Stan Crader

Author & Lecturer on Writing About Rural America

Bunnies and Bears

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I grew up in a small house less than a 1000 square feet. There were six of us, and consequently no room for an indoor dog. I had one friend who had an indoor dog, a poodle. Other than that, he, the friend, was normal.

After being married several years my wife and I moved into a house with more than one toilet and plenty of room. The three boys began asking for a dog. I didn’t have one growing and up and I decided they didn’t need one either. I pulled into the driveway after work and the youngest, toothless, boy announced, “We got you a birthday present and you aren’t going to like it.” I sensed it was a puppy.

When they presented me with golden ball of fur, I remembered seeing a sign at a furniture store that read – “Unattended children will be given an ice-cream cone and a puppy on departure.” I wondered what I’d done to deserve this little creature that had just deposited a thousand strands of hair on my black dress pants. My feelings would change.

Golden Retrievers are without a doubt the best breed of dog. That is if you’re looking for a dog that sheds enough hair each day to fill a pillow case, isn’t bred for retrieving anything in particular, sleep 23.5 hours per day, but loves people.

Our first Golden was the perfect dog. Katy hated the outdoors, wouldn’t step on anything wet, greeted everyone as if they were a soldier returning from the front, and on walks never got more than twenty feet away. If geese or ducks came into our yard she’d chase them away before they had a chance to leave slimy evidence of their visit. Each morning she’d piddle in the same spot and then retrieve the morning paper.

It has been said that life begins when the last child leaves home and the dog dies. Katy died just before our youngest, now with teeth and much larger, left for college. We missed Katy but we enjoyed the ability to be spontaneous. Overnight trips needed very little planning; we didn’t need to get home to ‘let the dog out.’ The vacuum cleaner no longer needed to be emptied weekly.

Some years later the kids, now adults, gifted us with another Golden. Training a dog in the middle of winter is daunting. The next few weeks weren’t pleasant. Eventually Roxie became a part of the family. Unlike Katy, she’s not the perfect dog. She doesn’t chase geese and I once witnessed a pair of ducks mating not ten feet from her. She couldn’t have cared less. And she’s afraid of almost everything, including trash bags, lawn mowers, people carrying things, doors closing, the dark, flying birds, and airplanes. She does get the paper each morning, but one can’t predict what she’ll do with it.

On a cold rainy February night I discovered the one thing that she’d chase; a bunny. Yep, let her out to piddle and away she went through the wet grass into the mulch and sliding to a stop in the only muddy spot in the yard. And since that night she has continued to be vexed by bunnies. She has yet to catch one.

And so it went; the dog afraid of everything had discovered her purpose. But then one morning when I let her out to piddle she went racing toward a cedar tree where she’d cornered a bunny the night before. We were at our cabin in the Rockies where it wasn’t unusual to see a small bear now and then. Roxie had seen bears from a distance and growled like she does when the doorbell rings, but then runs to the bedroom when a stranger enters. This day was different. She ran under the low hanging branches and instead of a bunny running out the other side a large black bear, probably weighing over 300 pounds ambled out. I expected Roxie to run for safety in my direction with the bear at her heels. Instead the bear trotted away with Roxie barking viciously at its heels growing and showing teeth as if to have suddenly contracted a severe case of rabies. The bear disappeared over a ledge and then Roxie returned to me, panting, and frequently looking back in the direction of the bear’s departure. To this day when she goes to piddle in that area, she first races to the cedar tree and then goes to the ledge and looks around fearlessly.

Roxie is a people magnet; Debbie I take her along when walking to town from our cabin in the Rockies. She attracts people and I then try to sell them one of my books. They ignore me and ask what kind of dog Roxie is. I tell them she’s a Golden Retriever. “Beautiful,” they all say. “What does she retrieve?” they ask. “Bunnies and Bears,” I reply. They slowly back away. She’s not good for book sales.

 

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