Marley's Ghost

When is man’s best friend not man’s best friend? The answer begins—and possibly ends—with a large lab named “Killer.”

When I jog in my neighborhood, I set the dogs off like trip wires to some subdivision security system. The little Scottie starts it off. (There used to be two of these dyspeptic little curs. The one that moved away would go nuts when she saw me, screeching ceaselessly, her nasty little paws bouncing off the asphalt like a dog version of Yosemite Sam.) Before I know it, there’s a canine chorus reverberating through the neighborhood, which culminates in the full-throated yelp of a large chocolate lab who charges toward me with the apparent intent of making me his personal chew toy. I thought I once heard the owner call him “Killer.”

I used to run in different venues and had similar encounters with man’s supposed best friend. I once jogged past a yellow lab sprawled lazily on his master’s porch. It was straight out of Norman Rockwell, until he apparently decided I was some kind of interloper. Then it was straight out of Stephen King. The lab took off after me, fangs bared, until I tripped and collapsed in a heap in the middle of a busy road. He approached, sniffed, decided this heap of quaking humanity wasn’t a threat to anything, then trotted off.

All this is my way of saying I absolutely love dogs, especially big ones like setters and labs—yellow labs in particular, having laughed and wept over a recent reading of “Marley & Me.” Within weeks of me having read the story of “the world’s worst dog,” new neighbors moved in next door. Lo and behold, they are the owners of a beautiful yellow lab that matches Marley’s coat and size perfectly. I was immediately drawn to him, if for no other reason than the first time he saw me, his response was both gentle and friendly, the result, no doubt, of his being new to the neighborhood, the Delta Force of other dogs having not caught him up on the evident security threat I pose to their masters.

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Figuring I might try a quick meet and greet before Killer had a chance to debrief him, I invited myself to the neighbors’ backyard barbecue, inquiring only as to the whereabouts of their beautiful yellow lab.

I learned several things immediately. His name was Oliver, which is a gentle name—so much nicer for a big dog than Killer. You’re simply not going to get chased down or bit on the butt by a dog named Oliver. And Ollie, as he is also known, is friendly to strangers. He will immediately play a game of fetch with you.

So I immersed myself in play, eager to make the point that Oliver should not believe anything he hears about me from other dogs in the neighborhood. My new neighbors realized I had no intention of introducing myself to anyone else, so they took the initiative to make introductions all around. I think one of the neighbors is named Greg, but I paid little attention, as Oliver and I continued to get acquainted. In what must have caused a moment of pause, coming from someone who seemed indifferent to the human members of Oliver’s family, I blurted out that we’d love to dogsit Oliver at the first opportunity. Greg (or something) and his wife (I think) immediately accepted the offer—which, in retrospect, I should probably wonder a little about.

Oh, I also found out that Killer is actually “Miller.” No way am I buying his threats anymore.

With Ollie’s scent upon him, Reid Champagne has noticed his morning jogs have gone a lot more quietly.

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