For the love of a Lab Jim Brewer, originally appearing in the TAB section of the Richmond Times, November 1999

They come in three flavors: chocolate, black and yellow. They begin their lives in skin two sizes big with feet too large by a rate of three. Their hair is as smooth as velvet and their teeth are instruments of destruction, particularly to things of value around the house.

They live to lick a bit of cookie from the mouth of a child and they can hear things no human could possibly perceive. They are loyal, gentle, playful, energetic, fearless, winsome, and they’d rather swim than eat.

They are Labrador retrievers, and according to the American Kennel Association (sic), they are the most popular breed of dog in the country. Labs are hunters. It’s in their blood. They have drive and instincts to retrieve that can come only come from the spirits of ancestors long since past. Duck hunters speak of this animal like jewelers do of the Hope diamond. Yet, these dogs are more than hunters.

They lead the blind across congested streets. They will defend their families to the death. They are pets, companions, silent advisors, slipper fetchers, harassers of cats and barkers of epic proportions.

The eyes of a Lab are golden, as are their hearts. And their personalities are like snowflakes – each is different. They are drawn to fine furniture in the parlor like a politician to a Labor Day picnic. They will chew anything with molecules. And the shoes of humans most definitely have molecules.

Labs are not adoptable. Rather, it is the human family that is claimed by the Lab. And a greater friend and companion will not be found in this life.

They love to play. They love to run. They’ll chase whatever flees before them. Their greatest pleasure is to get soaking wet and ambush a $500 herringbone suit with a tumultuous spray of water.

They worship small children. In fact, they think they are small children. A big lick on the face is a Lab’s way of saying, “I love you, man.”

Labs like to carry things in their mouths. Sometimes they like to bury those same items. The back yard of a family with a Lab pup looks like the garden of a guy with a new John Deere tractor. If it has a little smell to it, or if it feels good to chew on, or looks like something that ought to be transported, a Lab will pick it up. Labs especially like to carry food bowls from other dogs around. It can create chaos in a neighborhood.

Labs burst forth from a duck blind like a sprinter going for the tape, but they seem to know when to preserve their energy. A Lab’s favorite place is the front seat of a pickup truck. If it’s dark outside, and cold, they figure they might be going hunting.

Freezing water is an inconvenience to a Lab, not an excuse. They’ll dive through the ice to retrieve a goose and swim into four-foot whitecaps in search of a duck.

They’ll point if they must, but they would rather flush. They’ll bring back grouse to their master if necessary, but they’d rather catch ducks. They are the most versatile hunting dogs in the world. Labs like the training room. For them, that means water. How many times you can throw a stick in a pond is how many times a Lab will fetch. They are like big fish with fur and water is their home.

A Lab’s ear is soft and something that begs to be scratched. Those same ears are early warning devices, signaling the approach of the UPS man, stray cats and would-be visitors. For those ears, a whistle hanging at the neck of a human is like the first violin at the New York Philharmonic.

Labs love their master like no other can. When he leaves for work, they mourn. When the car pulls in the driveway, they rejoice. They lie patiently underneath the dinner table each night hoping for a crumb to fall.

But, unfortunately, Labs grow old. Their whiskers turn gray. Their energy wanes. They become slower to rise and their naps take longer. They sleep softly at their master’s feet, dreaming about hunts and chases from long ago.

And Labs eventually die. But not their spirits. In God’s great heaven there is a Lab at the foot of every angel. And woe be to any angel who puts his halo on the ground.