After the loss of our beloved Kumar, we grieved for several weeks. At first, Nelson seemed to enjoy being an “only puppy,” since he was now the center of attention and getting all the love and pets he could ask for. Not that we hadn’t love him before, but now we no longer had “Erich’s Kumar” and “Jamie’s Nelson,” the way it had kind of settled into for the past three years. Now Nelson was it!
But it became clear he was missing his older brother. Walks weren’t as much fun anymore, without Kumar sniffing at interesting things beside him. Everything was more… subdued, for Nelson and for us.
But Erich and I had made the decision to get another dog, back when Kumar was undergoing chemo. It wasn’t an easy decision—we didn’t like the feeling that we were looking to “replace” Kumar. Nothing could ever replace Kumar. But I knew how hard it would be when we lost Kumar. I’d lost my dog, Lady, shortly before meeting Erich, and I was so devastated I couldn’t even think about getting another dog for almost a decade. Eventually, I persuaded Erich, and he promised me another puppy for Christmas.
It didn’t work out that way. But Erich told me he still wanted to honor his promise to me, even though it was painful now. So I went to the local shelter websites and discovered an adorable yellow Lab pup. I called the shelter and they said he was still available, so my friend Claire and I decided to visit them in a couple of days. I wasn’t going to get a pup without Erich’s approval, of course, but I thought it might be easier if I made the first steps while he was working. However, he insisted upon taking time off work to accompany us.
We drove to the Cocheco Valley Humane Society in Dover, NH and met the puppy I’d been interested in. He was very fearful of strangers and not particularly interested in us. So while we debated if we wanted to win him over, the staff brought out some other dogs they thought we might be interested in. The first was a sweet girl who’d recently had pups. We’d kind of hoped for a large dog, though. She was small, and after a polite greeting, she drifted away from us. One of the problems with shelters is that the dogs come to love the staff more than the weird strangers who come in. It’s understandable, but makes it more challenging when you want to find out if a dog will fit into your household.
Then they brought out Duke.
Duke immediately ran to us and began slathering our faces with dog kisses. He had no fear of strangers, he was big—we still don’t know how big he’ll get, but he’s nearly as big as Kumar and obviously still growing—and he seemed to like Nelson. They played for a bit, though Nelson was very nervous, especially after the 40-minute car ride. (He hates being in the car.) I took one look at Erich’s delighted smile as Duke tried to bathe his entire face in wet dog kisses and I knew we’d found our pup.
I’d be lying if I said Duke was settling in easily. We’ve had a much bigger struggle with him than we ever did with Kumar and Nelson. His idea of play is to body slam you, whack you in the face with the back of his head, gnaw on your hands, and push you down the stairs. Woo-hoo! I almost never raised my voice to Kumar, but Duke has me shouting myself hoarse and spraying him constantly with the water bottle. Crate timeouts are about the only thing that will calm him down, once he gets going.
But when he is calm, he’s a sweet, loving pup we can’t resist. We’re doing our best to help us all adjust to one another. Erich and I are in our 50s and have health issues that limit how much we can run around with him. I take Duke and Nelson for walks in our forest once a day, we’ve booked him into doggie daycare (though he’s occasionally had to be given timeouts there for fighting over toys), and we have a dog pen he and Nelson can run around in. Nelson doesn’t seem very interested in playing with Duke, most of the time. Sometimes. But he doesn’t have nearly as much energy as Duke has (He’s five and a half, now—no longer full of puppy energy), and it’s been a challenge to get them to play nicely together. Nelson can hold his own against Duke, despite Duke being a bit larger, but he doesn’t always seem to like it. So we’re trying to keep an eye on them and pull him out when he’s tired.
Overall, it’s been a challenge, but Duke is gradually learning to behave himself with us. We still haven’t dared invite our friend with the small dog over—the last thing we want is for Duke to hurt him, even inadvertently—and we still have to give him a lot of timeouts when he’s out of control. But more and more he’s becoming part of our family.