Albie, the 'world's sweetest dog,' makes dad feel needed again

Albie, the Zheutlins' new dog, makes dad feel needed as he misses the days when his sons were elated when he came home and needed to be tucked into bed. He hasn't started reading Albie bedtime stories ... yet.

Courtesy of Peter Zheutlin
Albie, the family's Yellow Lab-Golden Retriever mix, will never get tired of having his belly rubbed and ears scratched. Dad appreciates that Albie will never outgrow his attachment to his owners, especially as his sons grow more independent.

A few days before our Yellow Lab-Golden Retriever Albie arrived from Louisiana, I was talking with our friend Chris, an accomplished chef and long time dog owner.

“You need to let the dog know who’s in charge,” Chris said with the authority of someone who’s used to running a busy restaurant kitchen. “There’s got to be an alpha male and that has to be you.”

“So, what you’re saying,” I replied, “is not to make the same mistake with the dog as I made with my kids.”

“Exactly!” he said.

I was only half kidding. It’s not in my nature to try and be the boss, either as a father or, now, as a proud owner and best friend of the world’s sweetest dog. And, all things considered, the kids turned out better than all right.

In the first few weeks of taking care of Albie, we wondered, indeed suspected, that he wasn’t always treated with the love and affection we’ve been showering on him since he arrived. He hasn’t needed a very firm hand. He’s almost absurdly well behaved, greeting each new person with trust, clearly expecting the best in everyone, and offering his paw for a shake. He doesn’t beg for food. He doesn’t tear up the house. He waits to be invited upstairs.

He seems so happy to be with us, it’s almost as if he’s trying hard not to blow it.

Though I was the lone holdout who finally acquiesced, I have fallen hard for Albie. When I think about what it is – what the magical chemistry might be all about – I suspect it has something to do with the fact that in just a year our younger son will be heading off for college.

I miss, as does my wife Judy, those years when the boys were young, when we bathed them, wrapped them in towels, and read them stories – often the same one night after night after night until we heard the words in what little sleep we were able to muster. We miss the days when they were excited whenever we came home (today there just isn’t anything special about Dad walking though the door and I feel lucky just be acknowledged). We miss the days when they wanted to hold our hands and were eager for our approval. One thing about raising kids: The days and the nights often seemed like an eternity. But the years? They rush by in a blur. With Albie it feels a bit like we’re back in those halcyon days of “Goodnight Moon” and “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” though we haven’t tried reading to him just yet.

Most dogs I have known, and Albie seems to fit the mold, are stuck in a perpetual state of need and attachment with their caretakers that kids inevitably outgrow. I doubt Albie will ever tire of having his belly rubbed, the fur behind his ears caressed, or hearing me sweet talk him whenever he approaches with those wanting eyes and what I swear is a smile on his face.

I doubt I’ll ever tire of it either.

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