In the 1990s, I had two Golden Retrievers that I took over from my mother. She’d found that they needed too much exercise and she didn’t have the energy for them, and besides, one had been my father’s before he moved out. They were named Mick and Bonny. They were funny and gentle, sweet and playful. They greeted most people rambunctiously, carrying their toys and making attempts to jump up, but kids or people who were older or hesitant with dogs got a much quieter reception. On vacations they rode happily in the car, and when we got somewhere—like the mountains of Colorado—they ran around joyfully. They were good with other dogs and loved all people and were the best dogs I ever had.
They both died young around 2000, and I ended up with two Cocker Spaniels. I’d had a Cocker when I was growing up, because my mother had one when she was growing up. She knew and loved the breed, as did I. I have no idea why I didn’t think of going to the pound at that point. I was, I suppose, uneducated. I simply had grown up with purchased dogs, specific retrieving breeds, and that’s what I knew. Of course these two Cockers were my beloveds, too, but they were challenging: one didn’t like other dogs, so he lunged and barked when he saw them on walks; and the other was shy with people, so I had to train her over years by having new people give her treats.
Somewhere over the course of my spaniels’ 15+ year lives, the issue of rescue dogs came onto my radar. Eventually, I knew that I wanted to rescue a dog when the time next came. It was longer than I’d thought, because I’d also ended up with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that I inherited when my mother died.
But I still loved Golden Retrievers. I gravitated towards them at the dog park, where they were the rare adults dogs who stopped to be petted. Their look—sure, that was part of it, I suppose. I love the longer-haired breeds and their softness. Their size and shape, yes—healthy and big enough not to be stepped on, but not giant like my sister’s Great Pyrenees or the gorgeous but goofy Great Danes. But mostly, I loved their personalities—eternally puppyish, sweet and people-oriented, playful and gentle. They don’t focus so intently on their owners that other people don’t exist, like German Shepherds; they don’t herd like collies and sheepdogs; they don’t bark a lot like many small dog breeds (including Cocker Spaniels); they aren’t protectors or particularly prey-oriented like terriers; they’re not intellectuals like Standard Poodles or Border Collies. They’re just fun-loving, goofy, cuddly dogs. They fit what I want in a dog. They make me happy.
So I found what I thought was the perfect solution: a local Golden Retriever rescue. My husband and I applied, had the telephone interview, the home visit, and were approved for a Golden when the right one came along.
And then my sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
We still had one dog—a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that I had inherited when my mother died. She was 15. I knew I’d want to spend a lot of time in Illinois with my sister, a six hour drive away. I didn’t want to be wrangling two dogs into the car and driving up there, then spending a week or so at a time in a small-ish house with six dogs (my sister has four). And my husband and I were going to England to see his family for three weeks. So we notified the Golden Retriever rescue that we were putting our adoption on hold, and would get back to them when we were ready.
My sister started chemo while I was in England, and it was difficult not to be with her, but she insisted I stick with my vacation. When I got back, I was concerned with her—we went to see another specialist in Chicago, talked to different doctors, worried about meds, alternative treatments, etc. Finally, after a few days back in the States, I noticed that I had a message on my phone. It was from the Golden Retriever rescue, asking if we were interested in the perfect dog: she’d been raised with cats (we have two), was a purebred, only two years old, loved dogs and people. Unfortunately, the message was nearly two weeks old: my phone doesn’t work in England because it costs too much. After talking with my sister, who was eager to have me get a dog and not let her illness interfere with my happiness (that’s my sister for you), I called back. The perfect dog had already been adopted by someone else.
After that, I gradually decided that I did, after all, want that Golden now. I kept checking the website with available Goldens. Finally my husband picked out one that he loved the look of. This dog hadn’t been tested with cats, but it was a Golden mix, so we weren’t too worried. Goldens are known for their gentleness, their soft mouths. It might chase the cats, but not hurt them. We waited until this dog became available—the poor boy had to be treated for heartworm first—and then inquired about meeting him.
It turned out that we could foster him for a few days because his foster had to go out of town. That was better than a meeting—it was a real trial run. As soon as he came in, I knew he wasn’t “the” dog. It’s sort of inexplicable, that feeling, but nonetheless real. Still, he was sweet and we showered him with love and kept our minds open, just in case.
And then on the 2nd day we had him, we had a tragedy. Our two-year-old cat, who had grown up with the senior Cavalier spaniel, was terrified of the new foster dog. We thought she’d perhaps hide under the bed—we kept our bedroom off-limits, except at night when the foster dog was in a crate. But on Monday morning, when my husband had to go to work, we couldn’t find our young cat. We looked everywhere, including the garage, where the litter boxes could be reached through a cat flap. We looked for two hours, including under the hood of both cars and in the wheel wells.
Finally, my husband just had to get to work. I stood in the driveway, in case our scared cat was in the garage after all and made a run for it when the garage door went up. I cannot bring myself to describe exactly what happened next, but my poor husband was driving, and I was watching, and our poor, wonderful, sweet calico cat—our first “baby” together—died at the age of two. We both blamed ourselves: me for wanting the dog, my husband for not looking carefully enough (though he did!). I know it sounds like a small trauma, but it was one nevertheless, and we are still dealing with it.
We didn’t adopt that dog. Who knows if we would have if that hadn’t happened, though I doubt it.
My husband is the one who adores cats. He loves all animals, but cats are his favorite. Within a couple of weeks, we had another cat—a timid kitten who chose my husband, as animals do, at the Humane Society. We were told they didn’t get to handle her much, she was so shy. But when we held her, she purred and purred.
At home, she hid under the sink in the guest bathroom. My senior spaniel ignored her—she was going down into kidney failure at that point, and would pass away in a few days. That was two of our animals who had died within 10 days. And my sister with her diagnosis and advancing disease, always in the background. My emotions were raw and bruised, and I was heading towards depression.
So I took to checking the Golden Retriever rescue website several times a day, looking for new dogs that were cat-friendly. I contacted the poor adoption coordinator from that organization regularly, asking about this or that dog. It wasn’t fully rational, this driving need for a new dog. I was trying to fill the holes of loss and trauma and future loss and I knew it. But I couldn’t stop. Eventually, the intake of Golden Retrievers in need was too slow for me. None of the dogs were appropriate for us, and with our new kitten being so timid, we really needed a cat-savvy dog. I started looking on Petfinder for other breeds that fit our criteria: medium/large dogs, preferably with retrieving breeds in them, that were good with cats, dogs, and people.
I tried every configuration of search I could. I looked for specific breeds, and took out all filters. Sometimes a dog marked “cat friendly” would turn out, in the description, to need a home without cats. Or they’d like cats but not other dogs, and with my sister’s pack, I really need a dog that’s good with other dogs. I looked for weeks, also constantly checking the Golden rescue website. I worried that I was being too selective about breeds, but the vast majority were pit bull mixes. I have nothing against pit bulls—I love petting them at the dog park—but I’m not the kind of person who can stand hostility and argument. I don’t want anyone to be afraid of my dog. And there are stories of people in my city being harassed, their dogs even shot at, simply because they’re pit bull mixes. Then there were the herding mixes, the mixes with high prey drives, the mixes who were one-person dogs. Nothing was right. And when I contacted fosters, I was often told that “they chased the cats but they were outside cats so they could get away” or “the cats just smacked them and they learned.” I had timid cats. I had a cat who had died. I was paranoid. I was grieving. I felt out of control and helpless.
Then the one dog at the Golden rescue that I’d been interested in since the beginning of her rescue, one who was known to be good with cats and dogs, was coming close to being available. But when I inquired about her, I was told that someone else “ahead of me” was interested in her. I understand that rescues must prioritize those who have fostered for them, but I still felt put off. I felt like the process of adoption was opaque. It mirrored the lack of clarity in my sister’s experiences with the medical community.
So I finally looked into Golden Retriever puppies. I figured a puppy would be little threat to even our shy kitten, and they could grow up together. We just wouldn’t have to worry about the dog and cats getting along. And it would be a Golden, raised to our own preferences and quirks. It would be the perfect dog, and I could control exactly when and how we would get it. I found a good breeder—not the very best, whose puppies go for over $2000, but still a good breeder with indoor pups and a love for their dogs—whose puppies will be available at the right time, at the end of October, when my husband and I will be back from various trips out of town. I inquired and had reserved the puppy all within an hour. After months of searching and waiting, I would have a dog I really wanted.
And then the guilt set in. I heard from a couple more of the places I had queried about their dogs. I still had a Petfinder email for my search. I follow happy stories of adopted dogs on Instagram, and each one hit me like a punch: I wasn’t going to be one of those stories. I had caved. I had bought a dog. I would be one of those people I myself had judged in the past. I still want to justify myself—thus this very long post! I will get another dog at some point, and I want it to be a rescue dog.
But for now, my sister is excited about the puppy. She herself has only rescue dogs, but she doesn’t judge me. She wants to celebrate with me, with the puppy, for as long as she has. We don’t know how long that will be. I think that unknown—the big unknown—is what finally broke me down. I wanted a certainty, and I have it: on October 30th, I will pick up my new puppy. She will be a reddish Golden Retriever. She will be 8 weeks old. She will be loved very much, and she will bring joy.
Categories: Katie's Voice, Living
Oh, Katie. So much heartbreak in such a short time is unfair in the extreme. I’m so sorry for the loss of your cat, and as for your sister’s illness . . . cancer sucks-out-loud. I could write a book about it. I’ll refrain.
As for the cat you lost: you will, I hope, at some point, get past the guilt. Guilt is, often, a lie that is told to us by a world (or a brain) that wants to convince us we should have control over everything. Bad and sad things happen. They hurt, but no one is to blame. There are so many things not in our control. That’s a huge issue for me–control–so I always bring it up when there’s any kind of guilt or grief. I am not in control. I cannot control everything. I am not to blame when things happen out of my control . . . or even if I think they’re in my control, because most of the time they’re not.
I grew up with four cats we took in as strays. I loved them to pieces. They all died. Two were hit by cars because they went outdoors. Two died of old age. By the time the last one passed, I was married and on my own. About two years into my marriage we were talking with a friend who had a friend who bred Maine Coon cats. We fell IN LOVE with the breed. Ours were, as my husband likes to say, “Slightly irregular,” so we got them for free (he also says “the most expensive free things we ever got” to which I add, “until we had kids.”)
After those cats passed away of old age within a few years of each other, we just felt empty. Our kids were 10 and 8 at that time, and they were in grief, as well. I know so many people say “animals are not tissues, you can’t just get another one,” and I agree, but I also think there is no better remedy for the heartbreak of losing a pet than to get another pet. Of course they’re not the same. They’re not supposed to be the same. But they do bring joy in a time when we are so in need of it.
So, with that in mind, we tried for rescues, we tried to adopt from shelters–the cats just didn’t fit with us. There is something about the Maine Coon breed that is just . . . so incredibly special to us. I don’t know why. It just is. So, we found a loving, kind, reputable, ethical, careful, educated, amazing breeder who truly works out of love of the breed–she barely breaks even financially–and we adopted from her. We donate and try to volunteer at the local cat rescue–sometimes, yes, out of guilt–but we simply can’t regret having these living bundles of love in our home.
There’s always going to be someone who tells us that our choice is wrong, that we could do better, that we have betrayed our principles. The problem is that it’s more often than not our own voice that’s the loudest. Be kind to yourself. You are going to have a new life in your home. You are going to have a young pup who will be part of memories you make with your sister. There is no shame in any of this. There is only love, which is, of course, what I’m sending you right now.
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Diane, thank you for this wise, wise comment. I needed to hear it, as of course my post reveals. As for the issue of control–so much yes! Buddhism also talks about that issue, how we’re trained to believe that not only SHOULD we control everything, but delude ourselves into believing we CAN. When of course we can’t. No one can live so carefully, buy so much insurance, that they can prevent the unexpected. Meditation can help me remember and embrace the truth: we cannot control much, and accepting that truth is a relief.
And I’ve also heard WONDERFUL things about Maine Coons. I can imagine the joy they give you! As my Golden Retriever will give to me, and to my sister, and my husband. All my family, in fact, is eager to meet her.
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Please don’t feel guilty for buying a puppy. I have a ten year old beagle mix and knew I was ready to bring in a new dog. I was torn between getting a golden or a bull terrier. Like you, I looked at rescues for bull terriers and decided it was a no go because NONE were good with other dogs, cats, and small kids. I still kept researching and looking into different breeders. I’d had Labradors in the past and was very familiar with retrievers. I began looking at rescues for goldens. The breeder matched me with my boy, and I got everything I wanted in a golden. Roux has the perfect personality for our tribe. I will never regret buying myself a golden retriever puppy. After the deposit had already been paid, my mom asked me why I was getting another dog. She was big on the Marie Kondo bandwagon at the time. My response was, “I want something that sparks joy every time I touch it.” My boy has been sparking joy every single day since we were first introduced six months ago. Congrats on your new baby!
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Thank you and congratulations on your sweet pup! I’m so encouraged by this. And very much looking forward to my joyful and joy-bringing girl. ❤️
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I know this is a bit dated, but please don’t feel bad about getting a well bred golden. I have both a rescue and a non-rescue. they are both wonderful. We need to support good breeders who bring out the best in the breed. you are obviously a golden lover so thank you for helping make the world a little better by bringing home a golden.
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Thank you so much! We plan to get a rescue Golden sibling for her when she’s a year or two old. Always nice to hear from someone who loves Goldens too. ❤️
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I too am a person that believe in adopting rescue dog but my son Robert wanted a big dog. At the time there were no big dogs available at the animal shelter. He was set on getting a husky but when the sales person told my son of all the up keep on a husky. He looked at other dogs. He asked me which one i would pick i told him a golden retriever. So my son was the one really paid for the dog. I still think of it as a family dog being that he and the dog still lives in my house. I just love our golden retriever. Full of energy and loves to play fetch and smart has a whip. The family gave her the name Minnie even though she’s no where near being minnie.She will be 2yrs old in april of 2020. She can do things that we didn’t teach her to do. Every day with her is so full of joy and surprises. U just never know what she will do next.
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Oh how wonderful! Our Golden is 4 months old now and sweet and goofy and a beautiful distraction in the wake of my sister’s passing. Thank you for sharing your experience!
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Congratulations on your new baby! I, too, bought a golden puppy, born on 10/4/19. I have two rescues, Emmie, who is 8 (part collie) and Chester, who is part Chessie/flat coat retriever, he will be 17 this February. I attempted to rescue an 8 month old purebread golden, but was turned down because they said Emmie and Chester were too old. I looked for months, but found nothing. I knew I wanted a Golden Retriever. I found a reputable breeder fairly local, and kept watching for puppies to be available. There are so many non reputable breeders, and I wanted to make sure I bought a golden with feat genes. A friend from work said he bought one for $1200.00, didn’t check the breeders credentials, etc. and his got hip dysphasia along with cancer in her mouth, all costing him roughly $5000.00 in vet bills. My little Maple, has 15 generations of good hips, reviews from previous buyers stated these were the calmest and best Goldens they had ever had. Today she is a hair over 14 weeks old. I’m 65, and she has filled my life with love and happiness. She adores her brother and sister. I know Chester won’t be here much longer, and I wanted to get a golden before he was gone, so I could be loving and happy, and not mourning him. Emmie has been a dear, but is not a cuddly dog as she was never handled as a baby. I have rescued 3 dogs, a corgi, cocker, and border collie mix, which bit, and had to go back. Cockers can be notorious for that. And though, I too believe in rescues, I believe some are acting in a fashion that is not best for the dog. My son adopted one that was 10 weeks old, and had already been fixed at 9 weeks, which is traumatizing for a puppy, and beyond cruel. People in th US just get dogs and dispose of them when they are no longer convenient. You have the full right to choose, to know what you are buying. Your baby is precious, and Will bond with you from that 8 week age you picked her up. I checked out in person at adoption events probably 25 different dogs, but there was no chemistry. You build your chemistry, and bond with a baby. The first five months of a dog’s life are the most important for bonding, just as our two legged children. Never feel guilty for doing what your heart tells you, and for what your heart needs. When Emmie reaches 12, I will buy another dog from my breeder to keep Maple company. But, I’m older now, and my rescue day tolerance is not quite as passionate. I am a responsible dog owner, and feel I have the right to buy a dog of my choice, and not have to rescue one from some irresponsible owner who did not spay/neuter their dog and caused an excess in dog population. Maple will go through her first heat before she is neutered, as it is in her best interest, and will lengthen her life. My son’s dog had problems with house training and had to be put on an anti depressant as it was neutered at such a young age. My daughter in law’s father cannot adopt a dog, as he does not have a fenced in yard. He has had dogs all his life, and loves walking them. Sometimes I feel the rescues are not thinking of the dogs best interest when they deny ownership because of a lack of fence, though they are convenient. And they are definitely not thinking of their best interest when they are fixed at an inappropriate age. So, bravo to you! do not feel any guilt! After all, we have the right to choose, that’s what this country is all about! My condolences to you for the tragic loss of your sister, and your other pets. I hope your new baby has helped you to smile and laugh, and makes you happy to get up in the morning. I’ve had some amazing dogs in my life, but never one quite as special as my little Maple. We just came in from playing fetch, she keeps me young and moving. I have no regrets, and I know I never will!
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Thank you so much for this comment! My sister passed in early December, and having the puppy around has been the blessing my sister knew it would be. The puppy’s love and joy is a balance and buoy in my time of grief. Skye is a bit over 4 months old and needs a couple of walks per day, which keeps me moving. I am grateful for her and for your words of support. I hope to rescue her a brother or sister in a year or so, but I feel so lucky to be doing all the things for Skye that a puppy should have (including, yes, not being spayed until she’s had her first heat). I wish you much joy with your beloved dogs!
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Your story struck such a chord with me because I have had similar experiences in the past 2 years. My sister passed away 2 years ago after a long hard fight with cancer. Two days after she died, my beloved dog was found to have inoperable cancer and had to be put down. Another family member died suddenly 2 months later. So many losses take s toll so I gave myself time before finding another dog. All the pets I’ve had as an adult, cats and dogs, have been either from the local pound, from rescue organizations or, in my last dog’s case, from a friend who could no longer keep her.
This time I set out through pet finder and on various rescue group websites with a pretty open search for a young adult or puppy, female, medium to large size dog. I found numerous dogs that I liked but which always were already taken. After a frustrating couple of months, I saw a flyer in the market for a litter of golden retriever puppies. I called and was told to come visit to meet the last 3 puppies who were not yet taken. My puppy chose me. She waddled over, sat in my lap and fell asleep. She is now 7 months old and growing into exactly the sweet, gentle, funny pet that I was hoping to find.
I have had several people make holier than thou comments about rescue pets. At first I tried to explain but I realized their outrage was misplaced and ridiculous. Now if I get that stupid, why didnt you adopt? comment; I ask, “do you have children? Did you adopt? Why not? There are so m any kids who need homes “…
There is no reason not to choose a purebred animal if it fits your budget and preference. There’s nothing holy or special about you if you choose a rescue animal. Being responsible and taking good care of pets, whatever their origins, is the important thing. Enjoy your pup and be proud to have her.
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Thank you for this kind comment! And I’m so sorry for your losses. Our puppy is now four months old and I think of my sister and how right she was all the time. And the puppy gets along beautifully with our cats; the young cat (8 months) even plays with the pup. I still hope to rescue when this girl is 1 or 2 and can show a new dog how wonderful it is to be loved and safe. ❤️
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