National Sibling Day: Growing Up Dog Lovers
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
Today I was chatting about Labrador Retrievers with a fellow lab lover on Twitter and he pointed out that I was extremely lucky to have grown up with dogs, that he did not get his first Lab until he was an adult. I replied that I was indeed extremely fortunate to not only grow up with Labrador Retrievers (and two German Shorthaired Pointers) throughout my entire life, but also in the country in Sussex County in northern New Jersey. As I thought about my childhood and my outdoor adventures with our dogs and my brothers, I realized it was National Sibling Day, which seemed fitting for the conversation I was having on Twitter.
If you are not familiar with Sussex County, New Jersey, it is the most fantastic place in all of the Garden State, consisting of small towns and spectacular mountains, forests and lakes. There are state forest preserves and plenty of outdoor activities to do, and we did them all: hiking, canoeing, swimming, skiing, fishing, ice skating, ice fishing, and bike riding. Dad was also an avid bird hunter, which is why we had our beloved black Labrador named Snoop. In fact our primary modes of transportation as teenagers at Lake Lenape were our bikes or either the canoe or rowboat that we kept on our dock.
Without going completely into detail about life growing up in Andover, New Jersey or all of the great dogs who were by my side, particularly since I do that in my forthcoming book, I often laugh that looking through the LL Bean catalog reminds me of my childhood, with all of the sporting goods and magnificent dogs pictured. We did it all, except for snow shoeing, and I am anxious to try that out as an adult.
My brothers are actually my half brothers (we share a Dad but have different Moms) and did not live with us full-time until they were teens. Because of this I lived the life of an only child during the week for many years, so Snoop was my best friend and constant companion when the boys were not with us. Of course when they were home with us we all went on adventures together, the three of us kids and Snoop. She hung out with us unless Dad was available, at which point she became his velcro dog and dropped us like a a bitter pill poorly hidden in a piece of cheese as soon as he came home.
Most weekends involved family outings to places like the Sparta Glen or Stokes State Forest, and on those outings Snoop always came with us. She was often with us when we went skiing on weekends, hanging out with Dad on days he didn’t want to ski. She was with us on fishing trips, trips to my great aunt and uncle’s farm, in the rowboat when my brothers and I went out exploring. She came with us on vacations to Lake Champlain in Vermont and Ridin’ Hy Ranch in New York.
It’s not surprising that as adults the three of us “kids” are all avid dog lovers. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with one of my brothers on Easter, talking about dogs the entire time, comparing the antics of his eight month Lab puppy to my nearly three Tinkerbell, deciding that they were two peas in a pod, and that if we lived closer to each other that they would be constant playmates.
Unfortunately our older brother passed away far too young two years ago from a sudden heart attack. I had not spoken to him in far too long when he passed, for completely ridiculous reasons. In fact we could have learned from dogs, who settle their differences quickly and then move on instead of wasting time not having each other in their lives just out of sheer stubbornness. I wish we had been like Jackson and Tinkerbell when they want the same antler, growling out our frustrations and then figuring it out quickly and without drama.
Oddly enough, when I went to his home the day of his memorial service I was comforted as soon as I walked in as I was greeted by the four dogs who he loved so much (including one Labrador) and by the fact that his home was exactly like mine, the same living room furniture and the same exact dog kennels placed discreetly in the family room with a few blankets and some mail stacked on top. For some strange reason that perhaps only people who grew up with dogs can understand, I felt our sibling connection again instantly, even though he was gone, even though we would never settle our differences in person, just from remembering that we had grown up so similarly, together, and that our upbringing with dogs had shaped us as adults and made us more united than we had really consciously known.
I think about our kids and how much they love dogs. With two dogs here and four at their mother’s house, these kids are definitely growing up with plenty of dogs to love, dogs who are like siblings to them just like our dogs were to me, and I hope that they will pass the love onto their own children. So Happy Siblings Day, to my human siblings and to my canine siblings, whether they are at the Rainbow Bridge or here on earth with me. When you grow up with dogs as family you understand why we honor both types of siblings on a day like today, because they both hold a special and forever place in your heart.