Thursday, February 19, 2009

Elmer- what a good ol' boy

Our family has never been without a dog for very long. We have had, a doberman, papillons,and an assortment of puppies. Our daughter, Laura,a raised guide dog puppies for Guide Dog for the Blind (GDB) so we had labs, Sheppard's, and one golden retriever in our home through the years.
The Golden Retriever, already named Elmer, came to us as 12 week old yellow fur ball. He was so adorable, how could we not fall in love with him? Laura faithfully cared for all the puppies. She socialized them and took them to school with her. She made sure to work with them on basic obedience skills and exposed them to different environments; buses, trains, elevators, stairs, etc. Laura taught them to trust her and not to react to distractions such as noises from trucks, motorcycles, sirens, children playing or other dogs.We were told that only 1 in 4 puppies raised for GDB makes it through to graduation and is matched with a visually impaired partner. Laura had an outstanding track record as a puppy raiser as all of her puppies made it - except Elmer.

Elmer did not give any indication that he would not make it through the training. He had no bad habits, he wanted to please and was very responsive. The time came for him to return to GDB for the rest of his training. It was a cold and damp morning when the GDB van pulled into the meeting place off of Hilltop. Several other puppies were ready to go and we shared hugs and knowing glances at the sun glasses worn on such a drab day. There were many tears shed that morning -me being the biggest baby. But we kept talking about what a great guide dog Elmer would be for someone. For me personally, he was the hardest puppy to give up.

Laura was handed a cute little German Sheppard that eased some of the heartache. A few weeks days later, we got a call from GDB. They explained that Elmer was going to be dropped from the program as he would not adjust to the kennel. They explained he refused to eat. They even tried taking Elmer home with trainers, given him special food, and keeping him in the school dorm rooms instead of the kennel. He still refused to eat and was on the verge of being fed intravenously. Did we want him back?

The policy of GDB is to offer the puppy raiser the first opportunity of keeping any dog that is dropped from the program. There is also a waiting list of families that would love to have any of the puppies as they know they are well behaved and already socialized. Since we had a small backyard and we had the new German Shepard puppy and another puppy from a raiser that had quit the program - we had limit of dogs and felt is was best to give him to a waiting family.

Two days after that call, there was scheduled activity for all the puppies and raisers in San Rafael. We loaded up the dogs and headed to the GDB campus. During the afternoon break, I wondered if Elmer was still on the campus. We went into the kennels looking for him - bad idea.

Walking down the main isle, we would call out Elmer's . I thought I heard his bark and turned to the right to see a skinny golden retriever standing on his hind legs with his head straining to see over the cement kennel divider. I said, "Elmer?" and he went crazy jumping and barking.

Laura and I dashed down the the three spaces to his kennel. We couldn't believe our eyes. I burst into tears as I looked at this once beautiful, healthy, silky golden retriever. Elmer's checks were hollow, his silky fur was dull, and the worst was his hip bones. His hip bones stuck up like a starving cow, his backbones were clearly visible. It was heart breaking. The staff explained that there are just some dogs that will never adjust to a kennel and stop eating- usually because they missed their family. They said Elmer was the first Golden Retriever they had behave that way - it was more common in German Shepards.

We immediately went to the kennel master and asked it Elmer had been placed with a waiting family. He had not. We told them we would take him home that day. We quickly completed the paperwork and took him out of the kennel to the grassy area between buildings where the rest of the group was finishing their lunch. We got horrible stares as we walked him out - he looked like one of those dogs removed from homes by SPCA.

Sitting down under the tree on our blanket, we offered Elmer food. He gobbled two cups of kibble in less than a minute. We offered a little more -same result. I didn't want to offer him too much as we still had the ride from San Rafael home to Redding. But it was so hard to resist his big pleading eyes, that by the time we reached Redding, he had consumed 6 cups of kibble - a little at a time. Okay, and he did barf in the back seat - but it he was obviously a happy dog.

The next obstacle was telling Jim. He is an easy going guy but I was pretty sure he thought we had enough dogs . I didn't expect him to thrilled that he was not included in the decision to adopt a permanent family member.I can't remember if it was Laura's idea or mine but we somehow agree d that the best way to 'break the news' was to take Elmer to his office so he could see for himself that we had no choice but to take Elmer home - and that is what we did.

Jim agreed we could not have left him. Elmer sure helped with the decision by greeting Jim like his long last buddy. Elmer never had any problems eating again - except as he grew older we did have to watch his weight. He grew into his name - he was our big lovable Elmer dog. He would do anything for us. Elmer put up with a number of other puppies that went through our home. He was there for us when Laura and Jeff went off to college.

One day he was laying at my feet when I noticed his stomach was distended. He had not exhibited any sign of discomfort. When we were walking out to the car to to go the vet, Elmer was wagging his tail and enjoying the prospect of a car ride. The vet thought he may have a blockage or twisted bowl. Elmer was wagging his tail all through the visit. When they opened him up, he was full of cancer - he did not wake up.

A Golden Retriever would not have been my pick as a family dog (too much shedding). But Elmer came into our family for a reason and I could not have asked for a better family dog.It has been years since Elmer died. A lot has changed in our lives, but I still think about him and know that Elmer would have adjusted to any change our family made. He was such a good ol' boy.


  1. Darcie,
    I don't think I've ever told you, when I visited you at your Redding home I still felt like Elmer would come around the corner any second. Dogs leave such a lasting impression. They really are a good friend.


  2. Cancer...I had a cat with Feline AIDS. As long as she took her anti-biotic, she was great. But I had to leave her with my mother, and mother, seeing her looking so good, stopped the meds. Bad. When I came back, she was so far gone that I had to take her to Haven to be put down. She had lumps of cancer under her skin.

  3. Oh Darce, that's a beautiful tribute to sweet Elmer. Thank you for the reminder of what a great dog he was. He was a lucky guy to become part of the Gore family. (Now excuse me, need to go blow my nose.)