A friend of mine used to joke about how the men she dated had reached the end of the line the moment they adopted a Labrador Retriever. She even used to say, “Once they get a yellow lab, it’s all over. They’ve given up.”
In early January, my aunt contacted me about a stray dog her son had found at a notorious dog dump in central Washington where she lives. The pup had been living with her for nearly a month, a four month old yellow lab they had been calling “Bean Biscuit.” She was purported to be housebroken, great with kids, other dogs, and even cats. She was one of eight lab puppies found at this empty field and rather than have a fifth dog at home, she wanted to know if I wanted to adopt her.
I’ve been wanting a dog for a long time, but at the place where I had been living, even though it had a good yard and easy access, my least forbade pets of any kind. Not even a parakeet or a goldfish was allowed. During the pandemic lockdown, it got very lonely at times and I always said if I was going to move I would get a dog when I could. Due to the lockdowns, animal shelters and humane societies felt the impact of this imposed solitude as well. There were two month long waiting lists for dogs at the pound, and most of those are some kind of sketchy pitbull mix anyway. I’ve adopted dogs from shelters before and honestly, there is a part of me that never fully trusts them. Even a dog I adopted once as a six week old puppy displayed signs of food aggression. She became the source of vet bills and emergency room visits due to her aggressive nature. An American Bulldog mix, she was probably better suited to a less chaotic environment without kids or other dogs to compete with. The short time she was in the pound shouldn’t have impacted her behavior, but she was very aggressive and not a mistake I wanted to repeat.
My aunt had fostered this yellow lab for nearly a month and could vouch for her. So, my mom and I decided to take a road trip to meet her halfway in Burley, ID. A 1,000 mile round trip to pick up a lab puppy who needed a forever home.
We set out on a Friday morning with clear blue skies and dry roads, heading North to Wyoming just a half hour out of town. On the drive, bald eagles perched on dormant cottonwoods on the side of the road. The weather got chillier as we headed into Wyoming, stopping off in Rawlins for fuel and breakfast. In the Walmart parking lot, we witnessed a raven eating a tomato that had fallen out of somebody’s bag.
My mom and I can jabber for hours about just about anything, so the time and miles flew past as we cruised West down I-80. At some point I decided to take a detour North to see Jackson Hole, which I have never visited. I had seen the Tetons only once, when I was around my son’s age, and had always wanted to see them again. We took the long way around to get to Idaho and watched the flat, arid landscape of the I-80 corridor rise to become long, icy peaked mountain ranges, lush pine forests, and winding canyons. We hit the town of Pinedale and the passes on the way to Jackson Hole rivaled anything in Colorado. It was a side of Wyoming I had never seen before and some of the most beautiful country I’ve driven through.
Jackson Hole was touristy, and yet not as refined or congested as a town such as Aspen. It still had a hint of a western mountain town to it in spite of all the Lexuses and hybrids ghosting along the icy roads with that electric whine to announce their arrival. I was impressed with the Albertsons and its selection of produce and $20 per pound dry aged New York Strip steaks. Without a cooler in the car, we had to pass up on a deal like that and instead my mom wanted Chinese food for dinner.
Not a good choice. It was bland, and due to Covid restrictions, the restaurant was empty and the service lacking. This was a far cry from my experience in Glenwood Springs at an Indian restaurant that was grateful to get the customers in through the door and spared nothing when it came to hospitality. Maybe Jackson just had more of a captive audience. The service was as bland as the food. We wondered if we didn’t have covid because the food was tasteless.
We stopped briefly to see the Tetons and duly impressed, we were off again fighting the traffic of Jackson Hole.
We wound our way to Idaho, following the Snake River and before the sun fell behind the mountains, we could see the steam rising off the river where hot springs oozed into the icy waters. By the time we reached Idaho Falls it was dark and though a fresh snow had fallen, it was not as cold. The air was heavy with humidity, suggesting the weather was coming straight over from the Pacific Northwest instead of the arctic breath of Wyoming and Montana.
We rolled into Burley and the hotel was alive with the sounds of live music playing from the bar. The pup was still unsure of me and barked at our approach. After a bit, she warmed up to me and settled down in the room.
The town seemed to be in revolt against Covid regulations, since when we went to dinner with my aunt, we were ushered into a loud bar with a full menu and over a hundred people in close quarters without masks. The young ladies of Burley were dressed up in their buckle bunny uniforms, tight fitting jeans, cowgirl hats, and off the shoulder sweaters. The men puffed out their chests and fronted each other like a strange mating dance of sage grouses to fight for the girls’ affection. We ate burgers and French dips. Drank whiskey, margaritas, and listened to the sound of live music in the next section of the bar over the din of people that seemed extracted from another time, before all of this insanity with the pandemic.
Across the country, people were storming the Capitol building. One of the ladies at the bar said so many people were out on the town because they figured to hell with it. The Capitol was being stormed, so why not?
Spoiler alert, we didn’t get the ‘rona.
In the middle of the night, Penny, my new addition to the family, a four month old yellow lab, threw up on me as I tried to sleep. A few failed attempts to let her outside and a screaming baby in the adjacent room reminded me of the exhaustion of having a new baby in the house.
We ate breakfast with my aunt and uncle and headed out early the next morning. The flat roads of Idaho interstates became the flat roads of Utah as we approached Ogden and the Salt Lake. We stopped in Salt Lake for chew toys, food, and Dutch Bros. coffee. On the way out, we stopped at an In-N-Out burger and for the next few days, no other burger could compare.
Penny slept soundly most of the drive as we pushed on towards Colorado again. We rolled into town at nearly 10pm, a total of 24 hours of driving and 1,000 miles traveled over the last two days.
Over the last couple weeks, my son and I have fallen in love with Penny. Even my dad, who couldn’t understand why we would drive so far for a stray dog has warmed up to her–and almost predictably, he has become one of her favorite people.
She is a smaller dog and might not get much bigger. Her fur is as soft as a cloud. She is smart, probably the smartest dog I’ve ever had. She drags my coat off the hook when she tells me it’s time to go for a walk. She carries her own leash when I’m not walking fast enough for her. She carries my son’s stuffed animals around the house and so far has only ruined one of them. She can play fetch for hours and seems to love the cold climate.
On cold nights I sit and write in my office and hear the sound of a snoring puppy in her dog bed, just close enough to reach down and scratch her neck when I want. I don’t know about giving up like that friend of mine believed, but as my son often says “We are a complete family now!” There is just something about having a dog that brings us together. On the weeks he is away, the house feels less empty. On the weeks he is here and I am busy with writing, he has a buddy to keep him company. And even though sometimes she gets into trouble, it’s nice to share the place with her. She goes with me most places now and as she figures us out, we are figuring her out too.