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It was the first Friday after the first of November, 1996. That morning I picked up a newspaper on my way to work and immediately turned to pets in the classified section.

Willy at 16 weeks sitting under his first Christmas Tree

Willy's first Christmas Tree at 16 Weeks.

Photo by Margaret






I scanned quickly down the list of ads. Free kittens by the dozen. Your usual free-to-a-good-home pets. A rabbit or two. And there it was—Black Lab Puppies for Sale. The phone number was someplace close. That day at work, the minutes were like days.

I didn't say a word to anyone because they might go buy "MY" puppy. That night after dinner I casually said to my wife, "So there's some puppies in the paper, wanna go take a look?"

Now, she knew I wanted a dog, but I don't think she really knew what kind of dog I had in mind. I wanted a water dog. A dog that would jump into water that was 33 degrees and swim around just for the pure joy of it.

We'd been married a few years and I kept saying, "Soon as we get a house, I'm getting a dog." Well, we got ourselves a house and I was getting myself a dog, come hell or frozen water.

"A dog?" Sigh. "Okay sure, I'll come. What kind of dog?"

"They are black labs. They're good dogs."

I could barely contain my excitement. I called the number and talked to the guy. He seemed to have most of the right answers and a couple of the answers I could live with. He owned the mother, she was a member of the family. No he didn't own the father, it belonged to a friend of his. The mating was not an accident, it was planned. A good experience for his kids. He said the mother was smart and the father was smart too.

Then he asked me some questions. Good questions. Questions that said he understood what he was doing. I had a good feeling about getting a dog from him.

Then he dropped his big question. "Are you looking for a male or a female?"

"I want a male," I told him and held my breath. Females are usually the first to go. But sometimes there are only one or two males in a litter and if two people happen to want them, then they are gone. The same is true of females of course and it is much more common for all the females to go before the males.

He gave me directions to his house. I grabbed my coat. It took Mrs. Goodwife darn near forever to be ready to leave. I've always wondered what she was thinking at that point.

I took a duck call, a recently fired shotgun shell, and a glove I often wore when handling poultry. We left and it really was just a short drive, about ten minutes away. I rang the bell and when the door opened, we were greeted by a pretty female black lab and the guy who owned the dog. He showed us in, introduced us to his daughter and his dog, and talked to us for a few minutes. You see, he wasn't going to sell to just anyone and it was that kind of responsibility that impressed me more than anything else.

Finally the moment I'd been waiting all day arrived. He showed us the puppies.

At first he just showed us the two males. One was clearly the leader, the other followed. We watched them play in the garage. I picked the leader up and examined it. Everything seemed fine, right down to the wide webbing between his toes. I looked at the other one too, but my mind was almost made up.

He brought the other puppies in when I asked. The pack ran around the garage, tails wagging and sniffing every corner eleven times and once more just for good measure. That pudgy black male was always at the head of the pack and where he went, the others followed. His tail, at just 10 weeks old, was curled tightly over his back.

I blew on the duck call. Just a quick quack. He stopped and the others bowled him over. He was up in an instant looking at me. My heart was going ninety. I blew the call again and he came running over. For a moment, the others hesitated and then followed. They only stayed a moment though. They had no interest in the duck call.

I repeated the test and this time I showed them all the smelly glove. The big male was all over it and tried to take it from me. I laughed and kept hold of it. The others sniffed it and quickly ran off to explore the garage again. After a minute or so, I picked him up and petted him. He licked my face. I showed him the shotgun shell (It was just something to show him, to see if he was interested in new things and new smells, in case you were wondering.)

He was interested. He sniffed it, tail rigid over his back. Eyes wide open. Curiosity quelled his urge to struggle out of my arms. One more thing to cinch the deal. If the relationship was going to work, the puppy had to win over my wife in a big way, because a puppy means accidents, mushy dog food, vet visits, and licked faces.

"Here. You hold him a minute." I put the puppy in her arms and watched. She looked looked dubious, but willing. The puppy licked her face.

"ICK!" she exclaimed but didn't put him down. "This is the one you want?" she asked me.

"Yep I think so, what do you think?"

"Take him back so I can get the checkbook out."

I don't think my grin could have gotten any wider. Nope, that would been darn near close to disappearing like the Cheshire cat.

The owner asked me all the questions all over again. He extolled on the virtues of the puppies' mother and showed me her, and the sire's, pedigreed. He gave me about a five day supply of puppy food too. We finally managed to leave. I had the puppy under my arm and opened the truck door for my wife. She got in and I plopped the puppy in her lap.

"You want me to hold him?" she didn't sound very happy.

I didn't answer, I just got in the truck and drove straight to the pet store.

The puppy went straight to work making friends with her. He licked her face.

"ICK!"

I laughed.

I bought a leash, a collar, a couple of chew toys, a ton of treats and a throwing dummy made for puppies. When I returned to the truck, the door was open and my wife was standing there, blocking the door with her body.

"He peed on the floor!"

"Really?" I pretended astonishment that a puppy would do such a thing. I got some paper towels and wet wipes from the back seat and wiped it up. He rode on the floor the rest of the way home.

Inside the house, I put the newly acquired puppy items on the table and set the puppy on the carpeted floor.

Suddenly, all was not well. Gone was the security of the pack and the familiar surroundings. The security of being held. His legs became shaky, the little tail went between his legs and he cowered. The poor thing let out the saddest whimper and that I think, was the moment he won my wife.

"Awe. He's scared. Pick him up."

I didn't pick him up. After a minute or two, he began to sniff around without moving. Another minute and he did move, and suddenly, there was the bold, curious puppy again, checking out his new digs, although a bit cautiously.

I don't remember if it was right then, or the next day. I was going to name him Sam. No she told me, you can't name him Sam. Sam is the name of our brother-in-law. I hadn't thought of that. Ironically, a number of years later they got a dog and what did they name him? Sammy, after Sam, who everyone calls Sammy.

Willy. That was it. Willy. Willy the Wonderful Water Dog! Later, I put it on his AKC registration papers and sent them in. Willy it was.

That night, he kept trying to get out of the cardboard box. Eventually, I put him next to my side of the bed on the floor. I didn't sleep much that night. Plans for the morning included a trip to the marsh and Willy was going with me.

The next morning, my wife announced she was coming with us. I was amazed. She had never gone out to he marsh with me before. She wanted to bring the camera and get some pictures of me with my new dog. That was fine, but I could already see that he was going to be our dog, and not just mine.

It was beautiful day. The fall colors were just past their peak with a beautiful blue sky. Absolutely gorgeous. I rowed the boat in the channel. My wife snapped pictures. The new puppy climbed all over the boat and looked over the sides. We really had a great time.

At home, I started to teach Willy right away. His name, to go outside. We played every night and every morning. He grew fast. My wife says he always looked bigger in the morning than he did the night before.

Willy was smart too, just as I had known he was. He learned his name, to come, and to sit down very quickly. And I took him out to the marsh every weekend.