Tessa's First Kill

In October of 1996, about 6 weeks after my beloved Toby had died, we bought a Labrador Retriever. I wasn't all that happy about it, as I wasn't really ready for another dog, but Susan was insistent that she wanted a Chocolate Lab, and I've been married long enough to know when to argue and when not. She was born September 3rd, 1996 at Lagniappe Labradors in Springfield, VA and came to us as an 8-week old puppy, formally named "Lagniappe Tessa of Westover." Tessa was about as laid-back as a dog can get, far and away the easiest pup we ever raised, who didn't even cry on her first night with us. When we remarked on how unusual this was, she stuck her head up out of the box and said, "Mother, littermates, who cares? You're feeding me, right? I'm home!"

Tessa's model of Regal Deportment was the late Queen Victoria. She was a languid beauty who believes that since she was hired for her looks, it's unreasonable to demand that she be useful and not just decorative. When we got her, her brain was on back order, and when it finally arrived, it was a size too small. (I didn't understand at the time that this is pretty much the standard for Chocolate Labs.) She was a firm upholder of The Code Of Labrador Retriever, which is to say that she'd eat anything that didn't eat her first: the only things she didn't like were black olives and raw mushrooms. She loved sauerkraut, but we didn't give it to her that often: providing a Labrador Retriever with sauerkraut is technically a violation of the Geneva Convention against production of gas warfare materials.

At least, thought I, I'll get a hunting dog out of this. I pointed out that she was, in fact, a retriever, and her job was, well, retrieving things I'd shot. No such luck: my wife informed me on Day One that Tessa was NOT going to be a hunting dog. No sirree, I could forget that idea entirely. It was pointed out in no uncertain terms that she was A Princess Of Dogs, and the proletarian world of working retriever-hood was beneath her. Since she was from an upscale kennel, the descendant of a long and noble line of show Labs, I was clearly being unreasonable to think that she would debase her lineage by becoming a working retriever. I might as well have suggested that Princess Stephanie of Monaco should work as a truck stop waitress.

Tessa agreed whole-heartedly. Her indignant response to my suggestion that she be useful and not merely decorative was, "Listen, buster, if you think I'm going to jump into freezing water and swim a couple of hundred yards just to bring you a dead duck, you're nuts. My role in this household will be to keep the fireplace rug from being sucked up the chimney, and to see that Mama doesn't get cold at night!"

Four years into her reign, Princess Tessa was as beautiful as ever; but nevertheless had more or less a dog's outlook on life. She ate anything at all, any time, and as fast as possible. She cut colossal farts that so vile I could have bottled them and sold them to the Army. She slept on her back with her paws in the air. She chased (and ate) June bugs and caterpillars. If we hadn't had her spayed she'd have become a complete and utter slut. Nevertheless, despite growing disillusionment with The Princess, Susan was inclined to believe in the myth until 4:40 in the morning of October 8, 2000.

At that hour, Meg the Nuclear-Powered Border Collie jumped on the bed to tell me she HAD to go out, right NOW, Boss! I put her off, so she transferred her attention and her ice-cold nose to Susan's ear. After a few minutes of urgent nudging Susan grudgingly threw off the covers and grumped down to the basement with both dogs in her wake, and opened the patio door. Out they scooted, and squatted. Moments later I heard, actually through the mists of sleep, dogs barking. I thought nothing of it, though. A few minutes later Susan appeared in the bedroom door, wailing, "Tessa killed a RABBIT!"

It seems that actually Meg was the first to spot the rabbit. She suddenly broke off from her oh-so-very-urgent whizzing and took off down the yard, barking. This incited Tessa to join the fun, and between them they chased the poor thing down the hill and up again, back and forth—that's where the barking came in—eventually cornering it in the angle between the wall of the house and the electric-meter box. There Tessa disported herself as The Angel of Death, grabbing the rabbit and shaking it per the usual canine method. Susan made her drop it, and came up to get me.

I came down in my bathrobe to find one exceptionally dead bunny and one very smug, self-satisfied Labrador Retriever, who was prancing around and bragging: "I killed a rabbit! I killed a rabbit!" Meg was on the edge of hysteria, barking "...and I HELPED!! " so everyone in Westover Hills would know about it. Susan was in tears at the horror of it all.

Mind you, it was then about 4:55 AM; I wasn't about to do much with a dead rabbit right then and there. It was cold that night and I figured he'd keep, so I put the victim in a plastic bag, and hung the bag on the fence for further processing in the morning. The next morning about 9:00 I went down and retrieved the body to skin and clean it.

My fly-fisherman neighbor had heard about the incident and asked me to save him the ears, which are apparently a major ingredient in trout flies. I cut those off and set them with a few square inches of belly skin. All the while I was processing the rabbit, Tessa kept interfering, trying her damnedest to get hold of it. Well, after all, it WAS her kill: I suppose she thought she was entitled to it. But I re-read her the clause in The Contract that's been in force for 100,000 years between dogs and humans that says I get to eat the rabbit, and she gets what I choose to give her. I finished the job of cleaning, tossed the carcass in the sink to be washed, wrapped up the offal, and went up to the garage to throw it out. After that I went back to get the ears and skin and.....THE EARS WERE GONE.

Not to be denied her rights, Tessa had very craftily waited until my back was turned, stood up on her hind feet, grabbed the ears and the belly skin off the table, and eaten everything, hair and all. Now, THAT'S a Princess!

Tessa died in November of 2009. We were with her when she passed out of this world to a better place, joining Toby, Tucker, Meg, and Tycho, Dante, Penny, Gordo, and all the other Good Dogs we have known and loved.