I’ve never been a dog person. That is to say, I spent most of my life fearful of these furry fluffs ever since one nipped me in the face when I was about three years old.
The fear was something I never outgrew even as an adult, especially when I was out on a run and heard a fierce bark and a chase ensued. I would shake my head and wonder why in the world anyone wanted to have such a creature as a pet.
Then it happened. A little more than a year ago, at the age of 63, I learned it’s never too late to learn something new. What I learned was that a little English Cream Golden bundle of happiness, named Sunni could bring a world of sunshine to my world.
She was eight weeks old when my husband, John, and I brought her home. She sat curled in my lap the entire three — hour ride from Ohio, the day she became ours. She nestled in my lap, seeming to find comfort there, and I felt her gentle breathing as she slept. Once in a while, she would open her eyes and look up at me. If she had a palm of her paw, I would have fit right in it.
Of course, there was training. Potty training. But like potty training my three kids back in the day, we eventually got there. And as with my kids, I probably have taken more pictures than anyone else would ever want to see. I don’t care. I continue to take them anyway. You never get the picture you don’t take. And the memories, as they say … are priceless.
Baths were fun. She wasn’t so sure she liked being coerced into a shampoo, but when it was her idea to chase a ball into the pool, she was all about it, and wanted to do it again and again and again, living up to her retriever reputation. She learned to heal, come, sit, stay, shake, and the meaning of “No!” She learned to trust us and I learned to trust her. Sunni’s fur punctuates places she’s been in the house, and if you get close to her, chances are you will walk away with some souvenir golden glitter of your own.
Sunni is slightly more than 50 pounds now, and at just over a year old, she is fully grown. She is faster than a shot, stronger than a buck, and as sweet as a song in your heart. In the evening hours as we wind down the day, she nuzzles close, placing her head on my leg and looks up into my eyes. I’m absolutely sure one of these days she will simply start talking to me. Even without words, she tells a story.
Last weekend Sunni’s cousin, Molly, came to stay with us. Molly, also a golden retriever, sports a regal red silk coat, and is six years her senior. In the last year, the two have had many such opportunities to connect – sometimes at Molly’s lakefront home and other times at our back nine; bonding like sisters with each visit. Molly provides the calm of a matriarch and Sunni is the pesty tag-along sister who looks up at Molly as if to say, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.”
Molly has slowed down just a bit in the last year, developing some arthritis in her hips. Saturday evening after letting the dogs out, I sat on the deck with a glass of wine, waiting for John to join me for our happy hour. Sunni bolted up the steps to the deck and looked through the railing for Molly to follow. She didn’t. Sunni moved to the top of the stairs and patiently waited. Molly, put one paw up on the first step and then retreated as if the thought of climbing all those steps was just too much to consider. Quietly, Molly curled up under the deck by the back door.
Instinctively, Sunni went to Molly’s side, bringing her back to the foot of the steps. But for the call of a cardinal and a gentle breeze, it was a silent summer evening. In the stillness I swear I heard Sunni whisper, “Molly, you can do this. I’ll help you.” Together they ascended the steps, slowly, deliberately, side by side. I felt like I was watching Shadow and Chance in a scene from Homeward Bound, tears streaming down my face.
John walked out onto the deck, looked at me and asked, “What happened?”
I took a deep breath and said, “I have a Sunni story ….”