Leimkuhler: A dog makes a house a home

To me, a house is not a home without a dog.

My husband and I had only been married a year when my Dad met a man whose two Labradors had produced a small litter of black and yellow pups. The man offered us the dogs for free, simply happy to have found good, loving homes for them. My parents took a black male.


My husband and I chose a feisty yellow female — Kacey — who would provide us with years of laughter and stories that, while humorous in hindsight, were far less funny in the moment. For instance, we once lived in a rental home in which Kacey chewed the deck into kindling while we were at work. We had to replace all the deck spindles before we moved.

Another time, Kacey tipped over the corn plant and dragged it through our apartment, leaving shredded leaves and potting soil in her wake.


Kacey loved to swim and fetch sticks from the water. She would leap off any dock or embankment with joyous abandon. Her urge to swim was so great that she once tried to jump from a moving vehicle while we were driving across a bridge in a frantic attempt to get to the water below.

The day we threw a stick into the water and she simply stood staring at it, we knew something was wrong. A few minutes later, she passed out on the dock. Half a year later she actually passed out while swimming and my husband had to wade into the freezing lake to rescue her. It wasn’t long before she could barely manage a short walk to the end of our street without passing out.

The first dog I really remember, however, was a stray named Taffy. My dad had a huge soft spot for dogs and would routinely bring home strays he found wandering about.

We quickly learned to recognize the onset of an episode and would catch her fall. We thought she had cancer. Instead, a sonogram discovered enlarged vessels leading to her heart. Kacey was in the beginning stages of congestive heart failure.

Knowing we would likely lose Kacey sooner rather than later, we decided to bring another dog into the family. We contacted a rescue organization and were advised that a puppy would be the best choice given that alpha females like Kacey often did not take kindly to having another adult dog in the home.

The rescue also informed us, however, that they had no puppies available and that we were not good candidates to adopt because our yard was not fenced.

Discouraged by the rescue, we turned to a breeder and had first pick of a litter of eight yellow Labradors. Our daughters, 7, 5, and 3 at the time, were, the perfect age to enjoy a puppy. Luna was the whitest and the wildest of the bunch. We chose her because she made our girls laugh.

My husband and I had forgotten how challenging a Labrador puppy could be, with the rigors of house training, the sleepless nights, and the destructive chewing phase. But Kacey taught Luna the ropes — and the rules — and Luna learned quickly, never once challenging Kacey’s alpha authority.

As a result, Kacey and Luna became best buds.

We truly believe that having a canine companion invigorated Kacey and helped her to live longer than she might have otherwise.

When Kacey was half way through her 12th year, she let us know it was her time to go. It gutted us. And I was grateful to have Luna’s soft fur to cry into after we lost Kacey.

Labradors are notoriously high-energy dogs and they grow quickly, morphing almost overnight into adult-sized dogs that are still, essentially, puppies. We took Luna to training classes and socialized her with other dogs.

We played with her in the backyard, repeatedly throwing a ball or Frisbee in unsuccessful attempts to tire her out — for which she earned the name perro loco by a crew of landscapers who would watch this spectacle during their daily lunch breaks.


Many Barbie Dolls, shoes and toys also met their demise between Luna’s teeth. A stubborn, independent female — despite her lifelong omega status and training classes — she has always pulled hard on the leash.

But she is also one of the sweetest, most gentle dogs I’ve ever known. And now she, too, is elderly. Which means that, once again, we have come to the point in our lives where it is time to welcome another dog into the family.

Columnist’s note: This column is the second in a multi-part ode to all the dogs I’ve loved.

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