By Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
We laid Piper to rest one over from Brown Sugar, who lies one over from Karo, who lies one over from Blondie. It’s kind of like it’s supposed to be in a Labrador graveyard: a black Lab, a yellow Lab, a chocolate Lab, and a white Lab, all in a line at the top of the cemetery. With a tear in her eye, Betsy made the soft remark, “I can’t even remember all the dogs who are buried here.” I assured her that it was okay: no one can remember that many great dogs together in one place.
Piper was our first white Lab, which we learned were born with the same incurable syndrome that all our lighter Labs have demonstrated: YDS, or Yellow Dog Syndrome. Her mom, Cessna, survives her, which ought not to be: a child should not die before the momma. Their names are aeronautical, obviously, because when our daughter B.C. was in grad school, she promised husband John that if he’d help her get through to a Master’s Degree, she’d buy him a Cessna when she graduated and “started making the Big Bucks.” Sure enough, the Christmas after attaining that degree, while John, a pilot for American Eagle, was in the air, she asked her Dear Old Dad to find her a yellow Lab female of good lineage, which she presented to her pilot with a red ribbon around her neck to which was affixed the pup’s new name: “Cessna.” True to tradition, the likeliest candidate for stardom from the first litter was dubbed “Piper.” Had Piper ever had a litter, I had the pick, to be named “Chopper,” since most of my air time was in helicopters.
Her first dead-dove retrieve looked to be in fine form: the bird flew over the wrong Swimming Hole whilst young men were shooting skeet in the pasture prior to dove season, and reflexes took over with one of them, the unlucky dove landing smack in the middle of the deep end of the water, wherein several of us floated. We frantically made way for the young white streak flying full speed off the deck in a picture-perfect water retrieve — until she reached her prey, which was gray, and STILL FLUTTERED!!! Piper’s previous experience in the water had been with luminous green tennis balls – quite dead.
Just as she reached the bird, it flopped in a final reflex, and I’ve never seen a Lab in such a state of full panic! She stood straight up, treading water, and proclaimed to her master that whatever that was in the water was STILL ALIVE! Once someone already wet had retrieved the dove, and John had induced Piper to look at it close, smell it, and placed it in her mouth, she was never bumfuzzled again by a retrieve on even larger-than-she-was geese.
Yellow Dog Syndrome is observed by researchers at Brownspur to be thus: a black Lab retrieves because it loves its master (or mistress) and wants to please that person above all else; a yellow Lab retrieves because it loves to retrieve, and if said master is pleased by that, it’s okay. But if a yellow Lab does NOT want to fetch, it doesn’t: “Let the idiot who threw that ball go get it, I’ve found a dead rat.”
Piper’s WDS was more like: “Okay, I wore that person out throwing for me, now, who can I get to throw some more?” My nephew Will called her Hyper Piper because she never ran down. Brownspur’s answer to the Eveready Bunny!
Then after eight years, the White Dog encountered a still-undiagnosed ailment that seemed to be caused by a spirochete bacteria, which can also be transmitted to humans — you guessed it: like Lyme Disease! I was at the time suffering from a recurrence of perhaps Lyme, probably babesiosis, another tick or mosquito-borne disease, as well as what felt to me like malaria! Had I infected Piper or had she infected me, I had to wonder?
Whatever, it turned out to be fatal for her, while I’m surviving so far. She died early Monday, cradled by her mistress, with her mother Cessna, and two Grandboys she’d raised as her own (Sean & Leiton) and me looking on. No pain any more, while the rest of the family strives on through this Vale of Tears.
But who’s throwing for her now NEVER gets tired! That’s the Rule There.