A Memoir by Peggy Harrington

Jenn says that Tucker is her dog with special needs. “Yeah,” says Bryan, her husband, “he hit the jackpot when he got us as owners.” Jennifer and Bryan are both veterinarians. Tucker is their 7-year-old oversize golden retriever. He weighs 95 pounds. If he was human, he would receive a diagnosis of anxiety disorder and lack of impulse control with chronic depression. Tucker is afraid of walking on wooden floors, which is unfortunate because most of the main level of Jenn and Bryan’s house has them. Of course, when they purchased the house they did not know of Tucker’s fear. When they discovered it, they placed an array of small throw rugs on his walkabout route through the house. Now when he travels to the kitchen or the deck, he is not frightened by the tap, tap, tap of his toenails touching the floor. What also must help Tucker along is the 80-milligram daily dose of Prozac.

Golden retrievers are sociable by temperament and not likely to snap. That makes them good family dogs. Tucker shares the house with two other dogs, Pacey and Chandler, both smaller than he is. When he was younger and they were all put out into the yard to do their business and play, many times Tucker did his business and climbed up the deck stairs to the door. He stood motionless looking at the bottom of the door where it met the deck, waiting for it to open. Meanwhile, Chandler and Pacey ran around the yard chasing squirrels and engaged in amiable dog wrestling.

“He doesn’t seem to want to play with the other dogs,” Jennifer said to her mother on the phone. Once the door was opened, Tucker and his dog mates pushed and shoved to get inside the house. At times, Pacey, who looks part corgi, taunts Tucker. She bites his ankles and brings him down when she gets the chance. He gets up, walks away, and looks for his stuffed toys, preferably the hippo, starts his walkabout from the foyer to the living room to the den, which is carpeted with Berber, to the kitchen. Around and around and around. At least now that he is medicated with Prozac, he is more relaxed about his journey. The frenetic urgency with which he traveled before he was medicated is gone.

It is thought by some that Tucker had a difficult time in utero. Maybe he didn’t have enough room. His mother was impregnated twice, so she carried two birth sacs, one with purebred golden retrievers and one with a shar-pei-golden mix. This is not unusual. Bitches can ovulate more than once in a heat. This will account for the multiple birth sacs.

If there is postnatal emotional damage in dogs, Tucker is a candidate. The breeder was upset that Tucker’s mother had gotten out after she was successfully bred with another golden. The breeder had planned to register the puppies with the American Kennel Club and make a lot of money selling them. As a result of the mother’s night on the town with the shar-pei, the golden puppies could not be registered. The angry breeder was planning to have the mother euthanized for, well, running around. Word got out and Tucker’s disgraced mother was saved by animal rescue. Tucker made his way to the veterinary school where Bryan and Jennifer were studying. It was there that Bryan fell in love with him. You know how irresistible golden pups are.

“I’m going to try to have him bond with me,” Jenn said to her mother in another telephone call. She took him out for walks without the other dogs. “I’ll let him know that I am the pack leader.” She let him wear a mild shock collar for two or three times. Remember, he weighs 95 pounds. She weighs only 110. She took the shock collar off. She trained him to heel, patience and persistence prevailing.

Now Jenn and Bryan are expecting their first child. Recently while visiting, her mother asked if the dogs have shown any different behavior since her pregnancy. “I think that Tucker follows me around more,” Jenn replied. He greets her in the morning by poking his snout in her face, breathing his heavy dog breath at her. He sleeps in the bedroom with Jenn and Bryan, positioning himself between Jenn and the door. While the mother visited recently, Jenn was resting in the afternoon. The mother entered the bedroom. Tucker raised his head and barked at her as she approached the far side of the bed where her daughter was resting. He has become her affectionate protector. It is thought that he would fight with all he has to prevent someone from hurting her. Good boy, Tucker. Good boy.

Peggy Harrington is a photographer and writer. Her writing has appeared in The East Hampton Star and has been anthologized.