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Family Time

by Robin Rieger

The email response read, “Cassie is a very loving and social dog. She is $4,500 and she is defiantly (I think she meant definitely ) trainable.” Loving, social, trainable … all good. Wait … $4,500?! WHAT? Really?! For $4,500, this Bernese/poodle mix should train other dogs, do laundry, take my kids to and from school and do the grocery shopping. Every day for five years. Oh, and feed herself and let herself out! Her picture on her breeder’s website was cute, but not $4,500 cute. I couldn’t even respond.

As you can see, my search for the perfect, not too small, not too big dog for our kids wasn’t going so well. For a few years, our son and daughter had been asking for a dog (which they said they would absolutely take care of) when my husband promised we would get one in the summer of 2013.

Just when school gets out, great time to get one, right? Their drumbeat started the moment classes let out. “When are we going to get our dog?” “It’s summer!” “You promised!” After a very busy summer that would not have been good for a puppy, the drumbeat continued as a new school year started. I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of getting a dog, so my indecision was part of the delay.

As a former TV news reporter, I put my research skills to work on finding the right dog, thinking it would help me off the fence. I grew up with an awesome standard poodle, but wanted something a little different. I liked everything about a golden retriever except its tendency to shed. Say hello to the goldendoodle, a combination of both breeds. Purists would call it a “mutt,” and they would be correct, but that “mutt” is a very sought-after and expensive puppy that often looks like a fluffy teddy bear. The Internet is loaded with websites advertising goldendoodles, labradoodles and doubledoodles. I scoured them constantly looking for the cutest puppy for our family, asking myself, “Which one is the right one? Curly coat, loose wavy coat, male, female?” “How big would it get?” Many breeders welcomed visitors when puppies were old enough so you could see them and the parents. Others would not put you on their litter list or let you see their puppies unless you gave them a sizable, non-refundable deposit. To this my husband Tom said (as he often does), “Are you kidding me?”

Plenty of breeders offered replacement warranties on the expensive pups, but would you really give back a dog your kids love? Others touted their testing for genetic disorders. Prices ranged from a few hundred dollars to thousands. After telling my mom about our search and one breeder’s price tag of $1,850, she said, “Honey, no dog is worth $1,800, I don’t care if it has gold teeth!” The two minutes of laughter we broke into on the phone was a welcome respite in an otherwise intense and emotional search for our family’s four-legged friend. She reminded me that when she bought our standard poodle, she loaded all five of us kids into the car and drove from Edgewater Park to Absecon to pick him from a large litter split up in a bathtub and a playpen. Napoleon died at 14, our second dog Nuggets, a lhasa-poo, lived 17 years. The first dog had “papers,” the second did not. They were healthy, happy and our best friends.

A four-hour drive in September to a place Tom called West Jabip, Pa., was filled with excitement and fear as he and I went to see an Internet-advertised goldendoodle named Roxy. Tom reminded me we weren’t driving four hours just to look and leave without a dog. In other words, we would not come home alone. The decision or indecision over a puppy was no longer in my hands and I was glad. We got lost once after stopping to buy a collar and leash we would need for the ride home. Things grew more tense when the rural road to our puppy’s first home got narrow and desolate. I burst into tears asking myself what I was thinking dragging us all the way up here. My husband tried to make me feel better, though his tight grip on the wheel let me know he was anxious, too. He wanted the ride to be over.

Finally, a sigh of relief at the sight of a farmhouse and playful puppies in the yard. A pastor and his wife greeted Tom and I and introduced us to some of their children who named and raised 10 puppies for nine weeks. The puppies’ calm parents were as friendly as their offspring and not too big. Seeing them was an important part of the journey (so was a call to their vet). Though there were four puppies left to choose from, we still picked Roxy, the smallest. Her wavy, honey-colored coat and button nose were as cute in person as they were online.

The ride home was just as long but easier. Roxy didn’t cry once, but our son did when we surprised him and his sister with their promised pet. I can still see the tears in his eyes and their delight at meeting our family’s new best friend. Tom is great at midnight and 6 a.m. outings and neither one of us can resist squeezing our cute bundle of fur.

Weeks later, Roxy is in training mode. She sits, lays down and stays … well sort of. She nips at her leash, the rose bushes and the rain. The kids are in training too, with me reminding them often they have to clean up after their dog. “Remember,” goes MY drumbeat, “you promised!”

Robin Rieger is a former anchor and reporter with CBS 3. A lifelong South Jersey resident, she lives with her husband, Philadelphia 76ers Radio Play-by-Play Broadcaster Tom McGinnis, and their two children in Burlington County.

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 8 (November, 2013).
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