When our family agreed that we were ready for a dog, the search began. Admittedly, we did have a kismet puppy fantasy. The one where the dog would find us, leaving no doubt it was meant to be.
But on an small island with finite resources, whether it be groceries on the shelves, or puppies for adoption, we realized that waiting on fate may have us waiting a long time. Jeb was getting older, and my window of time to be at home with a young dog was at hand. Ideally, we wanted to have our pup by January or February. Knowing the search could take some time, we began looking in October.
We were clear that we wanted a family dog. One that was a lovable companion, great with children, low-to-medium energy, intelligent, and easy to train. It had been twenty years since I’d had a dog, and I wanted a breed that had some guarantee of ease. Labradors have been one of my favorites, and I hoped for a female to join me in balancing out the genders in our household.
Our local animal shelter was full of dogs, and it seemed an obvious place to start. We did want a puppy, with the chance for us to raise it from the beginning. Despite the many adults needing homes, we didn’t feel prepared to take on the unknown variables that may come with one that was full-grown.
So when we saw the Humane Society listing for an eight-week old, Labrador/Pit Bull mix, we were intrigued. He was male, but I was willing to bend on gender. He was part Pit Bull, which was a breed I was wary of. Very popular in the islands, Pit Bulls can be raised to be quite aggressive. But I had also learned that, historically, they were a breed known to be great with children and families. The shelter had named him “Kilo” (as in “Hurricane Kilo”, the tropical cyclone that had just passed by our island chain). Jeb, the Bohemian, and I, met him with the understanding that even if Jeb fell in love, if the Bohemian or I didn’t feel the same, we would not bring the puppy home.
Kilo was a little butter ball of energy, adorably soft, and you could scoop him up in two hands. But you couldn’t keep him there. He constantly wriggled away, and roamed the pen with excitement over everything but us. We patiently waited for him to take interest, letting him come to our laps of his own accord. But our bodies were merely drive-by’s, just a quick sniffing spot on the path to the next corner of the concrete pen. When he did occasionally pause with us, he mouthed heavily. Every time Jeb tried to engage him, there was a flurry of his hands, mid-air, in avoidance of Kilo’s needle-like teeth, and repeated “ow!’s” escaping Jeb’s mouth. When Kilo wasn’t going for Jeb’s fingers, he was tugging on his shoelaces. Yes, this was a real, live puppy, and he was a bit of a whirlwind. After twenty minutes in the pen with Kilo, I was exhausted, reconsidering if I was ready for a dog at all.
We had wanted to feel a connection. We wanted to give this puppy a home. But it seemed Kilo wasn’t interested in us. Something just didn’t feel right. We unanimously agreed, this was not our dog.
As we left the shelter, empty-handed, I could feel the judgement of the volunteers at the desk. They worked in a place that saw death, daily, and we appeared to be shoppers, unsatisfied with their selection.
All I knew, was that by taking a puppy, we were committing to over a decade of care to an animal that would become an integral part of our family. There had to be a good match. The shelter was full of animals whose owners hadn’t been that. I didn’t want to be another one. Besides, Kilo was so darn adorable, we knew he’d find his people soon.
Eventually, my casual searching seeped into the classifieds. Kauai would often have one or two online listing per week, usually small dogs, like Shitzu’s, or hunting dogs, like Pit Bulls. No Labradors to be found.
Nearby islands with larger populations meant more choices. Indeed, there were a few postings for Labrador puppies, but I was leery of some of the backyard breeders that seemed to be capitalizing on cuteness and earning cash. We never thought we’d pay money for a dog, but if we did, we certainly wanted the puppy to be the epitome of health, born into a responsible and loving environment.
Professional breeders (of which I found only two in the entire state of Hawaii), would guarantee the health of their puppies, and provide certified proof of clearance by the parents, of elbow, hip, and eye maladies. They also had waiting lists thirty people deep, making it look like our turn wouldn’t come until late summer, or maybe later.
Getting in the queue with a breeder seemed the opposite of our kismet puppy dream, and though the dogs seemed loved and very well-cared for, they still were part of a business plan. Yet, the professional breeder option seemed the closest to a guarantee we’d have in ensuring a healthy and sound dog for the years to come.
And then there was a fresh post on Craigslist.
Three puppies out of a litter of ten. One female left. Chocolate Labradors, ready for their forever homes in mid-December. Born of a sweet-natured mother, and sired by a Silver Labrador, whose owner worked in a military K-9 unit. The puppies had been raised up in a loving home with two young children. Lots of cuddling, plenty of home-life activity all around, and each had been given a clean bill of health from the vet.
We would be traveling in mid-December for 10 days, right up until New Year’s Eve. I sent an inquiry, via text message, to the contact number listed. Might they be willing to hold the female for us until our return?
The text reply was kind but clear from the puppy mom. I’ll call her Juno. With the holidays approaching and a houseful of puppies, their family was not equipped to hang on to any of them for longer. Besides, they were very selective about who adopted their puppies, and they wanted to be able to meet face-to-face before deciding on their homes (they were on Oahu, we were on Kauai). Juno affirmed that Labradors were simply wonderful dogs, and sincerely blessed our search with her final words, “I hope your next precious companion will be lined up to easily come into your life as soon as possible. Really.”
Funny, I almost cried.