In 2008, my family lost a pair of golden retrievers, Kuma and Zoe, to cancer.  It took both dogs early in their lives.  My wife and I were hesitant to replace our first two goldens after they were gone.  Those who have lost pets understand they are part of the family.  The loss affected both of us; however, more so her.    

We belong to an organization called Golden Retriever Rescue, Education and Training Inc. (GRREAT).  GRREAT was aware we like our goldens in pairs and remembered us when a pair became available. The experience of bringing Chase and Andy into our lives was karma.  

I got the call from GRREAT asking if we wanted to foster a pair of goldens.  An hour later, my wife walked in the front door and simply stated, “I’m ready for another dog.”  Within a month of losing Kuma and Zoe we rescued, fostered and then adopted a pair of goldens that needed a home:  Chase and Andy.  

The protocol for picking up dogs turned over to GRREAT is very specific.  A GRREAT volunteer picks up the dogs from the donors and then meets with the foster parents to turn them over for care.  In this case, we met the volunteer at a Metro parking lot in Maryland and brought Chase and Andy into our lives.  

I remember their first night well as they kept wandering around their new home, and often stopped by as we slept to check out their new family.  Our home was complete again.  

As is the fate with many goldens, cancer caught up with Chase when he was 12.  Andy didn’t share the fate of our other goldens.  He is the first golden retriever we watched grow old.  

I’m 71.  According to, Andy is in his 90s.  Watching a dog grow old is interesting.  Andy is an analog of my own aging process.  He is slowing down, walks with an unsteady gate, plays less, has gained weight, suffers from cataracts and loss of vision, and isn’t as fast as he used to be.  His bark has turned into a hoarse effort at making noise.  Many of those symptoms apply to me.

The veterinarian diagnosed Andy with loss of middle mass in his hind legs.  We watched as his walk slowly turned into an ever increasing struggle to simply get up and remain standing.  Andy has good days and bad days.  I can tell that his breath is becoming more labored, and simply standing up is just too hard on his aging body.

Andy is family.   Those without pets or the desire to own one will never understand how it feels to lose one.  We have a pet cemetery in our woods.  It consists of five stones and a meditation bench.  I hope the wait for a sixth stone is a long one.  

If you are looking for a golden retriever, or just a great family dog, I suggest you check out GRREAT.  Also, check out Prince William County’s animal shelter and other rescue groups.  There are a lot of dogs who need a home.  Maybe your home is just what both you and some dog looking for one need.

Dogs are very Zen creatures.  They live in the moment with no cares about the past or worries about the future.  Andy enjoys life as it is now.  If only we could learn to do the same.  I’m working on it.

Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week.  You can learn more about Al at

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