My Life in Dog Years


This is how I remember Cody.

We adopted Cody, a collie when I was in first grade. He was my family’s first dog. He was given to us by my brother’s classmate’s family because they were moving to Arkansas. That was weird in and of itself because people didn’t move much back then.

I don’t remember much about Cody. I loved brushing his long tri-colored coat. He was anxious with a nervous high-pitched bark. Cody had chronic bad breath and flatulence, probably due to the cheap food we fed him. We didn’t know much about canine care. 

I loved brushing his long hair. Sometimes I’d put a hat on his head and walk him around my street. Cody put up with a lot from me. 

Cody returned to live with his original owners who moved back to California for some reason. 


We still owned Cody when Tokas joined our household. He was Australian Shepherd Mix with one blue eye and one brown eye. Nearly everyone whom he met asked, “what happened to his eye?”

Australian Shepherds are pretty amazing

We thought of him as “mom’s dog.” Although, opposite of her, he didn’t like men, especially men with beards. I don’t remember where he came from originally. A neighbor? A puppy box at the local laundromat? But, I recall how fast he was. On a rare day, when we were driven to school, Tokas ran to catch up with the butter-yellow MGB. My brother and I would check the speedometer to see how fast Tokas. The needle tipped at 35 MPH.

Fences and gates didn’t keep our dogs in their yard. Tokie roamed the hills, but he always came back, until the day he didn’t. We never learned what happened to him. I like to think a loving family adopted him.


The Samoyed I dreamt of.

This is how I remember Oscar.*

Oscar came from a pet store located inside a big shopping mall. Trips to the mall included visits to the pet store. One day Oscar was there. He was a little white puffball with a black nose and two black eyes poking out from all his fluffy whiteness.

As a Samoyed, Oscar was a high-energy working dog who needed a job and regular exercise to keep him engaged and tired. But we didn’t know that at the time. To us, he was a beautiful white fluffy puppy who spent his days in the yard with Cody and Tokas while my brother and I were in school all day. Mom had a full-time job. If he grew bored from being in the yard, he’d dig under, bite through, and jump over the fence in search of something interesting to do. Poor guy. Who could blame him? 

When I was 9, I spent spring break at my best friend’s new home in Southern California. Her family drove me home at the end of my stay. It seems like I spent half the trip telling my friend, Charan, about Oscar. I couldn’t wait for her to meet him. 

It was dark when we drove up to my house. I grabbed my little flowered suitcase from the car and invited Charan and her family in to meet my dog. My mom greeted us at the door. I remember rushing down the stairs to my house, then tossing my baggage onto my bed. I couldn’t wait to hug Oscar and introduce him to my best friend. I called him. Where’s Oscar? I asked my mom. Where’s Oscar? It seemed like she was avoiding my question. I figured she was busy talking to the adults so I waited quietly until she finished like I’d been taught. Finally, she looked at me and said he’s gone. Gone? What do you mean gone? I felt frantic. Where is he? She said she gave Oscar to a friend who has a horse ranch with room for him to roam.

Devastated and angry, I think I ran to my room and locked the door and cried for a long time. I haven’t fully recovered from the betrayal I felt then. 

Several months later I learned that Oscar got out of the pasture, onto the road, where he died.

Sean was the Lucky One

Pipeman from Pixabay“>Sean grew up learning to retrieve waterfowl

For some reason, my mom agreed to buy a golden retriever bred to retrieve waterfowl. Sean was adorable. But, like all the other dogs my mom allowed into my life, he needed more time and attention than we had. My brother moved out. I had a full college class schedule and a long commute, during the week. On weekends during warm weather, I brought Sean with me to the lake where I taught him to ride with me on my windsurfer. He loved that! But, he still needed more than we had to give. I don’t remember how old he was when an avid duck hunter adopted him from us. But, Sean got to do what he was born to do. He was the lucky one.

Zackary Made Us a Family

Zackary. He kept an eye on the kids at all times.

Zackary was born under the ranch house where my husband and his dad hunted with a group of friends. The ranch was a working cattle ranch. Walter, the lead cowboy owned Eliza, a talented and sweet cattle dog. She worked cattle like no other dog I’d seen. She was fast and very well trained. One summer day, she birthed a litter of 8 pups under the ranch house. My father-in-law picked out a pup for himself, a black and white female. My husband longed for a four-legged hunting buddy. There was a male pup he had his mindset on. He came home to tell me about Eliza’s puppies. 

With the emotional puppy baggage I carried with me into our marriage, I was reluctant to risk loving another dog. Larry and I were a young married couple, busy getting started in our professional lives. We’d bought our first home six months earlier. Admittedly, it had a great yard for a dog, with an expanse of green lawn, shade trees, and gates on both sides. But, we were gone all day at our jobs. I didn’t want to have to leave another dog at home alone all day. 

Somehow Larry got me to agree to go meet the puppies on the ranch. They were 8 weeks old by now and ready for homes. Walter had all the pups outside running around. We watched them as they played and interacted with each other–and how they interacted with us. I noticed Zackary. He was different from the others; more reserved in his manner and keener to stick by us than the male pup Larry wanted to adopt. 

Zackary’s dad was a ruddy brown Rhodesian ridgeback that lived on a neighboring ranch. He found his way to Eliza, no doubt attracted by her silvery-blue dappled coat. As a result, Zack’s coloring was odd, even ugly when he was young. (My sister in law said he looked scary.) But, his personality communicated loyalty. I liked him. We took him on a short walk up the dirt road to see how he’d act away from the ranch house, separated from his siblings. He stuck with us; whimpered a bit after his puppy energy running out. I carried him back.

Larry saw in Zack the same as I did, so we brought him home where he lived happily for almost 16 years.

Paladin & Bernadette Came with the House

These two, a brother and sister team, came with the last house we bought, the one we live in today. When we heard the sellers say they were looking for homes for the dogs, I said write them into the contract. We’ll take them. My realtor (friend) shot me a look that said do you know what you’re agreeing to? I did.  

Bernadette and Paladin looked nothing alike. Bernadette dramatically displayed her Sheltie heritage: long reddish hair and a squat body like an ottoman. While Paladin’s Labrador features were more prominent. He was a creamy yellow with short hair. He guarded the driveway and she kept the raccoons treed at night.

Paladin taught Bodie about being a dog. Photo: Sally Olson

We cared for Paladin and his sister Bernadette until they succumbed to the heartworm they had already.

Paladin was the big dog to Bodie. He taught Bodie how to be a dog and how to be a dog on his property.

Bodie was a Christmas Gift

Bodie’s first day at home. Photo: Sally Olson

Hightest Christmas Glory is his registered name. Fancy, right? That’s why we call him Bodie. (No. He wasn’t named after Bodie Miller, the Olympic downhill skier.) was a Christmas gift from a good friend who raised Bodie’s half-sister, Maggie (RIP.)

Ten years ago, one week after a snowstorm that shut down most of our small county, the four of us piled into the crew cab of our big blue F350 to drive 90 minutes north where we’d meet Chris at Hightest Kennels. Chris’ two-year-old Labrador, Maggie, was one of Visa’s pups. He adored Maggie and wanted to us have one of her pups too. Chris knew our dog, Zack. I think he thought three years was long enough for us to mourn his absence in our lives. It was time for us to raise another hunting dog.

After going through a thorough and extensive sanitizing process to keep contaminants out of the kennel area we came to a large wired pen. One yellow labrador puppy was. Debra, the owner, admitted to holding him back. He has that sparkle in his eye, she said. He’s not a dog for just anyone. Debra’s bred and training hundreds of dogs–award-winning waterfowl hunting dogs. She knows her dogs and this one she had pegged as a “wild child.” So we moved on to look at a litter of black labs.

As we walked around the kennels, Debra did her careful interviewing of us, through which she learned that our lifestyle is active and mostly happens outdoors. We’ve owned dogs before.

We live in a rural area on 10 acres. A large pond is closeby where a Labrador can swim and practice water retrieves. Larry is a duck hunter. Someone is always at home. 

Hightest Labradors are bred to be tireless waterfowl retrievers. Bodie was no exception. He’s not a pet, Debra warned us. Furthermore, she’d never known a Labrador that liked sleeping on soft surfaces. 

Bodie’s one handsome Labrador Retriever. Photo: Sally Olson

We left the black Lab puppies which were joyfully piled up together in their pen, to take another look at the one puppy of Visa’s that available. There he was. Sitting in a corner alone, looking at us through the bars. It’s not good for puppies to be alone. I couldn’t leave him in his pen that way. My family and I talked about it some more then decided he’d come home with us.

Today, Bodie is 10. 

Yeller Liked Coffee

Yeller’s first five minutes at his forever home. Photo: Sally Olson

Yeller was big, beautiful butter-scotch yellow male Labrador Retriever with big paws, an oversized, and an even bigger heart.

Yeller after one year in our family. Photo: Sally Olson

When Bodie was two years old, Paladin died. Bodie cried. Yes. He cried. Bodie had always had a dog buddy, and now he didn’t. Being alone isn’t his strong suit. He grieved the loss of Pal. I don’t remember which one of us started the conversation, but my family agreed that Bodie needed a dog buddy. As is usually the case, I launched the search. I’d look for a male yellow Lab, but this time, he’d been an adult. I was still recovering from raising our Hightest puppy and not quite ready to take on a “dog toddler,” as I called him. (More on that in future posts.)

We surfed through Central California Labrador Retriever Rescue’s large collection of profiles Labradors in every color. When I spotted Yeller’s goofy smile, I stopped. He was three years old and had had three homes, not including his foster home.

Yeller was a big-truck Labrador. Photo: Sally Olson

Meanwhile, during a brief period of downtime in his day, Larry clicked through images of CCLRR’s available dogs. Yeller was his favorite. We had already completed the preliminary adoption paperwork. All we had to do was arrange to meet him.

My heart sunk when Jackie, CCLRR’s president, said Yeller had just been picked up by sportsman looking to adopt a duck retriever. We missed our chance to find out if Yeller was going to be our next family member. Fifteen minutes later, my mobile phone rang. Yeller was back at his foster home. It turned out that he didn’t know how to retrieve and flunked his test. My heart soared. I called Larry then called Yeller’s foster mom, and with Jackie’s permission, I made arrangements to meet Yeller.

CCLRR is very particular about not only who fosters their rescues, but also who adopts them into a forever-home. We completed a written application, then we were interviewed we’re asked to bring all family members and pets to meet the labrador retriever. That can make for a grand meeting. 

I spent a little bit of time on the phone with Yeller’s foster mom. She remarked (more than once) what a big boy he was. He weighed approci seventy-five pounds. He liked sleeping on the back porch in front of their door. He was good one leash. He wasn’t house trained. That’s all I remember her telling me.

Yeller: He stole the right-hand glove, never the left. Photo: Sally Olson

We pulled up to the white wrought iron gate. Out of sight and in the distance I heard a woman’s voice alerting us, “Here he comes!” Staring intently through the bars of the white wrought iron gate, I surveyed the driveway expanse. Where is he? 

My husband spotted him first. At last, I saw a big yellow Labrador bounding and leaping exuberantly in our direction. He jumped to greet each of us. Bodie, our younger, submissive yellow Labrador looked hesitant. I think he wondered if Yeller would like him. Yeller sniffed Bodie, then set the boundary for who’s the bigger dog. We let the two dogs get to know each other as they roamed the fenced acreage of the foster’s property.

Yeller is buried next to Paladin and Bernadette.

Milo Was Smaller than I Imagined

Milo as he sleeps near my writing desk. Photo: Sally Olson

Milo is a long-haired Dachshund-Jack Russell terrier mix. He charmed my son with his horn-honking finesse, a trick he learned when his previous owner left him in the car too long. Milo also persuaded me to break my silent oath to never own a small dog. Big dogs only.

Milo is the one dog we hadn’t met before giving him a home. We trusted Sam’s judgment when he said Milo is a cool little dog, who needs a home, by the way, because his owner does too. Milo’s owner was going through rough times and would have to move to another apartment that didn’t allow pets. He planned to take Milo to a dog shelter.

The night Milo to joined our family, he had tender pink paw pads, as if he’d never set foot outdoors. He shivered in 60-degree-weather. And the rain? What’s that? To my great surprise, Milo wasn’t house trained. How can an apartment dog not be house-trained? It turns out he learned to potty indoors on “potty pads.” Oh no, thought I. Furthermore, the bark collar Milo wore taught him how to be quiet but not how to communicate. It took me several frustrating weeks to put these details together. My son remembers that I didn’t like Milo. No, that’s not true, I corrected him. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into. I thought we were adopting a dog, not a toddler.

Milo keeps us entertained. Photo: Sally Olson

Bodie and Milo became fast friends. These two fur-friends keep me company all day and know what a writer needs (wink): fresh air, exercise, and fur carpeting.

Image credits: I don’t own any photos of Cody, Oscar, Tokas, or Sean. Instead, I selected images from Pixabay artists that closely resemble my dogs as I remember them. Photo credit list follows:

ALEEN from Pixabay“>Samoyed puppy

Karen Arnold from Pixabay“>Collie

Maxime THIBAULT from Pixabay“>Australian Shepherd Mix

Pipeman from Pixabay“>Golden Retriever puppy


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