Literacy and the Labrador
“There are big dogs, and little dogs, fat dogs, and thin dogs. My dog is a Labrador.” So began My Dog, a favorite book of our three children. By the time they were 9, 7, and 4, asking for a Labrador had become a mealtime mantra.
We adopted Willy, a one-year-old yellow lab, who had been returned to his breeder for behaving too much like a dog- accidents on the carpet, chewing furniture and shoes, and tussling with other pets. To us, he was loveable- tolerant of all the poking the children bestowed on him, rambunctious, and fun. And what’s more, we were convinced he could read. Jacob, the eldest, placed signs around the house: “come, sit, and walk.” And from there, his skills took off-- like a dog chasing a squirrel.
In walks around the block, Willy followed Jacob, who never goes anywhere without a book. He’d read while walking Willy, much to the concern of several neighbors, worried that Jacob wasn’t watching traffic.
Willy loved bedtime stories. He curled up on the floor or on the children’s beds if I didn’t notice, and listened. When my husband Matthew read Nathan’s favorite, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of Rings trilogy aloud, Willy absorbed the saga of friendship and triumph over evil. With us, he fretted when the slimy Gollum attempted to wrest the ring from Frodo and rejoiced when Aragon came to the rescue.
Willy appreciated the countless dog stories read to Lydia, the youngest, relishing the pictures we showed him, noting how no dog was as handsome as he. Harry Potter soon mesmerized Lydia and Willy, with Matthew reading the first five books to Lydia before she could read the rest herself. Willy walked to the town library often, waiting outside while the children searched for books. To show his appetite for library books, he even chewed a few, which I had to replace.
Our dog sitter, a retired German schoolteacher, further nurtured Willy’s love of words. Our next-door neighbor reported she overhead Willy being read the New York Times and the New Yorker while sitting in the back garden.
As years past, we moved, and put Willy’s bed in Matthew’s book-lined study. Preparing to leave for the day, we’d remind Willy to do his reading: he had ample selections of history, political, and economic books to choose from. We’d tell him how “smart” he was and give him a list to read while we went to work and school. Modest, he never shared what he read during our absences.
Willy, our 14 1/2 year old yellow Labrador retriever, had to be put to sleep a few weeks ago. Gone are his bowls and bed; collar and leashes; and extra bags of food and bacon strips. And gone is a dog that loved reading. #