The dog, a golden retriever, entered my life via my son and daughter-in-law. He was their dog, a pooch named Thunder.
Thunder was a large, handsome canine with silken, tawny-colored hair. He possessed a friendly, spirited and loyal personality. He had one small drawback, which I shall explain in a moment.
He lived with me for a year when I fulfilled the role of dog-sitter, taking care of him while my son and daughter-in-law lived in a rental property that prohibited pets. During this time I came to know him well.
Each morning we would drive to a local park and go for a walk. I would let him run free, but he never ran off. He always stayed nearby and for the most part obeyed commands. He was a classic example of the best canine advice I have ever heard.
“There’s one thing you must first decide when you get a new dog,” said the trainer. “Does the dog want to please himself or does he want to please you?” Thunder was among the latter, which made his companionship a joy.
During the day he would curl up on an easy chair or sprawl across a couch. In the evening he preferred lying on the cool tile of the entryway to my house. It gave him a view down a long hall at the end of which stood a small chest. One day a mouse took up residence underneath the chest.
When the mouse ventured out, Thunder would jump up and dash down the hall. The mouse would hastily retreat to its sanctuary beneath the chest. The dog never came close to catching the mouse, which I let live in the belief it provided Thunder with entertainment.
I think the dog viewed the mouse as competition for my affection because it lived in my house. During our walks in the park he would occasionally flush a rabbit, but he never chased them, never showed the slightest interest in the bunnies.
I suspect the story would have been different if a rabbit decided to reside indoors in my home.
Around 5 each evening I would eat a light snack and drink a glass of ice tea while sitting in my favorite chair to watch on TV the evening news. My snack was always the same — a small slice of soft Brie cheese atop a sour-cream-and-onion Pringle.
Food would prompt the dog to come over and sit beside my chair, longingly looking up at me. Naturally, I would give him a Pringle — and then another. Then one day I gave him a Pringle with Brie. He quickly devoured it. I gave him another and another until cheese-on-a-potato-chip became his evening snack, too.
I explained to my son the dog and I “bonded” during these snack-food interludes.
After a while it dawned on me it was too expensive to feed Thunder Brie each evening. But when I offered him a plain Pringle without Brie, he refused it. And continued to refuse.
“You’re a food snob,” I would tell him. But this pejorative comment did not change his behavior.
My harshest reprimand always was, “You know, Thunder, in China they eat dogs like you.” It failed to impress him.
Several times a week he would get in my pick-up truck and we would drive out to McDonald’s where I would buy him an order of French fries, which he loved.
His favorite aquatic activity came in the summer when he would wade out into a lake, stick his head underwater and hold it there while he looked around. The aquatic world fascinated him.
He loved to roll around and frolic in fresh, deep snow.
He longed to go hunting. Being a retriever, he would chase after a thrown stick or tennis ball and bring it back. But for some reason he refused to retrieve ducks.
He earned his keep finding woodcock downed in heavy cover. He would not pick them up, but would point his nose toward the well-camouflaged bird. (Many hunting breeds will not pick up a woodcock.)
Thunder lived with me for a year. After that I would occasionally keep him when my son and his wife spent time away from home. At other times, when I visited their home, he would always rush over to greet me, wagging his tail joyously.
As the years wore on, he exuded less energy. His muzzle began to whiten. Old age began taking its toll. But this did not diminish the pleasure and joy he gave to me each time we met.
Then, the other day, my son called from the vet’s office.
“We had to put Thunder down,” he said.
James H. Phillips can be reached at