by Corey Paige
Once you’ve had a Golden Retriever, it’s hard to get another breed. They are true gentle giants, loving, playful, loyal to the end.
Which is why my wife and I were in Oxnard, checking out a golden litter. It was no easy task trying to decide which of the adorable fluff balls to pick. But then one of the pups marched over and changed our lives forever. He stared deeply into my eyes in a way that let me know he was meant to be with me forever, and I was meant to be with him forever.
It was instant deep true love, the kind that washes over you and makes you feel pure.
The breeder was more than happy to let us have him. Turns out that when the AKC representative measured the pups, there was a hitch with this one. His head was too big, and not just by a little, which would definitely disqualify him from show dog competitions.
My wife drove back so I could hold and cuddle my new fatheaded best friend.
We named him Chester Blue, and couldn’t wait to introduce him to Cooper, our sweetest ever six-year-old Golden Retriever waiting at home. We kept telling Cooper we were getting him a little brother; his paw would shake from anticipatory excitement.
The minute Coops saw Chester, it was everything he had hoped for. He hurried to his toy basket, carefully selecting the absolute right plushy to carry over to give to his new little brother. Chester Blue, all seven pounds of him, stared down at the toy, then up at Cooper and emitted the most terrifying Exorcist head-spinning, blood-curling shriek.
Nothing fazed Cooper, a true Zen master dog, but this unholy scream from the abyss was too much even for him, so Coops raced down to the bedroom to be alone for a while to recover, and when he finally felt ready to come out, this little Beelzebub from hell better be long gone.
I asked my wife what just happened? She said she didn’t know, but Blue might be a bit more of a project than we realized. But she reassured me, he’d grow up to be a great dog.
Cooper wasn’t so easily convinced. He lived in the safety of the downstairs bedroom for days, occasionally poking his head out to see if demonic wedge head was gone.
But at some point, Cooper had to face facts. Incubus puppy wasn’t leaving, and was currently having a grand time upstairs, playing with all of Coop’s plush toys. Our adult Golden had no choice but to venture upstairs to find some way to deal with the terror that awaited him.
Two-month-old puppies will generally defer to an adult dog, either out of respect, or simply a survival instinct to avoid getting murdered. Chester Blue was our fifth dog, and all his predecessors, no matter how head-strong, had intelligently obeyed this rule. But it seemed Chester hadn’t read that memo.
Our new addition to the family frolic-played with a vengeance, barking up a storm, and no matter how many pointed hard stares Cooper threw at him, no matter how many truly ferocious adult bark growls were issued, Blue could not care less. He was going to live his life full-throated on his terms and didn’t give a shit if anyone had a problem with that.
Two-month-old puppies are generally not big fans of crate training, but very few of them are so instantly accomplished at Great Escaping their way out like our new bundle of joy.
It didn’t matter if you were in the room, standing over the crate, watching him the whole time. Blue would stubbornly maneuver his little paw and mouth through the nylon to unzip the crate, then zoom out with a bark that said, “Hey there. Hi. Got stuff to do. Bye.”
All puppies crave attention and can bark in frustration when they don’t get it. You have to expect that in the beginning. Just ignore them and they’ll eventually learn to self-soothe.
Chester Blue left barking for the amateurs. When he wanted attention, he hurled himself up onto you, his entire body soul hugging yours. Not only were you expected to pet him, but to be fully present while doing so. Which meant that if you had the audacity to pick up a screen, he would paw-punch it across the room with impressive force. It was almost like he owned Apple stock and wanted you to keep buying as many replacement products as possible.
On one of our first walks, an elderly woman asked if she could pet him. As she bent down, she maneuvered her phone to snap a photo for her son who absolutely loved Goldens. Chester Blue punched her phone clear out onto Pier Avenue where it was run over by a delivery truck.
Goldens love people, it’s their nature. Chester loved some people, but only the very few capable of meeting his high standards. He couldn’t be bothered by the rest of humanity.
And of course, Goldens are food obsessed. You will always find them curled up near the table while you eat, intently watching with the most hopeful brown eyes.
Chester was more of a Nietzsche dog, believing hope is for losers.
Once during dinner, I heard urgent barking downstairs, the kind our dogs knew to do when they had to do business. My wife was out to dinner with friends, so I hurried downstairs to see Chester staring at the door in pressing need, tail tucked in distress. I raced into the laundry room, scooped up his leash, charged back out to an empty hallway.
Oh no, was I too late? Did the poor little guy dart into the bedroom to relieve himself?
It was at that point that I heard the feint upstairs sound of covert gleeful chomping.
I charged upstairs to see the asshole balance-standing on his hind legs, front legs clutching the edge of the table as he enjoyed my pork chop. I yelled at him to stop. He calmly eyed me while turning to sample some curry rice.
Cooper was in his usual spot on the floor, watching all this with rapt attention. It never occurred to him that eating dad’s dinner was a possibility. He was certainly curious to see what the consequences might be. Because if they weren’t too severe, he might very well have to rethink his up to then well-behaved lifestyle.
Chester was a juvenile delinquent pup but had never been this brazenly treacherous before. What had happened to suddenly flip his evil switch to full-on position? When my wife came home and heard what happened, she immediately knew the answer to the mystery.
It was the first time in his young life that he was finally tall enough to reach the table.
I suddenly realized that Chester had been watching us eat dinner his whole life, simply biding his time until his growth plates caught up to his designs. Late at night, when he’d pad out of the bedroom, presumably to get some water, he was secretly darting upstairs to stand on hind legs, measuring how much longer it would be until he could reach the promised land.
I wouldn’t be the least surprised if I someday find his secret planning journal stashed safely under the couch, or at the very bottom of a toy basket, with his detailed preparation notes:
Step one: Bark intently at door like you gotta go. Really sell this.
Step two: When human sentry arrives, Tuck the tail. Tuck it, baby.
Step three: Wait for sentry to disappear into leash room, then quickly turn and SILENTLY ascend stairs, make sure tip-paw entire way.
Step four: Once upstairs, start seven second mental countdown. That’s all the time you’re going to have before the long arm of the law shows up.
Step five: Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Start with meats. If time, work your way to carbs. Do not get distracted by vegetables.
My wife said he would not have access to the dining room or kitchen for a while. She hauled out the trusty baby gate we used with the other dogs when they were young and couldn’t be trusted with full run of the house. She set the gate up to seal off the dining room.
Chester watched this, amused, before taking a slight trot and leaping up over the baby gate.
So, my wife and I spent a small online fortune ordering gates, barriers, and concertina wire. We constructed an elaborate Maginot line blocking any and all entry to the dining room.
That night, we were woken up by a loud crash upstairs.
If you’re wondering why we simply just didn’t keep our bedroom door shut when we slept, so Chester couldn’t get upstairs, we did. But he knew how to open the door on his own.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t lock the door, we did. But he knew how to unlock it.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t keep him chained to the bed, my wife wouldn’t let me.
Not only had Chester defeated our barricade system, but he had also mastered the complex physics equations of paw-angle torque and body positioning to open the heavy cabinet door to access the garbage, which he had strewn across the floor to nose out the good stuff.
I threw up my hands, asking my wife, “Does he not know that he’s an asshole dog. Or does he know, but simply doesn’t care?”
My wife looked like she was carefully considering how to answer, before replying, “Well, you are the one who picked him out.”
That was true. My wife had been principally responsible in selecting our first four dogs, and Chester had been my choice. But before I could ask her what that had to do with any of this, she was too busy wrestling pizza crust away from Cujo.
By now, even my wife had reached her limit. She ordered a tall, serious looking steel compression Fort Knox barrier, the kind you bolt deep into your walls.
Cooper and Chester watched us power drill that bad boy into place. I suggested we might want to usher Mephistopheles Junior downstairs because I felt like he was studying what we were doing, so he’d know how to defeat it.
My wife snapped, “Good! Let him! The asshole ain’t getting through this.” As she yelled that, she really gave the last bolt a mightily twist into the wall.
That was the first night in a long time that we were able to sleep through till morning.
Same thing the next night.
The third night, a crash jolted us awake.
The motherfucker had obviously been at it for a long time, using his little teeth to patiently twist-turn each of the bolts a micrometer at a time, doing this for as long as it took to remove the steel barriers from the walls. He celebrated his remodeling success by opening the pantry to purloin the peanut butter jar, which he was in the process of biting open when we arrived. He gave us a good to see you tail wag, still working to open his treasure.
I told my wife I had never wanted to kill something that I loved so dearly. She gave me a sympathetic look, “You picked him out… There’s a reason you did that”.
Before I could respond, she bent down, engaging in a life-and-death tug-of-war over the Jif.
There was one more quirk with our hoodlum pup.
Without fail, our other dogs always sensibly went out to do business before bedtime. Chester found such routine to be the boring, square behavior of the neutered bourgeois.
He much preferred the unpredictable, electrifying adventure of 3 A.M. walks.
True to form, he woke me in the deep darkness that night, needing to go out. I bundled up, taking the Prince of Darkness out into the biting cold. The streets were deserted, exactly the way Chester Blue liked it. We wandered down empty sidewalks and alleys. He often glanced up, checking in with me, making sure I was present in the experience with him, happy to be sharing this late-night walk with me the way I used to love sharing late-night walks with my dad.
He stopped to sniff flowers, then stared up curiously at the moon.
Watching him, it finally hit me.
I so much wanted it not to be true. But it obviously was.
…I had an abnormally large skull as a kid.
…I was the rebellious younger child, always getting into trouble, often in direct sight of my parents, relishing in the knowledge that they were powerless to stop me.
…I like certain types of people and want absolutely nothing to do with the rest.
…I am far too sensitive and need constant reassurance of love.
…I absolutely hate it when someone looks at their phone when I’m talking to them.
…I have an unhealthy, uncontrollable compulsion with food, often sneaking upstairs late at night to eat something that I know I shouldn’t consume.
Everything suddenly made so much sense. I had fucking picked out the dog version of me.
My dog-me finished his flower sniffing and looked up into my eyes as we continued on together into the night, our strides perfectly matching each other’s step.
Corey Paige is a fierce Californian with an MFA from UCLA. He lives in Hermosa Beach with his poet wife and hooligan dog.