Finally Home: Lessons on Life from a Free-Spirited Dog

Finally Home: Lessons on Life from a Free-Spirited Dog

by Elizabeth Parker

ISBN: 9781451523201

Publisher CreateSpace

Published in Home & Garden/Animal Care & Pets, Home & Garden/General, Humor & Entertainment, Home & Garden

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Sample Chapter

"My first encounter with Buddy was at a festive New Year’s Eve party. I was dressed in my best outfit purchased specifically for this occasion while enjoying a delicious, freshly-mixed cocktail of vodka, cranberry, and lots of ice. While involved in typical party conversation, I did not focus on anything else in the room around me, nor did I think it was necessary. I have to admit I did see him out of the corner of my eye, but it was just too late. I didn’t think he would actually do it, but there it was—that look in his eye and all-too-satisfying smirk on his face. There was absolutely nothing I could do. I tried to move out of the way, but it all happened way too fast. I went from standing up enjoying a drink and remarkable conversation, to having my mid-section pummeled by this giant ball of fur. He already had my free hand in his mouth pulling me down, tail wagging one hundred miles per hour, and I was now wearing my delicious drink on my brand new clothes. Before I could gain my composure, Buddy was already off to the next victim…”

— (coworker, upon first meeting Buddy)

There is a time in most people’s lives when they have been emotionally inspired or amazed by something that was completely unexpected. Sometimes it is so touching that they want to share their experience with the world and tell their story.

This particular story is about a precious heart along with a free-spirited little boy who owns that heart. This little boy has expressive brown eyes, a beautiful smile, and a golden-brown coat that he never takes off. He also has a huge pinkish-brown nose and four very fast legs. His name is Buddy. He answers to that…when he wants to.

Chapter 1-Summer of ‘99

Each plan in life is derived from a single idea. Some ideas start in the least expected of places during the least likely of times. When an idea snowballs and takes on a life of its own—that is when it becomes a reality.

It is safe to say that it all started when I was employed at a sunglass manufacturer as an Electronic Data Interchange Specialist. This is just a sophisticated title for someone who monitors the electronic transactions between the manufacturer and retail stores. It was a pleasurable job, one where you did not need to dress in uncomfortable business attire, and though the salary was not great, it was somewhat respectable.

The people were fun, the bosses were friendly, the office was clean, and, for the most part, it was a fairly decent job. It was here that I met my husband, Michael; we began dating approximately two years after I started my employment there in the summer of 1999. It was the typical story of two goofy twenty-something-year-olds with the same wise-ass mentality, the same principles and views on life, and, in Michael’s words (or pick-up line), we were both half-orphans. He had lost his mom to breast cancer when he was at the tender age of four. I had lost my dad to a job-related illness shortly after I turned nine years old.

In the year 2000, after working at the company for three years, I decided to make a drastic change and start looking for a new occupation. Although I loved the job and the line of work, rumors were circulating that our office was in the midst of closing down. I figured I had better be prepared and search for something just in case.

After reading the classifieds and modifying my résumé and cover letter over fifty times, I was offered a job as an assistant producer for a popular local news station’s weekend program. Even though the decision was a bit intimidating at first, I had reluctantly given my resignation letter to my previous employer, said my good-byes, and started my journey on a new career path.

As luck would have it, just as I had begun to get acclimated and understand all aspects of the job including the software, technology, procedures, office politics, etc., I received news that this job was closing its doors, as well!

Needless to say, I was beginning to get a bit of a complex. I noticed a pattern and figured this time it would be wise to conduct some extensive research before moving on to my next area of employment.

After sitting at my computer and sifting through tons of verbose ads offering employment in various fields, I submitted my résumé to what I felt was going to be a respectable and stable employer. I researched the company on the Internet, carefully read through their complex website, and thought I had plenty of concrete detail to support my belief that this job lead was solid.

The company had been in business for over twenty years and had multiple offices scattered throughout the country. I did not see any obvious red flags waving in my direction.

Needless to say, after interviewing with half of the knowledgeable staff in the technology department and making numerous visits to their office, I was finally offered the job. I was scheduled to start a little later that summer and looked forward to it. It was about time!

It was during these various job transitions that Michael and I were growing a bit closer in our relationship and discussing the possibility of living together. I was still residing at my mother’s house, however, and he owned his own home.

After some lengthy conversations, we had also started toying with the idea of adopting a dog, more specifically a golden retriever. We had both fallen in love with their friendly, amusing temperament. For the most part in the beginning we would just take quick browses through puppy stores only to walk out a few minutes later. We were, after all, only toying with the idea. We were not even living together yet, so we were uncertain if were ready for the sound of padded feet running through the house and through our lives.

During that same time period, a coworker of mine was making conversation and coincidentally asked me if I knew anyone who would be interested in adopting a dog. I wanted to raise my hand, jump up and down, and scream out “Yes, me!” I managed to refrain from making a spectacle of myself, but instead tried to act cool without displaying too much enthusiasm. Of course, I couldn’t leave without trying to find out some information about the dog.

“What type of dog is it? Ah, how old? Hmm, why are they getting rid of it? Boy or girl? Does it bite? Is it housebroken? Hey…what is the dog’s name?”

He was not certain of the specifics at that precise moment in time and probably did not realize that he was talking to an obsessed dog fanatic. He advised me that he would make it a point to speak to his friend and find out more detailed information. He also offered to describe a brief reenactment of his first encounter with this dog at a party his friends had thrown (quoted in the introduction of this book). Incidentally, I figured he was exaggerating.

I got a surge of excitement about the idea and then quickly calmed myself down, meandered back to my desk, and tried to keep my mind focused on work. I did not think much more of it until I went home later that evening.

That night during dinner, I spoke to my future husband and casually mentioned the conversation that I’d had with my coworker with no real intention of going to meet this dog. I did have my coworker’s phone number just in case, but I didn't think we would entertain the idea as we already had so much going on in our lives already.

After discussing it for a while, though, we weighed the pros and cons and figured out a solution for each possible obstacle that we could think of. We reviewed our budget, our future together, dog sitters, work schedules, hours the dog would be left alone, and many other topics regarding responsible dog ownership. After a couple of hours, we made a decision.

“Why not?” We agreed. Let’s just find out more about him. We figured there was no harm in inquiring about the dog without making any real commitment.

After we cleaned the dishes and returned them to their allotted sections of the cupboard, we called my coworker that very night. As it turned out, he was going to be visiting this same friend’s house anyway and we would be able to get all of the answers that we needed about the dog. We were still in the research stage and had no concrete plans of adopting until we knew more. A healthy dog could live as long as eighteen years or sometimes even longer, and it was definitely a strong commitment.

We called anyhow and asked all of the relevant questions. We discovered it was a purebred golden retriever. Coincidentally, this was the exact breed we had been seeking.

Both my cousin and a friend of ours had owned this type of puppy, and we absolutely loved it. From both parties we knew that the breed was best known for their well-behaved and goofy temperament in addition to their beautiful, golden coat and communicative eyes.

This particular one was about a year and a half and was a male. He was up to date on his shots, neutered, housebroken, and did not bite. His owner informed us, “His name…is Buddy.”

Buddy. We had to see him even just to play with him for a little while. Why would anyone give him up? That was the nagging question. There had to be something else going on. This opportunity was too good to be true. No one in his or her right mind would voluntarily give up a beautiful, young, and healthy golden retriever. After speaking with the dog’s owner, we made plans to go see him over the upcoming weekend.

That Sunday morning, we woke up early and stopped for some breakfast at the town diner down the block before making our way to the dog owner’s home in Long Island. As we drove down the tree-lined cul-de-sac, we pulled up to a beautiful, large Victorian house and parked our car at the bottom of the circular driveway.

Two young children greeted us at the door, and their mom trailed promptly behind them. We introduced ourselves and explained that we were there to meet the pup. The mother seemed friendly enough as she led us down the stairs to the secluded basement. We would soon find out that this was Buddy’s only room.

As we descended, we immediately noticed Buddy. He was utterly breathtaking, and it was easy to fall in love instantly. He was in the corner by himself quietly minding his own business and chewing on his slimy rawhide bone. That is until his ears perked up and he looked toward the stairs with his adorable eyes to notice us walking toward him.

Have you ever been in the ocean when the waves were so high you could not keep afloat, and it seemed like every time you caught your breath another wave came to knock you over? This is the best way I could describe Buddy’s initial reaction to us.

With his rawhide bone dangling out of his mouth, he started barking as soon as he caught eyes with us and then ran and jumped on us as if he’d never seen people before. For those of you who are familiar with that golden retriever smile, it was broader than I had ever seen. He kept tossing the bone up in the air a little bit, not quite letting go, but not quite wanting to hold it. He was indecisive about whether he should keep his bone or bark…so balancing the bone between his teeth, he did both. He was absolutely overjoyed.

We still could not comprehend why these people were getting rid of this bundle of love. His fluffy tail was wagging a million miles per hour and he was completely in his element. All this dog wanted to do was love and be loved. It was written all over his furry face. He was absolutely beautiful.

He developed this incredible tone in his voice that was not quite a cry, not truly a bark, but something in between. With his bone still in his mouth, he uttered a noise I had never heard before, which would soon become known as his trademark “Buddy-bark.”

To describe it would be somewhat ridiculous, and I am certain that spell check will not like it, but I will give it a whirl. It sounded something like “a woo woo woo woooo wooooooooooo,” the last “woo” carrying a somewhat higher, more intense, uneven pitch than the others.

As the owner struggled to control Buddy, she attached his chewed-up leather leash to his collar and began to give us some background on him. We could immediately tell that she was desperate to find him a home and that she had no control over this dog whatsoever.

She explained that they had tried to surrender him to Golden Retriever Rescue, but there was an extremely long waiting list and there was no room yet for Buddy. She was already his second and then his third owner.

His first owner had given him up because he was way too big for a small apartment. The current owners admitted that they had also given him up to someone who promptly returned him a day later. They regretted that they could not handle him and exclaimed “good luck!” as they returned him.

If we did decide to adopt him, we would essentially be his fourth owners. “If” being the operative word. If we did not take him, they were going to have to surrender him to a shelter. They were running out of choices.

The owners did the right thing by trying to find him a good home, but unfortunately they’d had no luck in their search. People had come to meet him and were immediately turned off by his neurotic mannerisms and excessive barking. He was getting too difficult to manage, and they were ready to give him up. It was the usual sad unwanted puppy story; his time was essentially running out.

Different shelters follow different rules, but there are some kill shelters that give the dog a certain period of time until they get adopted. If they exceed that limitation, they are put to sleep. There are just too many stray dogs and not enough facilities or financial means to accommodate all of them.

We needed to uncover what the catch was. He must have been vicious, and they were just not telling us. Or perhaps he had some extreme medical condition that they did not want to disclose to us. He appeared to be healthy and seemed like a normal yet overly energetic year-and-a-half-old pup. He did not act ferocious, although some dogs do tend to show their true temperament under different circumstances.

We asked some more specific questions, such as how he was with kids, dogs, men, women, etc. To all questions, she answered pretty much the same thing. He was “fine, never had a vicious episode, just a bit hyper.”

We inquired about his behavior while he was on walks and how he acted in the car. She answered that she did not know as they never got the chance to take him for either.

He was let out in their backyard but did not have the ability to run around at all to stretch his legs because there was no fence around the yard. On an average day, he was walked back there on a leash to do his business and then was immediately put back in the lonely and dark basement.

After questioning her on the personality of this dog and wondering what his main issues were, we were still not seeing the entire picture. We pressed on a little more to solve the mystery. He was definitely an excitable dog, but we figured it was only because he was happy to see new people.

She simply explained that they were giving him up because she and her husband worked long hours. It was difficult to entertain this dog after a long workday. In addition, he chewed a lot and jumped a lot.

“He jumps on the kids. He jumps on company. He knows his commands but does not obey them. He eats a variety of things that he should not be eating.”

She recalled how they came across him eating the children’s building blocks, crayons, and other objects they could not identify. He was a little wild and a lot out of control, so they had him on medication to calm him down—sort of like a puppy Prozac. He was a year and a half, still more or less a puppy.

The puzzle was slowly beginning to get pieced together. A puppy locked in the basement for twelve lonely hours each day without any chance to run free or release his energy. Hmm, wouldn’t you have acted the same way?

We were there long enough to take notice of their futile attempts at training techniques. When he jumped, they gave him a treat to get him down. When he mouthed us or anything else, they gave him a treat to remove his mouth.

We recognized an immediate pattern. The owners did what they thought was right in getting Buddy to behave. What they did not count on was that this dog was highly intelligent and realized exactly what to do to get a treat. Knowing this, he did the things he got rewarded for doing: good or bad.

Many unsuspecting owners might have done the same thing. It is a common mistake, and it happens all too often. You can’t fault someone if they are not used to dealing with an incredibly smart dog. The problem is that when a person tries to train an intelligent dog, the dog will easily learn how to manipulate any situation to get precisely whatever it is that they want.

The hard truth is that a dog acts the way that it does because it was actually trained to behave in that manner. Most people cannot accept this fact, but it is true. If you’ve had a dog since it was a puppy, you are the only master, aside from its birth mother, that the dog has ever known.

Unquestionably, this was the case with Buddy. He associated committing these bad behaviors with getting some yummy doggy treats! He was not necessarily a “bad” dog. He was just doing what he learned and interpreted in his little, intelligent mind to be “good” things.

After a few more enjoyable moments of sitting on the cold floor with this charming, playful pup, we thanked the couple for allowing us to visit with Buddy and went on our way.

Covered head to toe in dog hair and a good portion of doggy drool, we walked up the stairs and out of the house into the frigid December air. Buddy had been jumping and clinging to us on our way out, and we could still hear his desperate barking as the door closed behind us. I was thinking, “No way.” There was no feasible way we would be able to accommodate the needs of this crazy, disobedient dog. I was already onto my next thought of what to do for the remainder of the day and not even thinking that adopting him was a remote possibility.

When we reached the bottom of the driveway, I playfully posed the question to Michael. I just wanted to gauge his reaction and wholeheartedly expected him to laugh.

“So, what do you think?”

His answer was the complete opposite of what I was expecting. “Absolutely, let’s adopt him.”

When I heard his response, I got a bit lightheaded and immediately started to have a lack of confidence in my dog-training ability. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. I never predicted that would be his answer. I looked at Michael to try and determine if he were serious. Why was he joking like this?

I love all dogs, regardless of the breed, but Michael had never owned a dog. I thought this dog of all dogs would be a complete turn-off. I envisioned Michael’s “starter dog” to be somewhat calm, well-behaved, and easy to manage.

Instead, his reply was, “Let’s call them first thing tomorrow to let them know we will adopt him.”

While I was undoubtedly thrilled with the idea, I still had my concerns about handling such a crazed animal. Growing up, we had many family dogs, but I was the youngest in the family and never spent time training them. They just always seemed well-behaved. I usually spent time playing with them and never questioned it. This would be my first real test at responsibility, and we would have to figure out how to train him. He would not just “magically” become obedient. Was I up for the proposed challenge? Was Michael?

Still in awe and feeling mixed emotions of joy and trepidation, I made the phone call once we got home rather than waiting until the next morning. With an obvious tremble in my voice, I let them know that we would happily adopt Buddy. Little did I know that one phone call would be the one that changed our lives.

We made plans to pick him up on Thursday evening after work. I could not ascertain why, but I was nervous all week and could not wait to get him. I felt like I was expecting a baby—albeit an eighty-pound baby with lots of fur, but a baby nonetheless. I was also extremely happy. I don’t think I slept at all that week!

I recall that I had stopped at a local pet store prior to his adoption and walked up and down the aisles in a cosmic daze. Without knowing what he liked, I picked up a small bag of food, a variety of treats, stuffed animals, and various squeaky toys of different shapes and sizes. I could not concentrate in anticipation of adopting this crazed pup.

We cleaned the entire house and doggy-proofed it the best that we could. We had it all meticulously planned out. Michael, his niece, and I were going to take two cars. Michael would drive home in his car with the crate and all of Buddy’s belongings. Michael’s niece and I would drive home with Buddy. We would then have a few quality hours to spend with him during the night. What do they say about the best laid plans?


Excerpted from "Finally Home: Lessons on Life from a Free-Spirited Dog" by Elizabeth Parker. Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Parker. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Elizabeth Parker

Elizabeth Parker

Elizabeth was born and raised in New York and it is there where she started her career in writing fifteen years ago. Part of her job description included the creation of technical manuals and teaching others the fine art of using a computer.

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