The shop dog

Couldn’t life be like a Norman Rockwell painting?

I love Norman Rockwell paintings. Everyday events are turned into opportunities to reflect on life’s unremarkable moments.

It’s his fault I wanted the perfect “shop dog.”

I have no idea if Rockwell ever painted this picture, but in my mind, he did. It goes something like this:

An old fashioned general store sits on a busy street, the windows are filled with clear jars of bon bons and lollipops. A store clerk in a white apron stands behind the wooden counter, eyeballing the excited children as they try to decide which sweet to buy. In the corner of the shop lies Old Buck, an ancient Bloodhound someone traded to the shop owner for a sack of flour on the premise that Old Buck was “gonna watch the place.”

But Old Buck was more interested in snoozing than he was in guarding, much to the shop owner’s dismay.

That’s what my imaginary Rockwell painting looks like.

Our store ached for a shop dog and I longed for the gentle snores of a lazy old canine, sleeping at my feet while I worked.

The perfect puppy

Finally my family had heard enough of my pitiful pleas and we decided to adopt a black Labrador retriever. I vaguely remember everyone agreeing to look after it.

We heard about our puppy in Gambo. She was barely a week old. We had to meet our newest family member and so we embarked on a day long road trip. The human mom brought the basket of wiggling week-old pups into the kitchen. There we sat, watching and listening for “the one.” A black chubby ball of fur with four teeny tiny legs was handed to me. Immediately she tinkled. That was my sign. Her name was Belle.

Seven weeks later, we brought Belle home in a fuzzy pink baby blanket I bought at Wal-Mart. She was so little and sweet. When I took her outside to play or practise tinkling in the grass, she would grab at my pant leg.

It was just so adorable.

It didn’t take long before it became painfully obvious Belle was no angel.

“Spawn of the devil” actually comes to mind. The anti-Christ of the dog world wreaked havoc on anything she came into contact with. Shoes, socks, underwear, table legs, lattice work, toys, hearing aids, nothing was sacred.

Someone said Labs mature after three.

Determined, I held on to my Rockwell image. I wanted a shop dog. A sleepy, droopy-eyed, calm Old Buck.

Trying out the shop

Eventually we brought Belle to the shop. We had to barricade her behind the counter so she wouldn’t make a beeline for the door.

When a customer walked into the store, I thought, “OK, here we go.” I had her blanket in the corner all rumpled and ready. Dog food, water, squeaky toys, chewy bones. Check. Check and double check.

None of it interested our little precious. She assumed the person coming through the door was there to see her. Thump. Both paws on the counter. Belle was standing on her hind legs. She found a new friend and we lost a new customer.

“Aw, what a cute puppy,” the unsuspecting soul said, reaching to scratch Belle behind the ear.

“I don’t think you should do that,” I said. But it was too late. Belle had already slobbered great gobs of doggy spit all over the poor fella’s hand.

“Uh, does she have a drooling problem?”  he asked, wiping his palm on his jeans.

“No,” I said. “She drools. No problem.”

Overcome with joy, Belle began to bark. I shooed her into the back of the shop while Beach Boy tended to the customer. I was so embarrassed.  A split second later, Belle decided to christen the new shop. I caught her, red-pawed, mid-stream, squatting.

I couldn’t believe it! She insisted on barking out front and tinkling out back. Belle had no interest in sleeping and drooping and snoozing like Old Buck.

Belle wanted to party.

Dog days

I mopped the floor, sopped up the drool on the counter, soaked up the overturned water dish, located her scattered toys, and finally raised the white flag.

“OK. I give.” I cradled her silky black head in my hands, stroking those velvety soft ears. “I won’t bring you back until you’re at least three years old.”

She gave me a big, sloppy lick as if to say, “Sorry mom. I just couldn’t help myself.”

And so continues the saga of our shop dog. Every once in a while I’ll bring her down to the store for a couple of hours. I gauge her maturity on how many times she jumps on the counter or tinkles in the back. Last going off, it was one for one.

Which brings me back to Norman Rockwell.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black Lab in his paintings.

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