Staying a Lap Ahead of a Stray Lab

AFTER we'd sold the homestead farm there was no need to burden a dog with family duties, and life in retirement has been that much less complicated. Thus it is noteworthy that I fared forth the other morning to find a hearty Labrador retriever on my doorstep. He was a stranger to me, but he leaped cheerfully upon me, brushed off my cap, slobbered in my ear, nuzzled under my chin, and showed great affection and regard.

When we had dogs we saw many come and go, so I well knew that the way to deter an overfriendly pooch who seeks to kangaroo in your watch pocket is to step on his back feet and yell DOWN! But this Labrador knew that, too, and he began an evasive schottische to which I jigged pleasantly, and I could see I was up against something that knew as much as I did. When I got him calmed down I looked at his tag and found he was legal. The town clerk would know.

But here in the uncivilized townships we do not employ professional public servants who devote full time. Our town clerk is usually on vacation or taking the day off, and this time it was both. Assuming we probably have a dog officer, I tried that, and was told that Greg Overlock had recently resigned this important post and it was being filled temporarily by Selectman Dick Lash. Dick, on the telephone, said this was true yesterday, but today they had a new dog officer. He was Bill Bragg. Bill's wife said Bill was at work and she would leave a message.

It is my custom in the middle of the forenoon to go to the post office and do my volunteer stint for the day. One neighbor delivers hot meals for senior citizens, and another reads aloud at a retirement home. I do as much at the post office, and let this be my principal philanthropy.

I go every morning to make my financial contribution and see that things are adequately handled. So far I've been faithful and have kept the postal service solvent and have rendered a public service the community greatly appreciates. This lets me do my charity closer to home and I don't have to drive miles to a retirement facility.

But on this morning when I got into the automobile, this dog got right in with me and sat on my lap with his front paws on the steering wheel. He wanted me to rub his ears. I had to explain to Postmaster Phyllis that the dog had made me tardy, and I told her to mention to folks that I had a lost dog I didn't need.

The Labrador retriever is something of a favorite dog for lobster fishermen. They make good company in the boat, and don't mind if they fall overboard. Thinking my new friend might have paddled ashore from a boat, I telephoned to Henry Thompson at Coastal Fisheries to ask what he might know.

By a quirk of communications, I got Ted Wooster at his store instead, and he said Dr. Waterman was looking for his lost Lab. It was Saturday, so Dr. Waterman was on his telephone tape, and his recorded voice told me to call the hospital. Later, the doctor listened to his tape and called back to say he'd found his dog two weeks ago.

I now made an interesting discovery. The dog was deaf, and couldn't hear a word I said to him. I found he'd been trained to hand signs, and responded instantly to them. I waved him into my shop and put down a blanket, motioning him to use it, and I smiled to think that with a deaf dog a simple gesture of the fingers means both lie down and lay down.

All I had to do now was wait for somebody to call back or to come and get him. Every time I dipped my paintbrush he would roll over. Noon came and I lunched, but feeding a stray dog is a no-no and my friend seemed in good flesh and wouldn't starve right away.

After nooning, I came back to my shop work (I am making an antique corner whatnot) and the dog was sound asleep on his blanket and wholly ready now to assume all responsibilities short of paying the real estate taxes.

He slept on and paid no heed to the power tools about him, and didn't know I turned on the radio and listened to a baseball game. Meantime, at the house, my wife had done some telephoning, and Sheila, at Sheila's Shanty, said she'd ask around. Somebody she was cutting pie for knew somebody with a Labrador, but he was out driving around looking for his lost dog. Sheila proved to be the ultimate salvation.

When the owner arrived the dog slobbered in his ear, and was sitting in his lap as they drove off together. I had to admit at suppertime that my day had been doggy and unproductive, but we were glad to have the pooch at home again. I didn't ask the man his name, but Sheila could fill that in if necessity demands, and I didn't ask the dog's name, either. Why have a name for a deaf dog?

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