Our Best Friend: An Ode to Andre

"Scratch a dog and you'll find a permanent job." -- Journalist Franklin P. Jones

We have all heard the line, "Golf is a lot like life."

While that is a cute, throwaway line, all golfers know it's not true - a mere platitude in a world full of platitudes.  In truth, golf is fun, interesting and engaging, but it is not nearly as complicated or as emotionally charged as life.

Ten days ago, my wife, Nancy, and I took our totally lovable yellow lab, Andre, to see the vet.  We took him in because over the last four months he had lost a considerable amount of weight and he was sleeping much of the day.  He just wasn't himself.  He wasn't the dog who bounded down the steps for his morning breakfast and then insisted upon his fair share of hugs and scratchers.  The news was not good and, as many of you can imagine, there were tears.  The very caring Dr. Anne Mather told us he had three spots on his lungs and that it was simply "a matter of time, maybe two months."

Nancy asked about the quality of his life.  "I don't want him to be in any pain, she said."  Dr. Mather said, "I will give him some pain medication and as long as he is still interested in eating and his tail is wagging, I would spoil him and love him."

Nancy, my youngest daughter, Ruth, and I first met Andre on July 29, 2012. His name then was Crowder and he was an oversized yellow lab who was four-to-five-years-old and weighed 115 pounds.  "Large and in charge," is how we often describe him.  He had been in a Kansas City-area last-chance, no-kill private shelter for several years.  Shirley, who ran the shelter on her farmette, loved all dogs but especially labs.  She did her best to make her "shelter" a "camp" for dogs.  They had daily play times in a big, fenced-in area and were well fed.  And while there was no shortage of group love, she knew that all dogs needed their own homes.

Unfortunately, Andre had proven to be a particularly difficult placement because of his size and his need for affection.  He had been with Shirley for over three years because he was truly a bull in a china shop when it came to his relentless demand for human contact.  In fact, Shirley named him Crowder because he followed her everywhere during his free time.  He is a people dog!

As with many great love stories, there is a back story about how the Starks and Andre met.

In the summer of 2012, we were dogless for the first time since 1987.  Our first yellow lab, Soren*, was a Nancy puppy purchase.  I was a traveling salesman at the time and he was Nancy's friend and night watchman and a playmate of daughters Cate and Ruth.  When I was at home, he was my running partner.  In other words, he was a member of the family.  When it was his time in late 2000, we asked the very kind Dr. Stephen White to come to our house so we could say good-bye as a family.  Our girls learned a lot that day about the one big reality of life.

We didn't last long as a no-lab house.  In March of 2001, the Stark women went to a nearby mall where there was a dog and cat adoption store.  That is where they found Camus*, who was 4 at the time.  He had a scar on his nose and he was not a big fan of men.  However, since women were a solid majority in our house, he soon acclimated to his new home.  It was a relationship based on mutual need - he needed love and we needed to love.  On Aug. 31, 2011, we woke up to find Camus walking in circles.  Again, it was time, and Nancy and I drove to the vet with our buddy.

After that, there was much internal debate on whether we wanted another dog. Our daughters were finished with college and out of the house and there was a sense of freedom of not having a dog.  Our daughters, on the other hand, thought differently.  For almost a year, they campaigned relentlessly. Our daughter Cate, who was then living back East, repeatedly said, "You've always had a dog. You guys need a dog. You know I'm right."

Eleven months after the passing of Camus, Facebook changed our lives.  A good family friend, Cindy Cowherd, put up a posting about how a friend of hers saw a lab being left on the side of a highway on a 95-degree day.  The lab ran after the truck before giving up.  Cindy's good-hearted friend picked the dog up and took him to Wayside Waifs, a KC no-kill shelter.  When I read about the story, I told Nancy, "If nobody takes that dog in, then we should."

As it turned out, several people called the shelter before we did and said they would adopt that abandoned dog.  Well, no dog for us, I thought.  I was wrong.  Once I had opened up the dog door, Nancy and Ruth went into full-tilt search mode.  Before I knew it, the three of us were driving out to Shirley's place on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon.  Shirley was expecting us and soon after our arrival, Crowder (soon to be Andre*) was deadheading toward us.  Ruth fell in love immediately.  "He needs you guys,"she said. "He's wonderful."

Cate and Ruth were so right.  We needed a dog.  Andre is wonderful - and totally loyal (especially to Nancy) and funny and demanding and nutty and so very loving!!!  We have been truly blessed to have him in our lives.  We do not know exactly when his time will come, but we do know two things: 1) Nancy, Cate and Ruth will continue to shower him with hugs and kisses.  2) We will spoil him with his favorite treats until his tail stops wagging.

Besides being a member of the family, Andre has become a go-to model for the 1502 hats.

Here is to Andre, the best dog in the world!  And here is to perspective, which is always much needed!


P.S. I love these words from the book, Dog Heaven, which was written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant

"Dogs in Dog Heaven may stay as long as they like and this can mean forever.

They will be there when old friends show up.  They will be there at the door."

*Our dogs, Soren (Kierkegaard), (Albert) Camus and Andre (Gide), have been named after existentialists.  My only defense/explanation is that I was a religion major at a small New England college in the early 70s.

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