April in the Great Outdoors

            April was a member of our family for over nine years. A golden retriever born in the month of April, we got her as a small pup, and she was as smart as she was beautiful. But there were a lot of things April had to learn the hard way.

            Like most retrievers, she loved to run around the yard, and could play fetch for hours. She learned to distinguish all her toys one from another, and would fetch each one on command. If we told her to bring her rubber ring, that’s the toy she brought. Same with her ball, or any other toy. If a toy wasn’t handy, she’d fetch a stick or whatever anyone would throw.

            On occasion my husband Pat would finish a canned soda or beer on the patio, and toss the empty can to the dog. Then April would run around the yard carrying the can, chomping down on the aluminum with a creaking crunch.

            Trouble was, a can was a bit bigger around than April could easily keep in her mouth. She could make it about halfway around the yard before the can would pop out of her jaws, springing a few yards ahead of her. Then April would dart after the can, pick it up, and the game started again.

            April was certainly an entertaining dog, good natured, and easy to please, including in the food department. One of the things April really seemed to love was vegetables.

            We had a large vegetable garden in the backyard, and eventually had to build a fence around it, to keep the dog out. Not that we begrudged her a share of the produce, but picking vegetables with your teeth is hard, even for a smart dog, and April often ended up yanking the whole plant out of the ground.

             April never did learn how to tell the different varieties of peppers apart, at least not by sight. She loved bell peppers, and also sweet banana peppers. One summer we grew some hot banana peppers that looked pretty similar to the sweet ones. We didn’t care for them much. I don’t think April liked them either, after she tried one. She picked it herself, lay down in the grass, and began chewing. Soon that hot pepper had her slobbering and foaming at the mouth. I don’t know whether she learned her lesson from that, or the fence around the garden stopped her from picking any more hot peppers.

            After the fence went up, April picked her vegetables out of the compost bin. Usually, we tossed a vegetable into the bin because it was past its prime, like an overlooked, over-ripe zucchini. The longer a vegetable “ripened” in the compost bin though, the better April seemed to like it.

            Golden retrievers are made for the great outdoors, and we enjoyed taking April on camping trips with us. When she was a teen-aged pup we camped in Southeast Ohio’s ReCreation Land, a reclaimed area once strip-mined for coal, with over 350 lakes and ponds. After we set up our tent, we went to fetch some cut wood for our campfire, and April walked beside us. There was a pond near the stack of cordwood, and as we approached I noticed several geese grazing in the grass nearby. The dog noticed them too.

            April moved slowly toward the geese, glancing back at us as if she were asking permission to give chase. We didn’t call her back, so she continued stalking the large birds.

            The geese waddled to the pond, and then swam off away from the dog. April must have thought they were walking on the water, and that she could too. If ever a dog looked surprised, it was April when she found herself in over her head! She turned around and paddled back to shore, apparently deciding the geese just weren’t worth it.  

            Another morning April and I relaxed on a steep bank while Pat fished in the pond just below. The sun beat down on us out of a clear blue sky. April grew drowsy and soon fell asleep lying on the grassy slope. Suddenly she started rolling down the bank, and would have tumbled right into the water if she hadn’t woken up and stopped herself. That time April looked both surprised and embarrassed, and Pat and I laughed until our sides hurt.

            We loved April. But the summer after her ninth birthday we could tell something was wrong. At first we thought it was the heat causing her to slow down, and putting her off her feed. But when we took her to the vet we found out she had cancer. Even with chemo she only would have lived for four more months.

            As she declined, we made the hard decision to end her suffering. Old April was put to sleep, and Pat buried her in the vegetable garden she enjoyed so much.

            While Pat took care of the dog, I went out on an errand to get away from the house. I ended up at a pet store which had an adoption event going on: a greyhound rescue organization was there with a few canine ambassadors. One particular dog seemed to know I needed a hug that day. A large black and tan brindle, he leaned against my legs and let me stroke his smooth short coat. It was then I knew I wanted to adopt a retired racing greyhound one day.    

            Years later I did. But that’s another story.