Had I known my first job would carry me to Washington DC two weeks after I met the molasses-colored pups at a South Georgia quail plantation, I probably wouldn’t have claimed the litter’s largest brother and named him Dubya.
Dubya comes from a long line of champion hunters and retrievers, four-legged legends clad in camo and neoprene. His daddy and granddaddy spend duck season in Arkansas’ flooded rice fields, lifeless prey locked securely and delicately in their yellow jaws. Dubya, he’s got the drive, too. He’d point his paw at the mallards swimming in DC’s Tidal Basin during every Cherry Blossom Festival and snarl at the rats scurrying into gutter hideaways during midnight bathroom breaks on Capitol Hill.
My neighbors, primarily Hill staffers hailing from metropolitan destinations nationwide, would tilt their heads sideways and consider my companion.
“Are you sure he’s a pure bred lab?” they’d ask. “Because he looks like a mixed breed.”
These inquisitors, adept in the arts of communication and crisis management, were ignorant to the unofficial distinction between an English Lab and an American Lab.
English Labs, with boxy heads, thick necks, and a genetic predisposition to weight gain, are the Labrador retrievers of Westminster Dog Shows and most suburban backyards. English Labs are docile. English Labs are easy to train. It’s the paper eyes of an English Lab – resting underneath a boxy typeface reading Happy Birthday or Get Well Soon – that follow drugstore patrons down the greeting card aisle.
If English Labs wear tuxedos and drink Hendrick’s gin, American labs are proudly sporting mullets, whistling Dixie, and yelling over roaring engines at NASCAR races.
American Labs are native to days and weeks and months of tracking duck and quail and pheasant through sprawling rural expansions. American Labs have sleek, muscular bodies and long, curious snouts that are forever occupying nooks and crevices where they don’t belong. An American Lab can spend hours chasing a tennis ball in 90-degree weather and still have enough energy to shred three magazines, destroy a pair of last season’s designer shoes, and gnaw a hole the size of a bowling ball into the sheetrock of a (rented) apartment*.
City dwellers don’t know the difference between an English Lab and an American Lab. And to be completely honest, when that round and clumsy baby bird dog stole my heart on a summer Saturday two years ago, I didn’t know the difference either.
100 pounds, a shredded library of fashion books, and an antique pine dresser reduced to sawdust later, I’ve learned to distinguish the picture-perfect, four-legged subject of a Norman Rockwell painting from the bull I invited into the china shop of my life.
And I wouldn’t have Dubya any other way.
*Note to my current landlord: Dubya lost his appetite for sheetrock.