Sometimes You Just Have to Step Up and Pass It Forward
Wendy Nan Rees – Pet Lifestyle Advisor™
Every now and again we are blessed by the presence of something greater than ourselves and we are then reminded that this world is so much bigger than just our four walls. I met Governor on a Saturday Morning in Santa Fe, New Mexico through my Mother-in-law at the time. She had a sense that my first dog, Webster, was going to pass away and she did not want me to be without a dog. It was her belief that I needed a dog no matter what, so she took me to meet my first litter of Black Labs. She had her eyes on Governor and for me she had picked Luke-- but as life and luck would have it Luke went over to her and Gov came running to me as though we had known each other our whole life. I asked for twenty four hours to think this over it was a huge decision for me. I did not want to believe Webster's life was coming to an end, yet deep inside I, too, knew his time was near. At 5:00 am on Sunday morning I slipped into my Mother in-law’s bedroom to wake her up and let her know I could no longer sleep and could we go get our puppies?
Thank God she is a light sleeper and as huge a dog lover as I am, because she was up in a flash and by 6am we were out the door and on the road for the 2 hour drive back to the breeder to pick up our new puppies. She had left a note for my then husband and father-in-law to tell them where we had gone, and I’m sure between the both of them they were unable to make their own coffee that morning. I will never forget the minute we drove up that Sunday, as there was Governor sitting in the bay window at 7 1/2 weeks old -- just by himself, my little old man; as though he knew I was coming. The breeder later told my mother-in-law that the entire night the puppy for the first time in his whole life had cried the night long. She became so worried as it was so out of the ordinary that she had contemplated calling the vet, and just did not know what was wrong with the puppy. So she thought to at least wait until later that morning to ring her vet, then suddenly we drove into her driveway. What I did not know is that Governor had gone wild with joy and went from crying to whining to a small bark which someday would grow into his most wonderful, magnificent, loud, welcome home BARK. Years later that sound would be my battle cry, signaling it was time to fight as I returned home every Thursday morning after another round of chemotherapy – he knew. It was his way of saying “I am here, waiting for you, and you don’t have to fight it all alone, no matter what”. I can recall his beautiful bark eight years after he’s gone, at this point. We were just the perfect match. Governor was my once in a life-time, my Kentucky derby runner, my Academy Award, my one soul mate, my best friend but most of all, Governor -- he saved my LIFE!!
Governor was not a therapy dog, he was the most beautiful black lab I have known in all my 48 years of animal-loving life. He was a show dog, really. He was an English Lab, not an American Lab. You can immediately tell the difference as the English Labs have thicker, broader bodies than American Labs, and that thick body is well-balanced by a head that is a little bigger-- bigger to support a great square muzzle (as opposed to the American Labs with a smaller, more pointed noses). Both can be beautiful, but as I have said, Governor was truly amazing. My mother-in-law has an eye for great beauty, and to this day she has a sixth sense about many things. When it comes to animals, this is a place she and I could always meet without any friction, no matter how bad the marriage was or whatever other tension may have existed between our families. Though many years have passed since we have even spoken to each other now, I know my battle for life could never have been waged with such confidence were it not for both her and my Governor, for I loved them both so very much. Not a day goes by that I do not pray for them and tell them both how much I so love them unconditionally-- as I know they loved me.
We never know what the future really holds for us. How Momma Nan knew I needed Governor as much as I did I shall never know, but I do know I was able to return the life-saving favor to her by giving up one of our other dogs to my ex-husband Tom, her son, in his time of need.
After Governor, our next Labrador, Senator, came to us quite by accident. I know –the name thing can only be explained because my father was into politics, as it were. It became a bit of a joke, however, as we named our next dog Captain. To get the joke, you must be able to picture giving a tiny, spindly, little 3 lb. teacup terrier named “Captain” a command while in the presence of two giant 90 lb. Labs. “Captain, you SIT!” –but I digress.
My Grandfather had lost his yellow Lab Oscar, who was his Love of life at 86 years of age, and he just could not take the loss of this dog. My Grandfather had owned dogs and horses my entire life -- which is how my love affair with these two animals began. My Grandmother had asked me to take them to find another lab, which I did with my husband. We all four went to meet a local breeder here in Los Angeles, CA. This was not nearly as fancy a breeder as where Governor was from, but I knew Gov would be happy to have a pal -- if only for a short while during which time I would house-train him and give him some manners. My Grandfather fell for a little chocolate lab puppy, which we ended up getting for him. I cannot remember the name he was originally given, but I do remember about 2 months later how much time I spent daily crate training, leash training, and schooling this dog. It struck me one day that the only people totally bonding with the dog seemed to be Tommy and Governor. I wasn’t really head over heels about this lab, but slowly and surely he was becoming part of the family.
As fate would have it, at about that time they discovered my Grandfather had a type of Alzheimer’s which advanced quickly. This was bad news for the dog, as my Grandmother did not want the long-term responsibility. Welcome to the Rees family, Senator!
Oh, did my husband fall in love with this dog. He felt badly for him a little, because I guess I was so outwardly proud of Governor, and quite frankly as a puppy Senator was just plain goofy. But WOW --that first day at the beach, let me just tell you the instinct to swim and retrieve in Labs is incredible to see – at any age. I gave Governor his release word and in our family we have a few common words. To get into work mode it’s “let’s go”, and “play time” means you are off-duty or out of frame, Go Be a Dog! (For us riders off lead, out in the pasture -- go run wild -- it is safe and fun!). Well I guess Tommy just could not hold onto a surf board, a ball , drinks and Senny because the next thing I see is a huge 6 month old chocolate Hershey kiss® stumbling over his own paws as he ran straight for the ocean (never as graceful as governor, but he sure could out-nose Gov, with his huge brown snout – too big for him as a puppy). As Governor is riding his first wave and I am laughing, I see “the big kiss” going and I start yelling “wait” (which means stop no matter what in our home) but the water and Governor were just too much as he went from sand to water… and there’s Tommy running so fast after the puppy I wanted to clock them both.
Next what happened was so amazing I was crying with joy so hard I only have my memories and wish we owned a camera that day. Governor swam to Senator and grabbed his collar and held him up until Tommy got to them both with the surfboard. They all three spent the next hour surfing, riding waves and having so much fun I almost felt jealous. But my Governor would every now and then run out just to give me a big, wet lick and say “Hey Mom, it is OK -- I am with Dad". We were a family that day and it was great. I guess that is what memories are for. That day is a lifetime of memories’.
We had boats in our life back then, and “the boys” as they were known loved the boat, or anything to do with balls. Retrieving and water made them so happy they excelled at all schooling, and we often thought about entering Senny into a scent type of class he was that good.
Again life happened. I became pregnant with twins and then a few months later miscarried only to find out I had breast cancer. Anger took me over. Tommy went to hide from my anger -- I shut him out, and I shut the whole world out. I became bitter, mean, ugly -- the person I never wanted to be, but that is who I became.
I still had to live. For some reason God would not let me die, and the best friend I had was my dog Governor. He stayed with me by my side for everything. He was my wall when I was throwing up so hard, the dog just stood like a brick wall and when I wanted to fall over he brought me down gently. When I cried, I cried into him. He dried every single tear, he licked every wound till I healed, he made sure I ate. I had to fight for life and he made me. I wanted to die and my dog made me fight for life. How a dog could do this I don’t know, but he did and I am here today to tell you -- and he is not. Four years later after I was told I was in remission. Governor on march 3, 2004 at 4 pm passed away in mine and Tommy’s arms. He passed away at the young age of eight years old of a massive brain tumor. His brother Luke lived a full life to sixteen years old as did the rest of the litter. We believe that Governor took my cancer away. He could not save my marriage but he sure did save my life.
It was four years later after Governor’s passing that Senny would play such a huge role in mine and Tommy’s lives again. The only thing we never fought about was the dogs. We agreed on joint custody and we agreed to share. When Tommy got out of the hospital himself, he was battling a life-threatening depression and fighting it with all his might. When he visited, I could see the strong bond he had developed had not changed changed between him and Senny. And again, Governor, now from the grave, asked me to be brave one more time and do the right thing for Mamma Nan, Tommy -- still the love of my life, and for Senny. “If I am the Animal Lover I claim to be then do what is best for the dog” I kept hearing, “not what is best for you, Wendy”. And so as it was I sent Senator to live full time with his Daddy to help him save his Daddy’s life, just as Governor had saved my life. It was my time to “step up and pass it forward”.
This was so painful not because I would not have my Senny living with me, but because I am really all alone now, and I have to deal with the fact Governor is gone and so is that “family era” of Governor. Now, here, I have written it down and shared it. The last and most final step of saying good bye to my best friend -- that most people do not get to have in a lifetime. We were blessed to have two wonderful labs that saved not one life, but two lives. And they wagged their tails all the way along doing it. I cannot write this without saying I LOVE you Momma Nan and thank you for saving my life by getting up and taking me to pick up Governor that Sunday Morning in Santa Fe.