Rescue dog: Albie stretches the boundaries of human love

Rescue dog Albie takes a nap with his owner and sparks a reverie on the spiritual connections of an extended family ... particularly the canine extension.

Courtesy of the Zheutlin family
Rescue dog Albie has grown to be an irreplaceable member of the Zheutlin family. Here, Noah Zheutlin hugs the lovable golden retriever-Lab mix.

Raising children can sometimes be a slog; tantrums, sleepless nights, runny noses, dirty diapers, spilled milk and long car trips to visit Grandma and Grandpa can test even the most patient of parents.

But parenthood also has sublime, blissful moments. Never did I feel more at peace, more content, more important or more in tune with the universe than when one of my boys would fall asleep with his head on my chest. Sometimes, exhausted myself, I’d fall asleep, too. But mostly I just lay there, still as could be, looking out the window or at the ceiling and feeling a connection not only with the little boy so dependent on me, but with something bigger, something I’m not even sure I can identify.

My boys are 22 and 17 now, so it’s been a while since I had one of those magical moments, but I came very close the other day. It happened when Albie, our half golden retriever, half yellow Lab, with us almost five months now, laid down beside me on the narrow window seat in our living room. I was ready for a nap, but Albie, as always, was watching intently for the squirrels that dart around our yard and up and through the trees. He started out very alert, eyes following the squirrels intently, ears perked up, head erect. But slowly, he began to tire. His eyes started to close ever so slightly until he eventually succumbed, let out a long sigh, and brought his head gently down onto my chest and fell asleep.

You might think I was just comforting him, but really we were comforting one another. And as he slept came a feeling very much like the one I would have when the boys napped with their heads on my chest or shoulder: That we were somehow meant to be together, delivered to one another to share moments of serenity like this one.

I never expected to feel this way about a dog. The last time I had a dog was more than four decades ago; Kristi, a sweet and intelligent black standard poodle my father brought home as a puppy when I was in elementary school. That dog was deeply attached to my father and he to her, but being young then I didn’t have the kind of spiritual connection I feel with Albie. But I have some precious memories.

When I was about twelve, my Dad had Kristi bred and built a whelping box in our basement. One night, at about 1 a.m., the first puppy was born in my parents’ bedroom. As my Dad carried Kristi to the basement, I followed, carrying in the palm of my hands a tiny black puppy, its eyes closed, its fur still wet. You’d have thought I’d been handed the Hope Diamond. My Dad, a pediatrician, then called his friend, Sylvan, who lived down the street. Sylvan was an obstetrician and there they were, two doctors who often worked next to one another at Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, NJ delivering newborns, easing the birth of eight or nine little poodle puppies.

In the weeks that followed, those puppies frolicked all over the linoleum floor in the basement, always exuberant but always failing to gain the necessary traction on the smooth floor to stay upright. It was a riot of puppy energy and pure joy.

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We sold all but one of the puppies, keeping a male we named Freddie. Freddie was the comic, slapstick genius who was always making mischief. He nipped at Kristi’s ear to get her attention, or her goat. He got into a box of sanitary napkins and left the shreds all over the house. He always ran at a 45-degree angle, often into walls at full speed. He got his head stuck in a pretzel box and couldn’t get it off. Then, one night, there was the sound of a car horn and brakes screeching and he was gone. The bloodstain remained on the street for weeks and I learned then what I know now: it is possible to love a dog deeply and well.

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