My name is Michelle and Cody is my five year old Labrador Retriever. He is beautiful, healthy, lean, happy and sweet. He is actually the sweetest. His temperament is so mild mannered that although i have a “BEWARE OF DOG” sign in the window by my front door, Cody would actually lick someone to death while wagging his tail rather than scare anyone off. He is a big dog so he definitely looks the part to the average delivery person. He is 67lbs and red. Not yellow like a lighter Lab, certainly not Chocolate or Black… He is red. Totally unique and beautiful. I have had him since he was 12 weeks old. He is the man, boyfriend, husband and child i have always wanted. He listens to me with no judgment in all my moods and always kisses and cuddles with me whenever i need it. I love this dog more than anything in my life.
Like buying my house, as a single inexperienced dog purchaser I made some stupid mistakes when i bought him. Originally in my search for a Labrador puppy, I went to every animal rescue, SPCA, shelter, or kennel I could find in the tri-county area of south Florida. I definitely wanted a Labrador. I wanted a dog that would keep me active, was smart and loving and BIG! I love big dogs! I considered a Great Dane (I have always always always wanted one) and a Rottweiler… but a Great Dane would mean a lot of poop for such a small yard and a short life span, and a Rottie would raise my homeowners insurance (as would a Pit Bull). But Labs love to swim and run and are sweet so Lab it is. I went from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to West Palm Beach and everywhere in between. I looked online for breeders in Florida to no avail. I called everywhere all over Florida and no one had any Labrador puppies. I wanted a puppy too. Not an adolescent dog. I deserved a puppy, i have never really had one and to give myself this gift was my way of rewarding myself for being successful and stable all alone. I was 37, single, had bought my too large and too empty home in 2003 all by myself. I made repairs and remodeled alone. I had a great job that paid me very well, and i needed something to keep me from the happy hours that were sucking all of my spare time. I needed a family of my own, and i needed grounding, i wanted something to come home to. It was just me and Jimi, my 6 year old tabby cat who was a curmudgeon and would not allow another kitten in the house. I tried that move unsuccessfully for a night. Poor kitty was returned promptly the next day cause Michelle needed to get some sleep.
So being the idiot I was and not finding the puppy of my dreams in any normal matter… I turned to the Internet. I found a website called Any Pets which was like an eBay for pets. They listed every breed make and model, and connected you through them, to the breeder. For a small fee you got the puppy you want with certified AKC papers, a certificate of health and shipped right to you. And that’s where I found him.
I saw this adorable picture of this sweet red Labrador puppy with BLUE EYES! I fell in love! Of course everything told me to be careful… Buying anything on line is a risk. But he won my heart. I bought him, paid way too much and had him flown to Fort Lauderdale from Georgia where i picked him up on Friday October 21, 2005 around 10pm. He was 12 weeks old (granted a bit older than i wanted but it was a small price to pay) and was born on July 15, 2005.
When i picked him up and they brought him out of cargo, i was horrified. He was in a plastic kennel that wreaked of feces. Upon further inspection the feces were under the newspaper lining the cage, which to my eyes meant this was not HIS feces. At least not from this plane ride. I got him home and took him right out to the porch to let him out for the first time. He was infested with fleas! Not only was he infested but he obviously had them for quite a while as he had scabs from scratching in various spots all over him. Now I am pissed. How could they send him to me in this condition? I mean, this was like a slap in the face of “haha you bought him ONLINE! This is what you get! Sucker!”
I took him into the bathroom and scrubbed him clean, soaked him and watched the fleas float off of him in droves. I meticulously cleaned his ears and toes, and let him sit in the water being sure to drown every evil creature that was inhabiting his cute coat. Then i dried him good and took him out to pee. Being the rambunctious boy he was he seemed to have no inhibitions running around the living room… Beginning what was to become his trade mark “round the horn!” while Jimi sat on a stool at the counter high enough to oversee and just dumbfounded. Jimi has never been around let alone lived with a dog. I am not sure he knew what to make if this crazy tasmanian devil running laps. Then after he ran around for a bit and we played tug, i grabbed him and he settled down to pass out on my chest in my large lounge chair with me and we dozed till the wee hours of the morning together breathing in synch and warm with the love of how right it all seemed.
I took him to the Vet the very next day and had him checked out. Again to my horror he had worms : hook worms, round worms, more fleas, he had an ear infection and his ears needed cleaning and medicine, he was put on antibiotics to help heal the scabs on his back, head and belly, and he had a bladder infection. I was absolutely livid at this point. I got home and called Any Pets and demanded that they do something to reimburse me somehow for sending me such a sick puppy. I also demanded that they report this breeder and stop them from practicing. I requested my money back, fought with them for months through American Express to no avail. They offered to send the puppy back but of course told me that he would most likely be destroyed if I returned him. There was no way I would do that. I vowed to make him well and save him.
And i did just that starting with that very first weekend i had him.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you perceive it, Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida on Monday October 24, 2005. This was supposed to be a very minor storm, but in fact was one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the Atlantic basin and knocked out power to most of south Florida, including my house and work for almost three weeks! I got to stay home with my new addition during this most important transitional time for him, getting used to his new home and his new Mommy. It was a blessing in disguise.
Because we had no power it was a very strange three weeks. I had no idea what time it was when i would wake up, but it was usually with the sun. Sort of like camping in my own house. I would make coffee on the grill outside with the French press coffee maker, and walk Cody around the neighborhood every morning. There were tons of trees and foliage down and strewn all over the roads and yards. There was a lot to clean up and Cody was outside with me all day cleaning up the yard and the pool.
Now being a Labrador, he was definitely high energy and hyper. I gave him raw hides and bones, toys and things and tried to walk him and play with him as much as I could. But he had way more energy than i did! Always. He just never seemed to get tired. I started a routine of early morning runs with him across the street by a canal. There is a huge area of undeveloped land across the main street in my development. It’s hard to explain but it is a large area of grass that butts up to the main road where the speed limit is 45 mph. Then there is a canal that runs the entire length of the road parallel, and then another thin strip of grass running parallel to the canal that butts up against the back of the next development’s houses. All of these homes have fences so it is a relatively safe area for him to run off leash and no worries about him getting into the street because of the canal. And it is probably about a half mile long.
We started this ritual during the Wilma aftermath. I would walk him over to the grassy protected area and then let him off leash, and start to jog. He would jog along with me, run ahead, stop and smell a spot for a good five minutes and get far behind me, then haul ass tongue out to catch up. It was fun. But as he started to grow it seemed to be inadequate exercise. So then i started to throw any sticks i found. Talk about instinct! I know why they call them retrievers! He would bound along side me, eyes totally focused on the stick and wait with his tongue flailing for me to toss it. I would throw it as far as i could, which was not that far being a chick… And he would haul ass to it, scoop it up in his mouth and prance back to me tossing it at my feet. Hmmmm…. Idea! I should try bringing a tennis ball!
I believe this started him on his total complete unhealthy obsession with tennis balls. Actually I think he was born with it. I am sure of it. This is an endless game… Toss the ball… Run after it like there is nothing else in the world, bring it back and spit it with all the slobber possible at my feet, DO IT AGAIN! HURRY! Ugh! So gross! This thing was SATURATED with slobber. Is is normal? I mean saturated. Like, if he happened to hit my pant leg with the soaked ball it would make a perfectly round circular impression of slobber where it hit my pants that would not be the least bit dry by the time we got back to the house!
It was not long after this routine started that I was in a pet store and saw the answer to all my prayers. The ChuckIt. Whoever thought of this product is a genius! It is a long plastic stick with finger grips on one end, and an ice cream scoop on the other big enough to fit a tennis ball perfectly. It actually comes with a tennis ball which was destroyed immediately as it is not of the quality that Cody demands. But the best part is… I never have to touch a tennis ball with my hands again! So this is what became the ritual.
Before work i would go for a run, about three miles around my neighborhood. Then I would come back and get Cody and walk him over to the protected area of grass, this time right outside the fence of the elementary school that is right there, and huck the ball with the ChuckIt way farther than i could by hand alone. He absolutely loved this! If you have ever seen a dog smile from ear to ear you know the expression in this dogs face that i got to witness every morning. I would play this game with him for either as long as he had energy depending on how hot the temperature was, or how long I had time for, every morning before work so that he would be calm and happy for the day. I tried to come home for lunch every day to let him out which I did for a couple years before my company moved offices. Then when I would get home we’d go for a long walk around the neighborhood. Sometimes if i could not play with him in the morning, if i overslept or it was raining I would come home and take him over to the school and play wall ball with him. He is amazing how he can catch the ball no matter how hard or fast I throw it against the wall. It was a blast for both of us and amazing to watch him in all his agility. My world was Cody.
In the spring of 2006 I was out in the back yard sitting in the sun by the pool with Cody and he was pretty hyper. I had given him a bone and he kept dropping it at my feet, nudging me, wanting may attention which made it impossible to read. So i gave up. I went inside and got a tennis ball and taught him how to “go out for a pass”. Basically I would tell him to go to the other side of the pool from me on the patio and sit, which he was pretty good at, and then I would throw the ball across the pool at him and he would catch it in his mouth. Since I got him it was not yet warm enough to go swimming so I had no idea if he liked the water or not. Well I found out. The ball during one pass to him hit him in the nose and bounced into the pool… And he nose dived right in after it! I was stunned and thought “oh shit now i am gonna have to jump in that cold water and save him!” but boy was i wrong! He scooped the ball up in his mouth and swam effortlessly over to the steps, hopped out with that shit eatin’ grin on his face, shook right next to me and spit the ball in my lap! AGAIN!
Ok. I toss the ball into the pool directly this time. He is losing his mind! He is running laps around and around the pool eyeing the ball and looking for the closest spot to jump in next to the ball. He finds it, winds up and hurls his body face first right onto the ball…. comes up with it clenched in his mouth and again jumps out, shakes right next to me and spits it on my lap. Ok now this water is freezing mind you, so i am all about trying to do this without getting wet myself. So I move myself as close to the pool edge as possible, away from the steps, and toss the ball. He jumps in and starts swimming towards the steps, and i start yelling to him “over here! Over here!” and he turns mid-swim and comes over to me… He hangs his front paws over the side of the pool edge and spits the ball onto the decking at my feet! Yay! I toss it over his head and he hurls himself full force around and swims back over to it, grabs it and swims back over to me. Again and again and again! This is greatness! What a great low impact way of getting him tired! This became our weekend ritual.
So by now you are getting the idea that most of our activities revolved around wearing him out so he was more calm and listened to me better. It worked. After exercising him like this and him getting his breath back we could work on training like sit, stay, rollover, lay down, heel and some others. This is a lot of work and requires a lot of patience, but it definitely paid off. I had some ups and downs and everyone loves to give advice… “your voice is not deep enough it doesn’t scare him” or “you need to dominate him, flip him on his back and scare him” or worse yet “you need to hit him!”. And trust me we had our moments and I did get mad at him and frustrated at times. But I never hit him to hurt him or scare him. I did give him a little kick with the side of my foot at times when we would practice heel and he would start to pull me, or smack him on his but when he refused to sit when told,but only to get his attention and to let him know i was serious. But for the most part it was all about reading him and correcting him when i could see him thinking about disobeying before he actually did it. Timing is everything. If you catch them mid- thought it is amazing the response you get.
I am not a fan of the treat reward system of training a dog. I did not want Cody to not only gain weight but I did not want him to do things for a reward of food. That seems too human of a learned instinct and made me uncomfortable. Living in south Florida I saw all too often the effects of people assuming human roles for their dogs. Dogs in sweaters, dogs with painted nails, bows, sequence outfits, hats, dogs in purses, dogs on their owner’s laps while they are driving, spas for dogs, gourmet food for dogs, pet resorts and the list goes on… My dog was always going to be a dog’s dog. A guy’s dog. I don’t primp myself, i am not fashionable or stylish. I am a tomboy. My dog was going to be a big DOG. Plain and simple.
That being said, if I did give him a treat I made him work for it, and work for it he did. I taught him to sit, lay, sit, lay, sit, lay, rollover… for a treat. In that order. It is hilarious and he does it all with such enthusiasm I am convinced he loves it. Again, if you have ever seen a dog smile ear to ear you know what i am talking about. The manner in which he drops down onto his belly and wiggles to rollover with such energy and craziness with his eyes never leaving mine is amazing to watch.
As time went on Cody and i got more and more in tune. Any dog owner can tell you how well you get to know each other. I know his routine, his moods, what he is saying by his body language, his looks, his mannerisms. He has this amazing habit of staring into my eyes no matter what the circumstances, but especially when i am teaching him something new, or playing with him. He is incredibly focused and attentive. And obsessive.
Obsession for my Labrador comes in many forms. Tennis balls. Rubber chicken Elvis whom I deem Chelvis. Rawhide bones. Squeaky toys. Stuffed Kong monkeys. But mostly tennis balls. I started off letting him have them in the house but this quickly proved to be a bad decision as he would not ever seemingly put it down, thought it was continuous playtime and I would inevitably end up with the sopping wet thing tossed onto my lap at some point. Gross. He has a habit when he is obsessing, of pacing back and forth with the thing in his mouth, becoming so overzealous that he starts to pant and drool, his eyes glazing over. I often wonder what he could be thinking in his doggy mind about this inanimate object that can not possibly taste good at all. Whatever it is that he is thinking it seems to involve pure inseparable love and it is hard to take it away from him. Not hard to get it away from him mind you, Cody knows “drop it” very well and responds immediately. But it is almost sad to take these obsessive toys away from him, there is guilt involved. And he loves to rub that guilt in with his sad ‘nose down, eyes up’ puppy face that gets you right where it hurts. He looks at me as if to say “what? What did I do?”.
But there are rare times when i let him have a tennis ball in the house and i play catch with him in the living room, or let him do whatever he wants with it when I will be gone for long stretches of time. I have no idea what he does with it all day when i am gone. I used to think of installing a baby cam in the house to watch him, but I never did.
Tennis balls in the pool are a lot of fun with him but it requires a lot of work on my part to participate. This gets exhausting and i can never just chill out with him and read if he is in the pool. He demands attention and constant tossing of the ball. I love that he gets exercise by swimming and it wears him out but I do not necessarily want to play too. So I thought… Maybe a bigger ball? So i got him a soccer ball. This worked great for a while as it is too big for him to get it in his mouth so he hits it with is nose or paws or open mouth and bats it around the pool. He can not really get it out of the pool so it keeps him pretty occupied. Until he popped it which happened fairly quick. Ok… How about a basketball? Greatness! This one lasted forever but it also irritated his nose because it has texture, so sometimes if he played too long the combination of the roughness of the ball and the time in the pool made his nose bleed. That certainly did not stop him though. It is an endless game and he plays until I stop him. Again the guilt. He never wants to stop and it is a forced issue… But I take the ball away from him and I have to hide it out of sight of him because he will stare at it and obsess. So I put it away out of sight and make him get out of the pool telling him over and over “ok you are done”. Then I make him go pee and he pees for a good minute and a half. Cody swims with his mouth open and swallows half the pool. I don’t ever do very well with the chlorine maintenance so I don’t worry too much about him ingesting too much. I was never very good at the pool thing. So i make him sit in the sun, he rolls all over the place cause his ears are floppy and they get water logged… And he somewhat dries off while peeing every ten minutes or so for a good hour. Then I towel dry him off and we play the corral game. He pushes into me and my legs while i desperately try to dry him and he continues to walk around me pushing into me through the towel. But he loves it. He loves getting rubbed down for any reason and this is the best, especially when I do his ears. He almost moans when I get the towel in his ears and rub around soaking up that water. He tilts his head to meet my hand and his eyes close a bit… and he groans. Once I get him inside he promptly passes out snoring contentedly for the rest of the afternoon.
He is a wonderfully active boy. He loves to swim, run, catch, sit, roll over, jump and run circles around the living room as I yell “round the horn!”…. he is the best.
Cody is the picture of health and activity. That’s why finding the lumps on his throat and then the diagnosis of Canine Lymphoma was dumbfounding….
I am an artist, a cook, a crafts person, gardener, photographer, vegetarian foodie, potter, music lover, kayaker, camper, and obviously now, a writer. I live in South Florida with my two cats and a Labrador Retriever in a lush secluded house I bought in 2003. Over the years I have used my creativity to make my house unique and artsy with a flare all my own, and here in this blog I want to share my thoughts and ideas about life, the universe and everything. Where have I heard this before? ;)
You can check out my website at gowiggle.com