Aubrey Shepherd's focal point for display of Labrador retrievers, natural-resource conservation, English language word use, outdoor sports, recreational sports and athletics

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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Retriever on Wheels
a Lesson for Dog Lovers

A dog's life can be many things, but the connotation of the phrase is bad.

People assume a dog's life is uncomfortable. But the fact is that millions of dogs, particularly in the United States and other wealthy nations, live 'the life of Riley.' The connotation of that phrase is good.

My Labrador retrievers are among the lucky ones. They live indoors. Each has his own recliner in my living room, although neither has learned to operate the controls.

They eat high-quality dog food and always have three containers of water available at various spots in the house. They don't have the freedom enjoyed by my daughter's cat, which has constant access to the outdoors. But they get a walk of at least a mile twice every 24 hours. Usually, they get a chance to run free within a large fenced area a few minutes each day.

But, as comfortable as my Labs have it, I worry about them. I usually take two at once on walks, which means I get pulled off my feet occasionally when they both want to chase a cat or squirrel or another dog. But I hang onto their leashes desperately at such times, knowing that even though they have eight legs to my two they can't drag me far.

I worry about them because I have seen the results of dogs being neglected. The best-fed dog with up-to-date shots and a comfortable home becomes a neglected dog the moment it is out of the control of its owner.

Unfortunately, far too many dog owners believe that controlling a dog is cruel, as though a dog can be expected to understand the dangers of city life.

The Labrador, the most popular breed of dog in America for the past four years, is smart enough to learn many things, as the accompanying photo of a Lab on wheels suggests. Thousands serve as seeing-eye dogs. Many have been trained to help deaf people and people with other limiting conditions. But they learn only what they are taught and what they feel a need to learn — such as how to turn door handles and open refrigerators.

On their own, Labs and other dogs are no more likely to learn to be safe around motor vehicles than are coyotes, raccoons or skunks. Yet many owners believe a dog that runs free is being treated well.

Their belief is as absurd as the belief of many that a dog riding in the back of a pickup is being treated well.

Pickup rides and moments of freedom from careless owners account for the deaths of many fine dogs. At least seeing such a photo can give thoughtful, concerned dog owners the knowledge that such careless moments don't always have to result in permanent destruction of their beloved pets.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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