Dog Days of Summer

I've had a dog most of my life. My heart broke when our collie died few years ago. But the time wasn’t right to take on another one. Did we really need a dog? It’s easier to ride away for the day or take a week’s vacation without worrying about the family pet. I didn’t miss the extra work in the house and yard, or the expense of maintaining a healthy animal. But every time I saw people walking their dogs, or some happy-go-lucky canine sticking his head out a car window, an undeniable yearning stirred deep in my heart.

Jack suggested we switch to a smaller breed, something easier to manage in the house. I love big dogs. I talked him into a golden retriever. 

“Okay,” he said, “Just don’t pick out the craziest puppy in the litter this time.” Fair enough, given my track record. So honestly, I did come home with the most docile pup the breeder had. Could I help it he was also the biggest one in the bunch? We named him Norton, after Jack’s vintage motorcycle. Both tend to leak a little.

I had forgotten how intense puppyhood is. For the first week Norton was traumatized if I left the room, whimpering and pawing whatever door I exited from. At bedtime he’d howl mournfully for 10 minutes. He refused to climb stairs, so I carried him. He woke at 2:00 a.m. needing to go outside and then was up for the day at 5:30 a.m. After that, he slept most of the morning. I did not. By 9:00 p.m. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My formerly pristine floors were now covered in paw prints, drool and fur balls. Why did I want a dog? All he had to do was look at me with his Bambi eyes (see photo) and wag his tail, or cuddle up at my feet and all was forgiven.

No second guesses
We’ve made considerable progress since then. The sweetheart facade gave way to the destructive puppy idiot, but he’s still a lot of fun. Thanks to Norton I have savoured most of the glorious sunrises and sunsets this summer. Next spring we’ll get an Invisible Fence, which will afford both of us considerable freedom. In the meantime, Norton never goes out unaccompanied. His safety is top priority. A tired dog is a good dog, so we walk a lot. Often my thoughts wax homiletic. 

Norton’s life depends on trusting me and obeying my rules, even if he doesn’t like them. He needs to respond consistently when I call him. There’s some desire to please me, but often he’s distracted by more interesting things or just plainly disobedient. We’ll work on that. When I get his food ready he sits politely and then makes eye contact with me. Only then is he allowed to eat. He must acknowledge both gift and giver. It’s about respect as well as love. 

Sounds somewhat like my relationship with the Lord. Does he ever wonder why, exactly, he created me or if he really wants to call me his own? I doubt it. He doesn’t second guess himself. But I do try his patience. I’m frequently scattered or downright willful. And yet he surrounds me with good gifts and continues training me to recognize his voice. He keeps me safe from myself, all the while shaping me into the child he wants me to be. 

For my birthday present Norton and I are signing up for obedience training. Who knows? I might learn something. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks? We’ll see! 


  • Heidi VanderSlikke lives on a farm in Mapleton Township with her husband Jack. They share their home with a gigantic Golden Retriever named Norton, who thinks he's a lap dog. Heidi and Jack have three happily married children and seven delightful grandkids.

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