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Heureux Chevalier

Black Labrador Retriever resting in a field of green grass with rope-toy
A Happy Black Labrador Retriever

But we all called him “Hero”

My parents had some friends who lived in a ritzy part of town. They had a female black Labrador Retriever that they had decided to breed, and her name was Princess Sharna. They chose a male named Chief Natchez, who was as much of a Champion as her. They both had walls of trophy’s and blue ribbons and suchlike. They invited us over to their home to take our pick of the litter, and of course we chose the runt. I don’t remember how many puppers there were, only that there were 2 goldens in amongst all that black puddle of furry happiness. One of the goldens was taken by someone else and named Leo.

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We got a dog, and it was decided that I would train him, but he would mostly be my brother’s dog. I was taking French language classes in school, and I said “let’s name him Heureux Chevalier, it’s French for “Happy Knight”. So, technically that was his name, but it quickly devolved to being “Hero”.

Training him to do the basics was easy, he was so smart and happy and wanted to learn. Sit, Stay, Lay Down, Come, and Go, Heel, he was a good boy. But I didn’t know how to teach him to fetch, so he never did become a “retriever.”

After he was considered “trained” he became my brothers’ pet, but we all loved up on him and he loved us. We enjoyed hiking in the hills behind the house, and he would come with us, just as happy as he could be. There was also a small very rocky hill built naturally of very large boulders about 2 miles or so from the house that we would drive to. It was a rock climbers practice hill, and it took quite a lot of skill and muscles to reach the top. But, there were paths here-and-there on it that even beginners could try for a part of the way up. We always took Hero with us, and some of our fondest memories of those days were there. We would start climbing and Hero would wait until we stopped and called him to join us at each “rest point” as we could only go up one person at a time. And poor Hero would watch us go up and cry this weird sound of “weeeee-eeeee-weeee-eeeee” until we called him to come to us. But sometimes the path was too much for a dog, the boulders too big for him to jump, so he would stop and cry and my brother would go back down to try to find another path that he could use instead. Sometimes he could, most times the dog couldn’t. “Eeeee-weeee-eeeee-weeee” in a really high pitch and he wouldn’t stop unless one of us came back down and stayed with him while the rest continued to climb.

I remember one Sunday drive with him in the car. I don’t remember where we were going, but I do remember this happened on a winding mountain road. We were all in the station wagon and Hero started whining and acting all nervous. We asked Dad to pull over and stop the car because us kids thought that maybe Hero had to “go”, but Dad said no.

Now, we were in that Buick station wagon, and the rear door had a window that was open during this day trip. Hero whined and cried until he couldn’t wait one more minute and he jumped out of that rear window! I don’t know how fast we were going. He stumbled when he landed on the tarmac, got back onto his feet, and immediately went to the shoulder and squatted to “do his business”. Oh, and yes, Dad finally did pull over and stop the car. We all learned a lesson that day, to listen to the dog. He was fine and not hurt from the fall, and it never had to happen again.

If you haven’t read the story of Minnie and Fatty, go now and learn why we also called him the “cat sheriff”.

Ice cubes. During one summer Mom decided to start buying skim milk which us kids hated. Since it was so hot, she would put ice cubes in the glass to help us to want to drink it. One of us, I don’t know who, thought it would be a fun thing to do to throw an ice cube at Hero and see if he would catch it in his mouth. He did. One crunch and it was swallowed and down the hatch. Throw another cube, catch and crunch and gone. We would throw all of our ice cubes to him and it was a fun game to play with him. Sometimes there wouldn’t be a crunch, it just slid right down his throat. He loved that game.

Another day, Mom and I were home alone for the afternoon. Dad and my brother were out-and-about running errands or something. The front door bell rang, someone was knocking on the door. Hero wasn’t much of a barker, in fact I don’t really remember him barking much at all. But this I do have a great memory of, of my Hero:

Mom went to the door and Hero stood right beside her when she opened it. Nope, did not know who it was standing there outside. Hero’s shackles went straight up, teeth bared, and growling; he didn’t know this stranger either. No body trained him to do that, and he didn’t budge one foot either forward or backward. Just looked and sounded ready to leap and tear this fool apart if we said “go”. We didn’t. The stranger said a few words, Mom answered him, the guy was noticeably nervous, he turned and left. Of course we told Hero what a great good dog he was. After that, whenever us females were home alone and there was someone at the door, he was always by our side ready to defend hearth and home. Even if it was someone we knew, he wouldn’t stop being our guard dog until we reached down to touch his head and say “friend”.

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