Imagine going to heaven to find your loved ones waiting with every dog you ever loved. After long hugs from your family, you kneel to be mobbed by the many dogs you loved that crossed their rainbow bridge throughout your life.
My duck hunting friends ask how my Lab is doing before inquiring about family. Golden or Labrador retrievers are special breeds that can melt your heart with sad eyes and happy faces, then make spectacular retrieves of waterfowl harvested throughout the season. Every hunter loves their dog and generally their hunting buddies’ dogs, too.
My Labrador retriever, Sprig, was recently invited to a party of his kinfolk from Iron Duck’s Kennel. Danny Guyer, a guide and Labrador retriever breeder and trainer, helped arrange invitations to dogs from the Big Water Willie line, a legendary retriever that made some of the longest and most beautiful retrieves imaginable.
His offspring – Glory, an energetic chocolate female; Clyde, a big block-headed male; Honey, a yellow female sweet as her name; Sprig, the calm old man of the group; Bailey, the retrieving whiz kid; and Sterling, a dapper gentleman – all arrived dressed in their best collars and scarves at veteran duck hunter Dave Velky’s backyard on a hot July day. Black and white Rosie Girl, a corgi, tried to stay out of the way of the big dogs with lady-like maneuvers.
The dog’s owners visited while watching the pack of Labs like parents with their kids at the park. The backyard became a theater of clowns in dog suits.
Three rubber balls were thrown at once, creating a stampede of Labrador retrievers determined to make the retrieve. Occasionally the wet ball would slip out of a dog’s mouth and a free for all started where dog bodies bumped into each other while trying to pick up the ball. Once a ball was secured, all dogs returned up the hill to Velky’s porch, where another ball was thrown and the chase was on again.
After several throws, a wading pool filled with cool water allowed each dog to have a drink. A couple of the long-legged retrievers stepped into the pool, then laid down, enjoying the cooling moment on their bellies.
Sprig is the living grandfather of this group and was content to sit in the shade and watch. He once would have been right in the middle of this energetic pack. He ran once or twice, then curled up against my leg and fell asleep.
Some neighbors decided to drop their white dog that resembled a Scottie into the yard. All play was temporarily suspended while the Labs surrounded the little dog and took turns sniffing it from different angles. The smaller dog seemed happy to leave when its humans stepped in for a rescue.
Then it was snack time and several cookies prepared just for dogs were evenly distributed. Problem is, you will always find a food-stealing artist among Labs. Sprig made the mistake of dropping his cookie and a younger chocolate Lab gulped it down before recovery was possible. I would have hated to grab for that cookie.
After exercise and snacks, most children are ready for a nap, but not young Labrador retrievers. Someone suggested that we open the gate and let them swim in a nearby lake. The labs all seconded this motion and the gates opened, instantly emptying the backyard of dogs.
A retrieving toy was tossed into the water and six dogs dove off a stone wall, then splashed in the lake with admirable dives. The fastest swimmers raced out front of the others, grabbed the toy and then turned to shore. On occasion another lab tried to grab the toy, but without success. This was repeated several times before someone moved down the shore toward a dock with another retrieving toy resembling a skinny mallard duck.
The dogs lined up on shore and waited until the duck was tossed, then all ran down the walkway and dove into the lake water off a wooden-slat dock to race across a narrow cove for the toy.
Velky’s dog, Bailey, showed off some superstar launches, a couple almost 10 feet before touching water. The young chocolate Lab is constantly worked and this clearly paid off. Bailey is a strong swimmer as well, occasionally frustrating the pack that was determined to make the retrieve. Eventually the other dogs stayed in the cool water and just watched the energetic dog make additional retrieves. Sprig just stepped into the lake to cool off.
I cannot speak for the dogs, but for me it was starting to seem like nap time. I believe most kids might, too, have been tired by then, but not the dogs. They raced down the shoreline to retrieve a tennis ball thrown about 40 yards. Sprig yawned and watched the kids run.
Finally, back at the house, each dog was rewarded to a doggie cupcake created by Lela Thompson. The little cakes had peanut butter and other delicious stuff each dog devoured with a big gulp. Then a couple of the parents brought out more cupcakes and each dog sat and waited for their turn to receive the tasty morsel. Sprig did not hold back this time and gulped down his share.
The party finally ended, and I would guess that each dog immediately fell asleep in the cars and pickups. Sprig fell asleep on our rug and stayed there a couple hours.
Do dogs go to heaven? I hope so. I can’t imagine more angelic creatures that constantly exhibit unconditional love. The human race can learn a lot from these beautiful creatures.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com.