My First Labrador


Tiger in a pond

When in veterinary school, I wanted a dog. I knew I wanted a Labrador or a Golden Retriever. Another veterinary student, a year ahead of me, turned out to be active in showing and breeding Labradors.  She had at her kennel a dog brought in to breed from a large breeder in Virginia. This dog was returned from a pet home. She was the product of Labradors imported from England.  She was described to me as an out of control 16 month old yellow female. I could have her at no charge as long as I was willing to allow the current owner to breed her once. I took Tiger home with me. It was the start of 15 years of almost constant companionship.

Tiger was not housebroken, but quickly learned. She was not leash trained, but was a wonderful student. Quickly, she learned to sit and down on command. We took long walks daily and sometimes  she  trotted along as I rode my bike. We connected. I was smitten with the breed and the dog.

Tiger loved a tennis ball. Having been raised in a kennel, she did not understand other toys. She would carry a ball in her mouth constantly. People would often ask if she had an oral tumor; I’d laugh and explain that, no, that was her ball. One time on a walk around a pond she took her ball in the water and let it go for a moment. Apparently, it had a hole in it as it sank. She spent what seemed like forever looking for it. Sadly, we went home without it. The next time we took a walk around that pond, she went in at the same spot, determined to find her beloved toy. She never did find that one, but there were others to take its place!

Tiger was obsessed with food, as many Labs are. She was a constant source of amusement in her search for anything edible, or close to it. When visiting my family, she would “help” my father in his garden by picking tomatoes. The problem came when she ate them all. She ate apples off the tree, potatoes, corn, whatever she could get her mouth on before she was discovered.

Springfield’s Heath was her registered name. Her pedigree was an enviable tree of champions. But more important, she was a sweet, passive dog that was devoted to me. She loved everyone, especially those bearing food.  She was my practice dog in veterinary school. You know all vet students use their own pets for palpation practice as well anything else that can be done without harm. She traveled everywhere with me, handled several household moves, always sleeping in her bed near me.

I took my first formal dog obedience classes with Tiger. She was a star. But, I always find myself wishing I knew then what I know now. Training has progressed so much in 30 years. Reward based training is so effective and elevates the bond with a dog. The classes we went to at that time were correction based. That sweet dog got a jerk on her collar for every perceived mistake. I look back on that with so much regret. If I had used the current methods of today, Tiger would have been so happy to perform, instead, she completed her commands dutifully, without joy.

Tiger did as most good dogs do, she grew old. She was old for a long time, living to 16 1/2 years of age. I found myself getting angry at her for aging. How could my best friend do this to me? On our last move to my current house, I found she could not handle the steps to the bedroom to sleep in her bed next to mine. I initially carried her up and down the steps, but found

At age 16

that hard on both of us. We settled on a nice bed in the den for her. It was harder on me than on her to separate. She lived 2 more years after the move. Her mobility became more difficult with everyday. I let her go on the day after Christmas 1994.

Thank you, Tiger, for your love, and your devotion,  just being there during the hard times. The worst times of my life were spent with you at my side, never judging me. I couldn’t say your name without crying for a year after you were gone. I remember you now and think of one word. Love.



Tiger prior to 5-1983

In her younger days



With channel 16 news


  1. Pat Williams says

    What a great story. Reminds me of my last Newfie Blu. He opened up the world of dogs to me in a way I could never imagine. I knew I could never have another dog like him but I’m not the same person I was then. He came to me at just the right time. After he passed I didn’t think I could stand having another dog. None could match him. But now I have Duffy. And he is showing me that even though he is different he is what I need right now. And I am so greatful to have him.
    Thanks for helping me find the dog I needed. He is so good…

  2. I loved reading about Tiger – what a dear friend. The story reminded me of my first pet – a big black female Lab that I named “Bo”. When I became Bo’s person, I was a young adult and my world seemed ever changing, but Bo was there for me always, a constant source of unconditional love. In her 15 years, she was not 15 minutes worth of trouble. I am so grateful to have experienced life with Bo. I have had 2 Labs and a golden in the years since Bo’s death, including a fabulous chocolate Lab, named Bruiser, from Canterbury Tails. All great friends and loving, but Bo will always be my archetypal “dog”.

  3. Daun Michael says

    What a wonderful story! At ages 10, 9, and 8, our Labbie girls are the light of our lives! For a very long time I did not allow myself the joy of a canine companion because I am so hurt when it is time for them to go. Though the pain of loss is no less than it ever was, twelve years ago I made up my mind to “just do it”……. And since then we have raised or rescued six Labs. They have brought unimaginable JOY to our lives. Can’t live without them!