When I was 13 years old I got the best birthday present ever. I went with my Mom and Dad to Spruce Grove to pick her up. She was a little yellow ball of energy. She was my first pet that was all mine. A yellow lab with yellowy/green eyes.
I remember sitting in the back of the van, staring at her and trying to figure out what I would name her. I was intrigued by her eyes. I don’t know if they were, but they seemed unique to me. They reminded me of gemstones. And so I called her Gem.
I was so excited about her name. I remember talking about how later on I would get another dog just like her and name her Jewel and then I would sell their puppies and my business would be called Gemstone Pups. I never did get that other lab, but Gem was my little business. In her lifetime, she had over a hundred puppies. She always had huge litters. She was an amazing mama.
Her first batch was born in our barn stall and when we went out there we found her there with twelve pups, equally divided into two piles. We had no idea why she had done that, so we scooped them all together into one pile. When we went out again, there they were, all divided again. We called the breeder, seeing if he knew why she was doing that. We were worried she was going to leave one pile to die.
Turns out, when a good mama dog has a large litter, she will divide the pups into two piles and take turns nursing each pile so she has enough milk for all and no one gets left out. In her lifetime, Gem had over 80 pups, and only a handful died. Her pups paid for my college, went towards my first real estate investment which ultimately paid for my nursery furniture, and was my fun money during my teenage years.
Gem was a laid back sort of dog, a true lab. She was so friendly, but sometimes people were scared of her anyways because of a weird habit of hers… she smiled. Her tail would be wagging so hard her whole body swayed and she would look at you and bare her teeth. People who didn’t know her or how to read dogs backed off, but those who came around more knew she was just smiling and wanted some love. She would try to nip at your sleeves to hold on to you so you could never leave. I wonder if that’s a lab trait, as our old lab Yellar used to do the same thing.
She would come sledding with me. She didn’t particularly like it, but she would let me haul her on to my sled and down the hill we would go. She was known for stealing tuques off of our heads and taking off with them. She always was on full alert whenever I went outside when it was dark outside. She would walk in front of me, darting back and forth, making sure there were no threats about.
I remember one day I was out for a walk and Gem was acting like she wanted me to follow her, so I did. She led me a little ways into the bush and started nosing around in the underbrush. When she backed away, I saw her pancake stash. She always got the leftover pancakes from breakfast. I just assumed she ate them, but here they were, her little pancake treasure hideaway she wanted to share with me.
I remember one time when she was pregnant and I knew she was in labour. She was especially needy and would whine a bit. I ended up spending the day outside with her in the garage. We lay down together on a piece of cardboard and I cuddled her. Eventually she went off into a dark corner and I knew it was time for her to be alone and have her babies, but I always felt special that she had wanted my comfort during her labour.
When I got married and moved away, I wanted to take her with me. I brought her to the farm, but she kept running away. She had been at my parents house for five years and she didn`t understand that I wanted her to have a new home. Rather than having her shot by a neighbor, or run over, I decided to leave her at my parents and take one of her pups from her last litter. (Or what was supposed to be her last litter. She ended up having a rendezvous with a border collie. We ended up with a pup from that batch, too – Pepper.) Polar was basically Gem`s doppelganger in looks and temperament. Because of that, and because of how much my parents loved Gem, it wasn`t as hard to leave her behind.
The past year or so Gem had been declining. She was pretty much deaf, arthritis had set in in a big way, and her underbelly was full of lumps. I knew it was almost time to let her go.
Dad took her to the vet today. She`s gone now. For the first five years of her life, she was my dog, and the best dog. For the last nine, she`s been my parents. She had a fantastic, full life. I`m sadder than I expected to be. I knew it was time, I didn`t want her to be in pain anymore. But she was a wonderful part of my teenage years, the best present, a good dog, a real Gem.