Traverse Classics: Season's Belle—The Yellow Lab Retriever

Exactly how Harper would get along with a new puppy was cause for concern. Not that he’s unpredictable or vicious. A typical Labrador, Harper’s a consummate lug and a bit of a pushover at times. Still, everybody can relate a story about the big, dopey, otherwise friendly older dog that resents the attention the new puppy gets, becomes cantankerous, grows reclusive, or suddenly goes nutso one day and sends the pup to the vet.

But the only thing that stands out about Belle’s homecoming was how blithely Harper took the whole thing. It was actually a letdown for Nancy and me. One obligatory sniff and he retired to his bed and doggie dreamland, seemingly less miffed by the pup than by our rousting him from visions of greenheads cartwheeling to the water and white bumpers falling from the sky like snow.

He barely raised an eye when Belle sauntered over to him, took up a mouthful of his ear, and chomped down hard enough that Nancy and I both winced.

The pup then went to his tail, momentarily transfixed by its cobralike sway. She took a good hold of that next. Harper yawned and rolled over on his back.

“Oh, that’s so cute,” Nancy said.

The scene had cast a spell. Belle pawed twice at Harper’s undulating tail, a moment of puppyness both playful and innocent. But then she stepped back as if sizing up the problem and cocked her head quizzically at his underbelly.

In defense of what followed, Nancy would later say that Belle was merely trying to nurse. Yet, I think otherwise. The strike was too quick and most definitely directed at a spot never meant for biting.

Harper snarled and snapped. Every imaged horror flashed before me but was gone faster than it took Belle to yip and jump back. There was no need to admonish Harper and add insult to injury. As for Belle, she was undaunted. She ran a wild, loping circle around the living room—her stumpy, seemingly jointless legs carrying her in a kind of hobbyhorse gait. Then she stopped, squatted rather purposefully, and peed on the middle of the floor.

Northern Michigan. Ours is a particularly snowy country, where 150 inches of powder shower from the heavens half of the year. Up here, you can spend so much time dogged by winter that you begin cursing the season under your breath. Winters up here have personality, even if it is that of an uncouth dinner guest who arrives too early and stays too late.

Article Comments