Chapter 19 — Mostly Lab? Well, Maybe Not

Greta has a new identity.

To begin back at the beginning of Greta’s story, she  probably knew her birth mother, at least until she was weaned.  But she would have been just four to seven weeks old at the time, too young to remember much, possibly even too young to recall Mom’s scent.  As for her dad, Mom would have kept him away to prevent him from killing and eating the puppies.


   There are some advantages to being born a dog.  You never have to worry about what breed you are, what you look like, or who your ancestors were.  You just accept the talents you have, put your nose to the ground and start sniffing. You can sleep in the sun.  Roll on your back in the grass with your feet in the air.  Eat.  Poop.   If  humans want to know more about your ancestry, whose problem is that?

Former Lab at Play (Mke Vore Photo)

Former Lab At Play (Mike Vore Photo)

The Adams County  Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, where Greta was taken after being found on the street in Littlestown, PA, identified  her as a Labrador retriever mix.  It was a logical assumption—her face, ears and build resemble those of  a Lab, but she never quite fit into the Lab  mold.   When we met purebred chocolate Labs on our walks, it was immediately apparent that they were dark chocolate, and Greta’s coat was too red even to pass as milk chocolate beside their dark color.  Her tail is different,  her belly, lighter.

If Greta hadn’t met the Chesapeake Bay retrievers Jaxson and Josie—and after Jaxson’s death, the English Lab Juno–at the park, and if their humans, Judd and Sharon,  hadn’t struck up conversations with me while the dogs played, I would have continued, probably throughout Greta’s life,  to introduce her  as mostly Lab, adding, “We don’t know what the rest is.”

Would it have mattered a great deal,  in comparison with, say,  the  budget deficit or the war in Afghanistan?  Probably not.  But now that we know. . .

Greta’s change of identity began one day when  Judd’s  and Sharon’s son said, “Your dog looks like a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.”

A what?  There are many things in life I never heard of. Duck tolling retriever was one of them.  Greta and I shrugged and  thought no more about it until recently, when Judd and Sharon had a weekend guest, a  duck tolling retriever.

“The dog looked just like Greta,” they reported, “except that Greta is a little taller.”

I looked it up.  There really is such a breed, and a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club—USA,   http://www.nsdtrc-usa.org.  The breed has been around since the 19th century, busily retrieving sticks and toys  in shallow waters to toll (lure) ducks within shooting range and then retrieve the downed ducks.

I compared Greta to the description of the breed’s characteristics from the website:  

Playful–√

High energy—√

Red coat—√

White chest and feet–√

Feathered tail–√

Almond-shaped eyes–√

Slightly worried expression when at leisure–√

“Well, Greta,” I said, “I don’t know what a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was doing in Littlestown, but there are probably ducks on the ponds in that area.  And if you hadn’t gotten lost, or been dumped, you might have been a career toller.”

There are a few ducks at the local park pond that Greta can practice tolling, if she chooses.  I hope she doesn’t mind if I don’t train her to lure ducks to something that,  from the ducks’ standpoint, would be an unhappy ending.   I don’t know how to train a working retriever, haven’t fired the old rifle in at least  30 years and have never killed a duck.

I don’t believe Greta and I will ever be eligible for membership in the NSDTRC-USA.  I would be a miserable duck hunter, and I’m  unlikely to pay for a DNA test to determine whether she is 100 percent duck tolling retriever.  We’ll just assume we both lack the qualifications, and neither of us is purebred.

© 2011 by Donna Engle

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