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    1. #1
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      Bob Pr.'s Avatar
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      "Puff," My Magic Labrador

      "Puff, my Magic Labrador"*



      After my Lab, "Bess," died in 1981, I was without a dog for twenty years because various duties in my working life (a clinical psychologist) made my personal life unsuitable for raising another Lab puppy -- or even having a dog.

      But, one Thursday evening after choir practice, Bill, a fellow member at St. David's, asked if I would give him a ride home -- and I did. On our way, he told me his son -- a KU student in nearby Lawrence -- was working part-time in a pet store and adopted a yellow Labrador puppy from a litter just brought in for sale -- but his son couldn't keep a dog where he was then living, so he brought it to his parents to board 'temporarily' (although that ended up being permanent).

      (Background: Bill and Diane's youngest child, their lovely 7 year old daughter, Rachel, had very recently died after a suddenly diagnosed fairly unusual illness necessitating prolonged stays in hospitals giving specialized treatments. Their son named his male Lab puppy "Rachel" in his sister's honor. But his parents, Bill and Diane, couldn't call him that and converted his name to "Ray-Chee.")

      When I pulled in the driveway at Bill's home, Diane came out holding their 7 week old yellow Lab puppy, "Ray-Chee," to her chest. We chatted a bit and then I reached out to hold and cuddle him in my arms, on my chest.

      Ray-Chee soon reached up his neck and head and licked my face.

      I was instantly a "goner."

      I had to have a Lab puppy. And, since I was newly retired, there were no longer any things in my life to interfere with my raising another puppy. So, I began calling local newspaper listings of "Lab pups for sale." But those I saw had at least one thing or another that I didn't like -- as I remember, all were "Back Yard Breeders" -- i.e, had accidental litters, uninformed owners, &/or no AKC registration.

      I took my search to the internet. My "Bess" had been black, an AKC "bench line," and the runt of her litter (her adult weight was 55 lbs). I thought a yellow Lab would be a nice color change and an AKC HT/FL (Hunt Test/Field Line) lineage would certainly be "smarter," "easier to train," than the usual bench line. (Wrong!)

      On the internet, I did find a breeder: the president of a Labrador HT/FL group had AKC puppies for sale in Derby, KS -- 150 miles south. I made an appointment for an afternoon meeting and drove down there to see them. There was a bunch of yellow puppies but none really took my fancy until -- suddenly -- I saw a much smaller pup among the seven others.

      It was 8 lbs. while all its other littermates were 16 lbs. at 9 weeks of age.

      When they told me, "she's the runt of this litter," that similarity to Bess's lineage (and gender) decided me. I played with her a bit and we seemed to get along. So I bought her and we started driving home with her in the puppy cage that I'd brought with me, "just in case."

      But, by the time we'd gone only 30 miles her constant complaining -- yips, moans, etc. -- almost prompted me to take her back. As a last resort, I took her out of her puppy kennel, swaddled her in a large bath towel I'd brought, and put her in my lap. That settled her down -- apparently she craved closer body contact. Her fur was amazingly soft and velvety -- one of the things that led to naming her "Puff, my Magic Labrador."* (By coincidence, Puff and Ray-Chee had the exact same birthdate although -- like Puff's sibs -- he was much bigger with an adult weight about twice Puff's.)

      After we got home in Topeka, during her early months, I gated Puff to the kitchen/dining area, the only space without carpeting in which she was allowed to go until she became adequately toilet trained. Puff very easily learned to use a special floor container (18" x 24") lined with newspapers in which to toilet. (Before learning to use it on her own, each time her posture announced "I'm about to ____," I'd quickly whisk her into it and give appropriate verbal commands -- "Puff, Pee-Pee!" or "Puff, Potty!") -- as she executed her needs. These easily generalized for later use walking outdoors on leash, so Puff never had problems adapting to urinating or defecating on grass on our walks. Nights, when she grew bigger and strong enough to hop up, Puff slept on the bed with me for many years.

      Her breeder told me that, as a very young pup, she'd not been strong enough to compete with her seven sibs for nipples when nursing at their mother's breasts because all the others were so much bigger and stronger. So his two daughters, 10 and 13, nurtured and bottle-fed Puff until she was old enough to eat kibble. (While Puff liked most dogs and people she met, I think maybe she was a little more partial to girls in their age range.)

      In her puppy months, Puff gnawed on furniture, wood, wires!!, etc., anything she could find. To diminish this, we started going to a nearby little known, marvelous nature preserve maintained by Topeka Parks & Rec -- only a 5 minute drive from our home. We found this has a web of many trails through-out its 1 mile X 1/2 mile area plus also came with a herd of wild deer, occasional foxes, raccoons, many rabbits & squirrels, etc. Being so little known, not many other people (or dogs with owners) used it. Puff often ran off-leash (until we met other walkers we were unfamiliar with at which time she'd get a 40' long-line attached to her collar in case more control was needed). I always wore a multi-pocketed outdoor vest carrying water, first aid stuff, and other essentials for Puff & me. Winters -- if snows neared 4" or more -- I used cross-country skis; when it rained, I wore a foul weather suit from my sailing gear. Lightning in our area was the only thing that postponed our walks.

      For many years, while I did 2 miles every morning, Puff maybe sometimes did 5 or 6? She loved sniffing the various smells and roamed widely finding many. Besides my often slinging a bumper for her to retrieve, sometimes I'd drop it on our trail and send her racing back hundreds of feet to retrieve it -- which she eagerly did. We did this for MANY years until we moved to Lawrence several years ago.

      Back in 1967, when Charlotte and I got "Bess," she was only 5 weeks old and, with no dog companions in our neighborhood, she grew up apparently never knowing she was a dog -- she never wanted to associate or exchange sniffs with other dogs. It wasn't known in that era, in any of the many books about Labs and puppy-raising I read, that five weeks of age was much too young for any pup to go to its forever home.

      From that experience with Bess, I resolved to give "puppy Puff" enough play contact with other dogs. Several homes in our neighborhood had fenced-in yards that also held young dogs and I negotiated with some of them so that, every week puppy Puff had at least 3 or 4 playdates for an hour or more with young, friendly dogs to avoid repeating the consequences of that previous mistake with Bess.

      When Puff was about a year old, I canvassed other Lab owners in our neighborhood and elsewhere and organized a weekly Saturday afternoon "LabFest." We'd meet with our dogs in a very large field (next to the nature preserve Puff & I walked in) where they could run off-leash in a 40-60? acre rolling meadows section of park always closely mown, with a few clumps of trees --very well-maintained by Topeka's excellent Parks & Rec. This was some distance away from any road or foot traffic and only 5 minutes by car from many of our homes to parking places although quite a bit longer walking across the field carrying folding chairs, water jugs, etc., to "our spot" -- in the shade of a grove of pine trees -- where we'd unleash our dogs. Original members recruited others and our group gradually grew to 17 peeps and almost as many Labs (we easily accepted the few non-Labs that lived in Lab homes).

      Puff LOVED those Saturday afternoons.

      She enjoyed racing and being chased by other dogs. Somehow she got the others to play "Try to catch me!" Every so often, she'd start off racing around the always well-mown fields in huge circles, at least 0.3 mile (0.5 km) in circumference, staying just a few yards/meters in front of the pack's head and with the rest stringing out behind. This always reminded me of the African "lions chasing the wildebeest" although, in this case, "wildebeest Puff" always won. (A few dogs tried running inner circles of smaller radii and then going out to intercept Puff, but she always easily out-"juked" them.)

      To avoid facing wintry walks across that field on Saturdays, we found another nearby city Parks & Rec. area with a fenced-in ball field safe for our dogs to run in off-leash -- and we could park next to it and be inside with our chairs, water bottles & dishes for dogs, in only a minute or so! (We were always conscientious about never leaving dog poop there.) Every Saturday afternoon, depending on seasons and absence of bad weather, we met in one place or the other -- year-round, for many years.

      I've been a sailor--both racing and for pleasure--for now about 60 years. Bess loved sailing so much that Charlotte and I found we had to spell certain words like "sail," "sailing," "Lake Shawnee," or Bess would get so excited and almost try to burst through our front door to get to our car. She LOVED to sail and, on our C-scow, usually positioned herself sitting on its bow (reminding me of the Mack truck figurine on its hood). Bess LOVED the water and LOVED to swim. She never met a body of water she didn't like or try to swim in.

      NOT Puff.

      It quickly became apparent "why."

      Bess, a slightly chunky, AKC "bench line" Lab, was far more buoyant than Puff. Puff was so very lean and lanky that, when she finally learned to swim, only her head was visible above water--and the bottom of her chin was still grazing the lake's surface.

      On our daily morning walks I quickly saw, by throwing her retrieving dummy into ponds, that her posture in the water was vertical -- and with Puff so frantically flailing the water with her front legs to keep her head from drowning that she created a geyser 2 or 3 feet high. After finding that continued practice didn't diminish this, I got her a "doggy" PFD and that helped enormously: it leveled her out so she learned to also use her hind legs. Many mornings, in ice-free months, we also went to "my sailing lake" so she could practice swimming retrieves of her dummy while wearing her PFD. While that made our sailing afternoons and evenings safer for her -- sadly, swimming, sailing, and my sail boats were tolerated -- but never became something I think she enjoyed.

      I'm sure that Labradors from different lineages differ in personality characteristics. Labradors' Bess and Puff differed so much in things other than swimming it was as if they came from separate breeds. (But they DID both love to retrieve!)

      Bess was a glutton and had to be constantly monitored on her food intake. She was an inveterate counter-surfer and we quickly learned we could NEVER leave any unattended food on counters, tables -- or even in grocery bags when Bess was also in the car. Puff was the opposite: all her life, from puppyhood onward, she ate only as much as she needed (moderately) and then stopped (and rarely coveting anyone else's food).

      Bess was never bothered by visits to the vet, physical exams, having her toe nails trimmed, etc. But it took two 4th year students to control Puff enough so a K-State veterinarian could adequately exam her, check her mouth, ears, etc. It was similar when I took her to get her nails trimmed -- another helper on the floor with Puff plus me, both of us restraining her enough for a 3rd person to make occasional quick snips of another nail whenever that leg was still enough.

      I was so impressed by the Small Animal Clinic at Kansas State's College of Veterinary Medicine for saving Bess's life at her age 7 (breast cancer that metastasized to her lymph) that Bess and I returned there (55 miles from Topeka) for the rest of her life for all her health care. And I fortunately started doing the same with Puff -- because again K-State's CVM saved Puff's life when she was 8.

      Puff began developing lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. X-rays and ultrasound detected a lump on her spleen and, during the splenectomy, a section of her small intestine was also removed when a mass was found on it. When these tissues were examined in histopathology, they reported both were infected with Heterobilharzia americana (H.A.), a parasitic trematode (or blood fluke) -- very rarely seen in Kansas but more common in Gulf states.

      H.A. is very difficult to detect because the eggs of almost all similar parasites float so usual detection methods are oriented to "floaters." But since H.A. eggs don't float, typically H.A. infections are usually successfully diagnosed only in autopsy. Puff's H.A. was difficult to cure -- she went through three successive treatments before all traces of H.A. eggs were eliminated. H.A. uses rabbits, raccoons, and foxes in addition to dogs, as intermediate hosts so Puff almost certainly got infected at some of the ponds into which I tossed dummies for her to retrieve on our morning walks. Her bout with H.A. ended any further retrieving from them.

      This episode made me concerned that other Kansas dogs would get similarly infected but lack the definitive diagnosis that could lead to successful treatment. K-State and I both contacted the Kansas Veterinary Medical Association and through that, I had several meetings with its then president, Dr. Joseph Cook. He made sure all Kansas vets were aware of this danger. Several years later, I was delighted to find that a local band, "Dr. Cook's Medicine Show," was led by him; my dance partner and I danced to their music at least once a month (and still do). And although I continued using KSU-CollVetMed for all of Puff's serious vet needs, after moving to Lawrence, since K-State was now 85 miles distant, we also began using Dr. Cook in Topeka for others (such as her recent euthanasia).

      Puff loved riding in cars and I loved having her with me. In cities or wherever there was congested traffic, Puff rode in the back seat because that was safer for her if we had an accident. But, when we took long trips, as from Topeka to Vermont (sometimes yearly), to Florida (several times), to Oregon (once) and were on divided highways without traffic signals, Puff happily rode beside me in the front passenger seat with its back reclined. In my Accord coupe, sometimes she sat with her rump partway up its front seat-back looking very intently at the road ahead and scenery (as if preparing to guide me), sometimes reclining on its back portion at a 30 angle, sometimes curled up on the seat's horizontal surface -- she was always within reach to gently, gratifyingly, stroke her fur and her tail often subtly wagged even when she was asleep. While my tendency on road trips is to push through to my limits, when driving with Miss Puff, I stopped every 2 hours and let her out to run and retrieve a few times and relieve herself as needed --and possibly that was better for me, too.

      We moved to Lawrence about 4 years ago to live with my dance partner but continued our daily walks -- at first a mile or so leashed on the sidewalk through nearby meandering Naismith Park and later shortened to a walk "around the block" (about a 1/2 mile). And then, very recently, after we moved to our present apartment, her daily walks had dwindled to Puff's slow "baby steps" for only a few hundred feet on her 3 daily times to relieve herself.

      Puff was declining more in recent weeks -- her gait had become much more unsteady. Her "mild" Laryngeal Paralyis would sometimes lead to episodes of noisey panting. As her appetite diminished, she'd dropped from 62 to 43 lbs. At least once, each time on walks, she loved to lay on her back on the grass, wriggling away, while flailing her legs in the air. But now, she often got her front feet and head on the grass while the rest of her body was still on the sidewalk. She was sleeping probably 22 hours a day. Her end was obviously very near. In July's last week, I tried to make an appointment with Dr. Cook in Topeka but he had no time until the next Monday.

      Puff passed very peacefully, held in my arms, Monday, August 3rd, and I took her soul's receptacle to a crematorium in North Topeka. I got her ashes back Friday, August 7th.

      I have a small urn with a yellow Labrador sculpture on top that looks very much like Puff -- it's reclining but with head alertly raised and looking as if she's ready to quickly jump to her feet and accompany her owner for a walk, or ride, or to play fetch, or swim, or whatever. It holds some of her ashes and its brass label reads:
      "PUFF"
      My Magic Labrador

      Most of her ashes I've taken to the nature preserve in Topeka where Puff and I loved to walk mornings the first ten years of her life; my dance partner (who also mourns her passing) and I scattered these along those trails.

      Miss you, Puff, but I'm glad you're at last comfortable.

      I miss you, Puff, so VERY much -- and greatly appreciate the life you shared with me.

      -- Robert L. Procter


      *Note: Puff's name (with the Magic Labrador) is a take-off from the song titled "Puff, the Magic Dragon" very popular in the 1960s, performed by the folk singing trio, "Peter, Paul & Mary" (& written by Peter Yarrow). Once I decided on the name "Puff," the words "the Magic...." just seemed to follow. To hear this charming song performed by this trio, click this link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7lmAc3LKWM(or google this song title).



      2015 All rights reserved

      ETA: my Rainbow Bridge memorial to "Bess" --"Poor Bess, the Wonder Dog" is at: "Poor Bess, The Wonder Dog" -- A Requiescat


      Last edited by Bob Pr.; 05-04-2016 at 09:44 PM.

    2. The Following 10 Users Say Thank You to Bob Pr. For This Useful Post:

      barry581 (05-05-2016), Berna (05-05-2016), kelsyg (05-05-2016), Kleb (05-05-2016), Meeps83 (05-04-2016), MikeLynn (05-12-2016), ronmcq (05-11-2016), Snowshoe (05-12-2016), SoSiouxme (05-06-2016), TT120 (05-05-2016)

    3. #2
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      POPTOP's Avatar
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      Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. What a lucky man you are to have had such a "magical" companion. Your words echo so much how all we feel.
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    4. #3
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      barry581's Avatar
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      Thank you for sharing. No matter how long they are with us, it's never long enough. These wonderful dogs have a way of worming their way into our hearts, and although they are gone from this world, they will forever occupy a place in our hearts.

    5. #4
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      SoSiouxme's Avatar
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      What a beautiful memory. Thank you so much for telling us about Puff. There's a quote from A.A. Milne that seems to sum up our lives with labs: How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard….” A.A.Milne

    6. #5
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      ronmcq's Avatar
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      Thank you for a wonderful tribute to your girl and we're so saddened for your loss.

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