Hoover is our twelve-year-old Golden Retriever. George and I already had a Samoyed named Shemya when we bought Hoover in 1997, and we thought hard about what breed to get for a second dog. I wanted another Sammy because Shemya was the Best Dog Ever to Breathe Oxygen. George wanted a Bernese Mountain Dog because they are big. We compromised with a Golden because we thought they were mellow, laid-back dogs.
How wrong we were.
His breeder called Hoover Waggy because he was the happiest in the litter and always wagged his tail. We thought Waggy sounded kind of stupid, even if it was apt, so we named him Hoover. We assumed, wrongly it turns out, that all dogs are like Shemya, who vacuumed molecules of food off our floor and kept it so clean I rarely needed to sweep. We soon realized that Hoover only bothered to clean up crumbs if they were bite-sized. I’ve had to sweep a lot since Shemya died.
Hoover did, however, eat larger items that are not technically food, such as George’s wedding ring. We rented a metal detector to scan the back yard, but no luck. The ring must have been thrown away in a blue bag after a walk.
A few years later, when Nick was a toddler, Hoover declared war on little green plastic Army soldiers, picking them off one by one in covert operations that infiltrated Nick’s bedroom until only a handful of the brave troopers survived.
Did you know that little green plastic Army soldiers are not digested at all in the gut of a dog? Ask me how I know. I dare you.
Instead of Hoover, we really should have named him Tigger. He bounces. A seriously flounce-y, jounce-y, pounce-y, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun fun kind of bounce. When George’s little old granny visited, young Hoover ran up to her, sprang straight in the air, and looked her in the eye. Scaring little old ladies was all in a day’s fun for Hoover. Now, in his old age, Hoover is more likely to curl up on a piece of furniture and look like this:
Even so, he can still leap so all four paws leave the ground in anticipation of a walk or upon greeting one of his peeps. His arthritic body can’t go as high as it used to, but his heart is still that of a Tigger.
Hoover, like most dogs, would also have lived up to a name like Mooch. Dogs have evolved to gaze longingly at humans with soulful, sad eyes that say, “Awwww, you know you want to feed me.” We humans have evolved to respond to this earnest appeal with totally ridiculous nonsense like this: “Does the cute widdle pubby-wubby want a treat? Yes, sir, he does!” We give them what they want because there’s just no fighting evolution.
Whenever I get a little bowl of trail mix or animal crackers or goldfish, Hoover sits at full alert by my chair, quivering with anticipation. I toss him pieces of my snack, which he almost never catches. As soon as he has retrieved his treat, he goes back to Full Doggy Alert, staring at the bowl, then my face, and then the bowl until another treat flies his way. He will stay there, quivering, until I show him the empty bowl. For a few seconds, his ears droop, and he looks tragic, depressed, beaten. He hangs his head and plops down at my feet. Mooch, indeed.
Another name that fits Hoover is Dopey; he's not the brightest bulb in the pack. Like many couples with pets, George and I carry on conversations with the dog. Not about the dog, mind you, but with the dog. For example,
Me [to George]: You wouldn’t believe how Hoover was freaking out today every time the wind blew our bedroom door shut. He would jump up from his usual stupor and bark madly and run to the front door.
George: He’s really not very bright.
Me [speaking for Hoover]: No, I’m really not, but I don’t have to be smart.
George [continuing for Hoover]: Yeah, my life is pretty good just as it is. If I were smarter, I might over-think this.
Over-thinking isn’t a Golden Retriever character flaw. Evolution got that one right, too. Dopey dogs simply appreciate life and don’t seek explanations or dwell on problems.
Some days, I wish I were Hoover.
One gray day last winter, I decided that Hoover’s true name is Furry Golden Sunshine. Yes, I know it’s hopelessly sappy, but I don't care. Hoover makes up for all his annoying habits, his bodily excretions, his stinky farts, and his hyper youth with a sweet disposition that keeps him from biting children when they get too rough doing this:
He tolerates humiliation well:
He makes our days brighter with sloppy Hoover kisses:
What more could a family want than the goofy companionship and lazy lolling of a big, furry beam of sunshine?
I simply can't imagine.