to the grocery store, graduations, first dates, second dates, movie night. You name it, Wrinx was there, waiting patiently in the car. A well-bred golden she’d point at every squirrel, moth and wind blown leaf she saw on their walks together, just like the hunters in her family before her, and she had that wonderful loving disposition that makes golden retrievers such great four-footed friends.

Wrinx the golden retriever and Marcy, 1976, sitting on a pile of wood

Wrinx and Marcy, 1976

In 1978 Marcy was living in Pennsylvania with Gail, a long time friend. (They met in elementary school, and, as often happens with childhood acquaintances, they became very good friends in later years.) That October Marcy decided that Wrinx should be a mom, she was such a good dog, Marcy knew her puppies would be wonderful too.

Wrinx the golden retriever in 1977 with a very wrinkled face

Wrinx 1977

Two months later, at 2AM on a very cold December night, Wrinx went into labor. The first potato-like puppy plopped out of a confused Wrinx who promptly ran across the house as fast as a very pregnant girl can run. Marcy shouted to wake Gail, “The puppies are coming! THE PUPPIES ARE COMING!!” (this was the first of many such cries in the decades to come). Gail rushed to the scene where she found Marcy comforting a frantic Wrinx. She ran to the newborn puppy, broke his amniotic sac and rubbed life into him. As he wriggled around she placed him on top of Wrinx, who, realizing the whole thing was only getting started, birthed another puppy and promptly bolted out of the room. Marcy left Gail to deal with this second puppy and shouted as she chased after Wrinx “Call my father! Tell him we need him to come over NOW!!” So at 2:30AM on a bone-chilling December night, Gail called John Brown. He arrived ten minutes later trudging into the cottage in his Bean Boots, red flannel pajamas and his hunting coat.

My grandfather calmly surveyed the scene and finally asked one question, “where is her whelping box?” Gail and Marcy shared a bashful glance as Marcy confessed, “Oh…we don’t have one.” John Brown sighed and said “Well make one, or at least make something. And both of you calm down.” Gail and Marcy hopped to it and dragged an extra mattress to the corner of the room. They put Wrinx and her suckling puppies on it and John Brown patted her head softly telling her what a good girl she was. As the minutes dragged by the three of them sat in silence, waiting to see how Wrinx would handle the rest of the ordeal. The next puppy arrived with little commotion. Wrinx took over the duties Gail had performed on the first two pups and, around 4AM John Brown, deciding his work there was done, said “well you two have this under control, so I can go home now.” And, as calmly as he’d walked in, he walked out the door. Over the next ten hours Wrinx had ten more puppies and that day her family became our family. These puppies would have more puppies and with each generation our families would wind closer together, walking the world side by side.

Marcy wrangling a litter of puppies

Marcy wrangling puppies

Jenny Swoops, Mom and Gail’s down-the-street neighbor took home a little puppy named Betty. And John Brown and my grandmother adopted a girl whom they named Samantha. Two years later my mom was living in Betterton (jewel of the Chesapeake), when Betty had a litter. Wrinx would have been four years old, but a year earlier she had escaped from the car she travelled in so often, and tragically drowned nearby. When Marcy got the news that Wrinx’s grandpuppies had been born, she raced north to pick one out. She named her new little girl Quid, for Tannequidgen which means crab, because crabs can’t drown.

Marcy lying on a couch with her 2nd, very red, golden retriever, Quid

Mom and Quid

After a few years my mom was ready for a new litter of puppies in her life, she knew at least half a dozen people who wanted a dog from Wrinx’s family and decided it was time. Major, a huge golden retriever that was a world class hunting dog, belonged to my mom’s friend Joyce and her husband Clint. A few months later Major and Quid begat Chief, who went to join his aunt Samantha with my grandparents, Scrapper, who went to live with my dad’s best friend Wayne, Jack who stayed with my parents, and Milo who went to Joyce and Clint, but died shortly after of Parvo. Chief and Scrapper would be the first of Wrinx’s family that I would remember.

Dad sitting in an armchair with Quid's whole litter on top of him and Quid looking on

Dad with Quid’s litter and Quid

Chief was regal, smart, loyal, loving, tender and proud. Much like my grandfather.

Jack and Chief as tiny puppies curled up for a nap together

Jack and Chief

Scrapper was similar, if a little scrappy, much like Wayne.

Wayne and a 3 month old Scrapper after a hunt

Wayne and Scrapper

Jack was my first dog. But, sadly, he did not make it into my memories, though there are many pictures of us together before he ingested a rock and, despite three trips to the vet, could not be saved.

Me as a baby on a blanket on the floor with 1 year old Jack licking my head

Me and Jack

Jack sitting on the stairs


Four years later Scrapper fathered a litter and 8 weeks after that I sat in the old Datsun truck, between my parents, hugging a new puppy, the most ecstatic a five-year-old child could be. My dad pushed to call him Beercan, but we vetoed that and he became Stout, solidifying a family tradition, that our dogs, Wrinx’s family, would be named for booze from there on out.

Me hugging Stout, a very red golden retriever, on a dock.

Me and Stout

Stout was a dark red golden with all the characteristics of his family members before him. One warm summer afternoon my mom and I were floating on the creek in a little rubber toy with a rope trailing behind us. When we floated too far from shore Stout would admirably hop into the water, paddle over to us, grab the rope in his teeth and pull us to dry land. It was heartwarming, and a little annoying…

My grandparents traveled a lot so Stout’s uncle Chief spent a large part of his time at our house. Stout loved when Chief would visit. They were both alpha dogs and together they roamed and protected their territory, ganging up on any dogs they met along the way. Because of their aggressive behavior when united, we finally made the decision to give Stout to our very good friends: Jim and Tracy and their kids Zach and Tory. Zach and Tory were my best friends and I spent countless afternoons at their house, so I would see Stout regularly, and no other dogs would trespass on his land.

Chief sitting regally with his head cocked to the side


When he was 12 or so Stout was diagnosed with cancer. Tracy called me and I’ll never forget how she phrased the sentence when she told me they had put him down. “Matty” she said, “I would have eaten glass if it would have given him just a few more pain free days. But we had to let him go.”  It was one of the most painful conversations I have ever endured.

Stout lying down next to me while I carve a pumpkin

Stout guards pumpkin carving

A year after we gave Stout to Zach and Tory, my parents had Chief father a litter in our town. Soon there were 10 more puppies in Wrinx’s family. And there would be two more in ours.

It was decided that we would get a puppy and that she would be mine, I knew I wanted a girl and I spent hours with the litter trying to choose the best one for me. I kept coming back to a medium sized girl with a white birthmark on her stomach. Meanwhile my dad fell in love with a husky male that slept all day every day, usually in my father’s arms. The day came to take our puppy home and I rushed to take Tammy from the litter (at the age of 7 I had strayed from the alcohol dog naming trend). I was so happy the whole ride home, I failed to noticed how sad my dad was to leave the chunky sleeper behind.

My mom did notice though, and two days later my dad and I intercepted a voicemail from the owner of the litter while my mom was out. “Hey,” the message said, “I’m holding that big male for you, when are you going to come pick him up?” My mom’s anniversary surprise for my dad ruined, the two of us took off full speed to go get Suds, and bring him home.

Chief chews a stick and looks on while Suds and Tammy play

Chief looks on while Suds and Tammy play

Suds slept a lot. Tammy was glued to my hip. Her favorite game was soccer and we would run around the yard passing the ball between us. She trekked into the woods with me on countless adventures while Suds slept under the porch in a hole he’d dug to get to cooler ground.

They were a year and a half old when they pulled a package of chocolate chips off the counter. We woke up to find the kitchen strewn with yellow plastic, no chocolate in sight. When I got home from school Suds greeted us at the car, clearly glad we were home. Tammy was nowhere to be seen. A few hours later, we buried her on the bluff overlooking the water, next to her uncle Jack. My dad was away, so Wayne, Scrapper’s owner, came over to help. He told me all dogs go to heaven and I cried and cried while he filled up the hole, with my best friend inside.

Chocolate has a caffeine cousin in it called Theobromine. Dogs can’t process this chemical the way we can and too much can be fatal. Suds was much bigger than Tammy, so he could handle it, but it was too much for her. I hate thinking of her uncomfortable, scared, confused and alone dying on the lawn. She had tried eating grass to throw up, but it was too late. I hope Suds was with her at the end.

It wasn’t long before Suds was forgoing his nap-time and accompanying me on my adventures down through the woods around our house. He slept under trees I climbed and crossed rivers while I crawled over fallen-log bridges. Without Tammy at my side he assumed the role of guardian.

I remember picking black raspberries down by the water on the rock jetty while he laid in the sun, one eye closed, one eye on me. I knew that the moment danger crossed my path he would be there. That if I was hurt he would sound the alarm. That if he sensed a storm rolling in he would trot home, looking back and barking to make sure I’d follow.

Suds as an old dog, sitting on the porch, leaning against a post.

Suds the sleeper

Suds the sleeper was a million dollar dog. The kind of dog that has an old, knowing soul. He was gentle, stoic, kind and caring. He loved being part of the action, even if he slept through it. At parties at our house he would often wander into the middle of a group of people talking, and promptly fall asleep at their feet after a few head pats. He would wake to notice they had moved on, wander over to another group and lay down again for another nap. He wasn’t afraid of fireworks or gunshots. He hardly ever ran away. He always came when called. He would put his big head on your lap and beg with watery eyes for just one more ear scratch.

He was also a force to reckon with. My dad is a tugboat captain, he works for 2 weeks at a time and comes home at strange hours at the end of his trips. One night he got in around 4am, not wanting to wake the dog, and have him wake us with his happy barking, he snuck in the back door. That night my dad met a snarling, growling and snapping Suds who had barreled through the gate from the kitchen into the living room to take on the intruder. As Suds lunged he realized who my dad was in mid air, did a little pirouette and landed a happy and friendly, mildly embarrassed, golden retriever again.

Chief and Suds, father and son, were thick as thieves. I saw them fight once, Chief remained on the dock, Suds ended up in the water. They never fought again.

Across the creek from our house is a sand-spit that people anchor their boats on during the weekends. The dogs have always loved to swim over and greet the yachters. We’d notice they were gone and a with a quick glance off the bluff we’d see them, mid swim, or trotting around on the point, looking for hotdogs and pats on the head. As Chief grew older he still enjoyed making the swim but it was not as easy as it had been. So Suds, who could do a few round trips before Chief made one leg of it, started swimming in circles around his father, keeping an eye on him.

Chief chews a stick and Suds lies next to him

Chief and Suds

My mom saw Suds walk straight off the dock once. She’s seen my dad do the same thing.

There was a time, before Suds was in the picture, that Chief locked himself in the cellar. He was in there for quite a while before anyone noticed. He must have somehow warned Suds, because Suds stayed away from that place like it was hell on earth. And Suds must have told our dogs after that because none of them have ever set foot in there, no matter how much coaxing they get.

Suds and Chief stand guard on the porch

Suds and Chief standing guard

I was nine years old when my grandfather, John Brown, Chief’s owner, passed away. We spread his ashes in two places: in the soil where we planted a tree so that new life could blossom, and in Langford creek where Bop hunted, boated, and sat enjoying the sunsets. As the ashes dissolved in the water behind the dinghy, Chief, quickly followed by Suds, jumped in the water and paddled through them, a final goodbye to the man who started this whole thing in the first place. A few months later Chief curled up in a comfy spot under the porch, and joined John Brown, not wanting to live without that knobby gentle hand on his head.

Two years later we brought a new puppy home. She was the first dog to come to our family that wasn’t related to Wrinx. Nugget (for Golden Nugget – also straying from the alcohol name trend) was playful and shy, and loved to roll in the mud. We hoped she and Suds would hit it off so we could have some more puppies in the house.

Me in a raincoat holding Suds and Nugget as a puppy during a hurricane

Me with Suds and baby Nugget

It took a few tries for Nugget to get pregnant, and when she finally did, she only had two pups, both males.

Nugget lies down, a proud look on her face and her two puppies in front of her

Proud Nugget and her puppies

One, who would later be named Whiskey, went to Zach and Tory’s parents, just a year after Stout joined Tammy, Jack, and Chief, on the bluff overlooking the creek. Suds always slept at Gail’s side when she would visit Marcy down on the Eastern Shore, so Flip, Suds’ son, Whiskey’s brother, and the great great great grandpuppy of Wrinx (who Gail helped have all 13 puppies so many years ago), rightfully went home with her and her family.

Flip and Whiskey, huge puppies on a porch

Flip and Whiskey

After a few more failed attempts at getting Nugget pregnant (and more false pregnancies that we can count!) she was spayed, and Suds went on to father one more litter when I was 17. Tammy had been my dog. Suds was my dad’s. My mom’s was Nugget. And it had come back around to me. I knew I wanted a girl, so we could maybe have a litter of puppies in the family again. I agonized over a name, until my best friend Sarah suggested Bailey.  Finally the day came and Zach, Tory and I hopped in the Explorer to pick up Suds’ daughter, Tammy’s niece. It was the winter of my senior year of high school, and she threw up all over the back seat…

Beautiful Bailey looking at the camera

Beautiful Bailey

Bailey was a wonderful puppy, playful, quick to forgive, easy to train, dominant but willing to submit to dogs like Suds. When I go home now she sticks to me like glue. She sleeps in my bed and does what I ask her to.

When I was 18 my mom ran over Bailey’s foot in the car. I put her in the Explorer and told my (panicking) mom to breathe, and to call the vet and tell him to expect us.

It was only a sprain and she would be fine, but I was still pretty shocked by the whole ordeal and on the way home I got pulled over for not wearing my seatbelt. As the cop walked to my car I realized my mistake, and hastily buckled in. Bailey (who never got over her car sickness problems) stuck her head out the window to greet the cop. A long line of sloppy drool came with her, and found its way to the cop’s uniform. “Ugh! Nice dog.” He said, with as much sarcasm dripping off his words as there was drool dripping down his chest.

Having just narrowly missed losing Bailey forever, I was not in the mood to hear him criticise her, or me. He asked me about my seatbelt neglect and I told him he was crazy and I’d been wearing it the whole time. I was not very friendly but he let me go with a smirk and told me to drive safe.

Bailey has gone through 3 pregnancies, the first ended in a miscarriage after a uterus infection. My family and I were in Paris at the time and it was really scary to be away from her. But I was there the first time she gave birth.

Puppy gestation takes 63 days. But dogs can get pregnant for the entire time they are in heat. Even by different dogs. So it’s possible that a litter could be half purebred golden, half goldendoodles, and after 63 days from the first set of pups gestating, all of them are born. So some pups could actually be a few days younger than their siblings.

From Bailey’s 61st day on we were taking her temperature almost hourly (it will drop from 100 to 98 when she goes into labor), testing to see if she was hungry (she won’t eat if she’s about to go into labor), and watching her very closely. On the night of day 62 she got pretty frantic. Wanting to go out, to come in, to go out, to come in, over and over and over again. Finally we coaxed her into her whelping box (we remembered to build one this time, unlike 28-year-old Marcy and Gail), under the dining table. Her breathing was heavy, contractions were spasming through her. When she birthed the first pup she had no idea what to do. After a few agonizing seconds my mom picked up the puppy, broke the amniotic sac and handed the wriggling potato to Bailey, who immediately set about licking life into the little guy. She broke the umbilical cord with her teeth, consumed the placenta and settled down, happy the ordeal was over.

Bailey and a tiny puppy

Bailey and a tiny puppy

She was not expecting to endure this process again, but she did, seven more times. She didn’t need our help breaking anymore sacs, and by pup 8 she was a pro. Her discomfort seemed to fade and after a few hours with no more puppies we were certain that she was done, so my mom and I went to bed, leaving Bailey to acclimate to motherhood.

In the morning we found five more puppies in the box with her, two happily feeding, three, tragically still. We removed the cold stillborn pups, buried them quietly on the bluff beside their family members, and went back inside to care for the living.

A whole littler of puppies piled together on the porch


Puppies are so amazing! It’s a crazy thing to literally witness a life begin, to go from dreamlike underwater state, to out in the world, nose smelling, mouth squeaking and lungs breathing. In three weeks they were a rumbling tumbling pile of puppies. Everything was new, even things they’d already encountered.

Suds lies on the ground next to his golden retriever grandson. They both look in the same direction.

Grandpa Suds puppysitting

We put colored collars on them to start to see their personalities blossom.There was a sleeper in the mix. Just like Suds, his main mission was to wander off to the cool shade under a bush away from his rowdy siblings and pass out. It’s tough work being a puppy!

Two golden retriever puppies check out the frog pond

Checking out the frog pond

A golden retriever puppy looks like he has just burst from out of a yellow flower bush

Investigating some very exciting flowers

Golden retriever puppy looks up pleading for a treat

Undeniable puppy face

Once again my dad could not give up the chunky sleeper of the group, and Captain remained with us. His brother Josey flew cross country with me to California to meet his new parents, my cousin and her husband. Bailey had another litter a few years later, one girl in the litter, Brady, went to a family in Hopewell, NJ. The rest were scattered around Maryland, to hunters, friends, friends of friends, and family members who had all been waiting for their chance to own one of these dogs.

One of the hardest to give up was Tom (formerly known as Gordon). He was another sleeper in the bunch and he was just the best. It was hard to part with Tom, but, after living with us for a year to avoid a lengthy quarantine he moved all the way to Bermuda and he is very very happy and very very loved. (And still a sleeper, or so we’re told.)

Gordon, the golden retriever puppy lies calmly in Kelsey's lap

Kelsey and Gordon

My senior year of college of I slept on a mattress on the ground in my tiny room in a house filled with five of my best friends. I woke up at 5am (stupid time difference) to a tearful call from my dad, telling me Suds was gone. This was not unexpected, but I was utterly devastated. Wayne was house sitting for my parents and taking care of Suds while they were out of town. He called my dad and said that it really couldn’t wait, it was time to take Suds in to be put down. Suds could barely stand on shaky legs. He must have known he didn’t have a lot of time. Because Wayne watched as Suds slowly stood up on wobbling paws, and step by step, made his way around the house, down the cement stairs, and fifty yards to the water. For the last time he stepped gingerly into Timms Creek, where he had swam for so many summers, wet his belly for a minute, smiled, and made the strenuous walk back up to Green Point, where he laid down and sighed his last breath, not fifty feet from where his father had passed away so many years ago.

Suds catches snowflakes on his nose, Bailey looks at the camera and Captain, a puppy, is soak wet. All three are on the snow covered dock.

Suds, Bailey and Captain

Over the years our friends and more extended families have chosen to make Wrinx’s family their own. Scooter was Waynes, then ours for a while before he found his forever home down the street with Barbara Parker, Josey Wales lives in california, Remmy and Skyy are both with Zach and Tory’s parents. Drake went to our friends Joyce and Clint. Walker moved to St. Louis with his parents Will and Angie (he still comes home for play-dates though). Brady moved north to New Jersey. Tucker owns Tanner. And Tom made his way to Bermuda.

Tom, asleep sitting up in the passenger seat

Tom, still a sleeper

Gordon a golden retriever, looks at the camera from a clay pot he climbed into. His brothers and sisters are cuddled together for a nap on the ground.

Gordon in his favorite sleeping spot, he climbed in there every day, all on his own.

Brady the golden retriever, a world class hunting dog hunting in New Jersey, stands proudly over retrieved birds

Brady hunting in New Jersey

Walker, a stoic looking golden retriever, sits on his front porch.

Walker in St. Louis

Nugget was always the wildest of our dogs. After she had her two puppies she would go hunting and actually catch things, she brought a dead bird to the door every day to feed to her family. She loved to hunt in the frog pound out in one of the gardens (and taught her sons to do the same.) She was certainly a dog marching to her own beat. She was a little nervous, a little smelly, and she liked to be outside as much as possible. She used to get so close to the fire her whiskers should have burned off. When she was older she tap danced for her food. One time, near the end of her life, she could barely make it down the two steps on the front porch, but we found her a week later miles from our house. In the fall of 2012 my parents knew the end was near for Nug. One warm night they let her sleep outside (she always wanted to sleep outside) in the morning she lifted her head to greet my dad, and then put it back on her paws. He checked on her half an hour later, and she was still. Now she’s sleeping forever on the bluff, looking over the water, an inlaw in the midst of a wonderful family.

Nugget lies down outside under a tree, with a puppy looking on

Nugget outside, like always

Captain is still a sleeper. He is calm and loving and the kind of dog that leans into you while you pet him. If you step aside he’ll tumble to the floor. Bailey has grown so ornery! Motherhood has made her bossy. And without Nugget around to be the crazy one Bailey seems to have taken up the mantle. She growls a little when she wants something, she comes half the time she’s called. She’s even started tap dancing.

And now, the latest development in the intertwinement of these dogs and our family started by Wrinx and John Brown almost 4 decades ago: Brady, the pup that went off to New Jersey in 2009 has had a litter. 3 boys, 3 girls, and one of them is coming to Colorado.

Brady lies down in her whelping box with her 6 golden retriever puppies. The puppies are only a few days old.

Brady and her puppies

We decided on a boy this time. Bender (aka BendërBrāu Bending Wait-For-It Rodriguez), is my Bailey’s grandson; if I’ve done the math correctly he is Wrinx’s great, great, great, great, great, grandson, and he is going to be a loving and well-loved mountain dog.

7 week old golden retriever, Bender.

Bender at 7 weeks

Two dirty, 7 week old puppies peek their faces out from under a porch step

Getting dirty already

After 13 years of being part of their family, and continuing a 40 year tradition, Gail, her husband Gary, and her daughter Emily had to put Flip down this spring. He took one last trip home to where he was born, where he had spent many weekends visiting his parents, swimming in the creek, imitating his father, and hunting frogs with his mother. When he turned twelve he aged very suddenly. Generally a spry dog, this wonderful, polite gentleman could barely stand without the help of a harness. He was a 115lb dog at his optimal weight, but dropped to 104 that year.

Gail ran into a friend, Kim, in the grocery store one day, and sadly started talking about how she knew Flip was fading. “But how will I know?” she asked, “how will I know that it’s time.” Kim looked at her for a second and finally said “You know he’s dying now, but he’ll let you know when he’s ready, after a great day. Plan a great day.” So, in an inspired moment of genius Gail and Emily decided to make him a bucket list before confronting that most awful goodbye. On the list were things like eat a few chocolate chips for once, be allowed to order from the McDonalds drive through, and make one last trip to Maryland. He knew the ride by heart, perking up as the car turned into the driveway. Once there he did all he could to drag everyone down to the creek, but, knowing they’d never get him back up the hill, they took him to the bluff to stand with his family members who had been laid to rest before him and look out on the water he’d swam in so many times.

Flip, a 12 year old 115lb, diabled, golden retriever looks over the bay past a slew of golden dafodils

Flip’s final looks over the bay

Like his mother he laid down in front of the fireplace, and he took one last trip out to the frog pond to wet his feet and smile at his many memories of that place. Gail swears Nugget was right there with him. And after the hardest goodbye Gail spread Flip’s ashes over the bluff, so he might rest with his family.

Flip smiling next to the frog pond

One last frog pond romp

But it’s not all bad news, this litter came exactly at the right time, and they are getting a girl, Gilly. While she won’t ever replace Flip, she’ll fill the empty space that belongs to a family without a dog to lay his or her big head in their lap. And in a few years she’ll have a litter so Gail’s daughter Emily, and the other kids in my generation who grew up loving these dogs, Sarah, Kelsey, Zach, Tory and so many others, can have a puppy wherever they may be.

It ends there for now. But not forever.

Gilly and Bender, 7 week old puppies, with their front paws up on a puppy gate

Gilly and Bender

Me and Flip, Tory, Emily and Whiskey on the tailgate of a red pick up truck

Me and Flip, Tory, Emily and Whiskey

Me and Bender, Tory, Emily and Gilly on the tailgate of a blue pick up truck

Me and Bender, Tory, Emily and Gilly

Proudly powered by WordPress
Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.