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I was thinking back over the pets my family has had over the years, and remembering two in particular. I thought I'd share their stories with this board. Be warned, this is a long post and it's going to be a sad one, but I promise it has a happy ending.

It started on December 31, 1994 when Bart, my family's grand old Rhodesian/Great Dane mix died in his sleep at the age of 12, a vast age for a large dog. Bart was one of those once in a lifetime dogs, and his vet, the kennels where he was boarded, and other people still speak of him. My father can't be without a dog, and his dogs love him. He's a good owner, takes excellent care of them, gives them affection and discipline.

Dad thought it would be unfair to try to find a dog exactly like Bart, so he did something different and got a Labrador Retriever from a good quality breeder. This dog, Tucker, was an English type Lab: big, chunky, with a 'bear head'. He was a smart dog, and he adored my father. His death was a fluke: he had been terribly sick with the illness that killed my old cat, Morgan, and he nearly died, himself, though he was a healthy youngster of only two years. He came home from the hospital, got out in the yard, and started toward the street. My father called him to come in, but for the first time in his life Tucker ignored Dad, ran into the street, and was struck broadside by a car. He died some hours later of internal injuries. That was late September of 1996. Dad had watched the whole thing.

Dad contacted Tucker's breeder, and learned that Tucker's mother had vanished, probably stolen. So he answered an ad in the paper for Lab pups out in the country. One of them was a yellow lab pup. Dad said he would take him, and went there on Sunday to get him. My younger brother and I went along.

The yellow lab pup, who was ultimately named Tanner, took to Dad right away, snuggling against him. The breeder (Tanner was the product of a mating between two family pets) said "I'm sorry, he's the only yellow one we have." Dad said, "That's okay: I love him!" And we took him home. My brother took one of Tanner's brothers, a black pup he named Logan.

Tanner was always rather shy, though he was playful and exuberant with the family, and very friendly to visitors when they came inside. He was one of the most beautiful yellow Labs I've ever seen, with gorgeous shadings in his coat. Logan, his black brother, was a boisterous, smart fellow, and grew up to be quite a good pet and an excellent hunting dog.

One day, a year and a half later, I learned from my mother that Tanner had lunged at a passing jogger, who had come upon him and Dad suddenly, and had startled him. Dad reported the incident to the insurance company, and kept an eye on Tanner, who was about 18 months at this time. There were some other similar incidents, though Tanner never actually bit anyone. Shortly afterward my parents went to their summer cottage on the shore of one of New York's finger lakes. They took Tanner with them, as always.

I was busy that summer, getting ready to relocate to New Hampshire from the Philadelphia area, and was not able to visit the lake as much as I wanted. One night Dad called to tell me that Tanner had actually bitten a good old friend, a neighbor who had been trying to make friends. Tanner, who had been on a leash at the time, had been backing away and growling, and the man, an experienced dog owner, had approached quietly, his hand held out low and palm-up. Suddenly, Tanner had lunged and sank his teeth into the man's arm. It was a severe bite.

In upstate New York, such incidents must be reported to the authorities. My father's friend said to forget it, he shouldn't have pushed the issue. Dad, who is a very upright man, refused; Tanner's bite was reported, and Dad took him to his vet for examination. Tanner was diagnosed with 'Fear Aggression', a genetic disorder in which a dog is born without the 'flee' part of the 'fight or flee' instinct. If something frightens such a dog, he goes into attack mode. It can be the result of inbreeding, and tremendously popular breeds -like Cocker Spaniels and Saint Bernards - were developing it through the actions of puppy mills and such. It had started to appear in Labs, as well. In Tanner's case, it was something just not 'clicking', because his parents were not related, both were family pets and both came from good lines.

Our vet explained that Tanner lived in a very frightening world: he was all right if he was at his home and with people he knew around him, but take him outside that world and expose him to strangers and he was very fearful. According to the vet, who had had a dog, himself, with the condition, fear-aggression surfaces around 18 months, and while it can sometimes be cured by training, the incidence of success is not high. In the meantime, Tanner had bitten someone and had to be quarantined for ten days before anything was done with him.

It was a hard decision, and Dad took a long time to think things over. He finally decided that the kindest thing to do for Tanner, and the proper thing to do for society, was to have Tanner put to sleep. He kept Tanner at home, took him out every day for ice cream (his favorite treat) let him swim in the lake and, in general, crammed as much affection and fun as he could into Tanner's last ten days before taking that last trip with him to the vet. I saw him during that time, and while I knew Dad was doing the right thing, I was terribly sad. That was June of 1998.

It is a mark of how fundamentally good a dog Tanner was that he didn't bite more people, even with that condition. I know I'll be meeting him by the Rainbow Bridge on my way to Heaven. I'll bring a frisbee with me and some jerky treats for him, Bart and Tucker. (Logan, Tanner's brother, is still alive and has no hint of the problem, by the way. He is now 5 years old. He is also neutered. The owners of Tanner's mother and father were placed on notice of the problem and told not to breed the two ever again.)

Things were very quiet with my Dad for a couple months. The house seemed empty for him and Mom, and Dad were at loose ends. I was far away, and there was nothing I could do except phone them and write them and be there, though at a distance, for them. Dad, who felt himself getting old, said, "Well, I guess that was our last dog." There was nothing I could say or do.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A month after Tanner died, the man he bit approached Dad. "Jim," he said, "My son Steve asked me to talk to you. He thought you might be able to help him out..."

It seems that Steve had a Lab named Brady. He was the same age Tucker would have been; actually a month older. Steve liked to hunt, and he had hoped to hunt with Brady, but his baby daughter was terribly allergic to Brady. As a result, Brady had spent the past three and a half years cooped up in a kennel. He was not housebroken, had never eaten people food, never played with a frisbee or a tennis ball. Steve had heard of the problem with Tanner (I think his father, who felt bad, had mentioned it to him) and while he loved Brady, he thought Brady would be happier living with people. So he offered him to Dad, and phrased the offer as a request for a favor.

Brady came to the house and was housebroken after only two tries. For the first month he followed my father around as though he were glued to him, then he began to relax. People food was a wonderful discovery for him, and I remember my first time seeing him. He is a smaller, slightly foxy-faced Lab with a short tail (for a Lab). That tail still acts like a baseball bat, though. I sat down in an armchair with a sandwich, and found myself looking into a pair of delightedly eager hazel eyes, with a frantically wagging tail behind them. Brady LOVES people food. And he loves people, too. All sorts of people, all ages: anything on two legs is a potential friend. Children come by to pet him, he has discovered that drive-up tellers have doggie biscuits in their tills, and he is terribly disappointed that toll takers on the turnpike don't.

It's been two years now, and I have to smile at how things worked out. Dad did the difficult, right thing for Tanner, and it was tragic. And all that time, all by himself in a kennel in a barn, Brady was waiting for a loving home. Sometimes things just happen that way.
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