U-CD Tiger Mountain’s Yellow Gold, CD, JH, CGC
January 1, 1990-June 8, 2003

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I suffer from the affliction of every dog owner. When a beloved pet passes
on, I have to tell the world how special he was.

The Hedgehog Dog

Tank was only eight weeks old when he came into our lives. Picked out of the litter because he was the bully, charging over all the others, he lived up to his name before we’d even named him and brought him home. I’ll never forget riding home from the breeders with him sleeping in my arms. I’d never owned a puppy. The next morning, snow was on the ground, and it was a gorgeous sunny day. The little yellow Lab pup followed us everywhere, plowing right through the snow banks, “like a tank,” Dennis said. And so he was.

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Dennis started out the right way, crate training Tank, who would howl to be rescued from puppy jail. Dennis gave him a stuffed bunny that was twice Tank’s size. Bunny shared the crate and became Tank’s inseparable friend. If someone came to visit, Tank would run and get the bunny and bring it to the door. If he had it outside and he was bored, you’d see him “bunny-humping” somewhere in the yard. The bunny was so big that even when Tank was an adult, he had to hold his head up to carry it around without tripping over it. By the time we moved to California, eight years later, Bunny was completely un-stuffed, but he came with us anyway.

I wasn’t living in Seattle at first, so Dennis had Tank all to himself. A few months later, I moved north, and brought my sheltie, Sherman. It only took a few days to realize we had accidentally named our dogs Sherman and Tank. Sherman was 6 years old; we really didn’t do it on purpose!

We could ride our horses to the top of Tiger Mountain, and Tank would keep up, ducking his head and trying to act small as Sage and Spice crashed past him up the logging road. Tank wasn’t known for walking on a leash. He stayed within about 30 feet, but usually out in front somewhere. Same with trail riding, I’d have to call him when we were going to turn around and head home.

I remember one day Dennis and I were heading back down the mountain. Tank got tired. It must have been August, the only hot month in Seattle. Tank went over to the side of the trail and lay down in the shade under a bush. We knew we had to stop for a rest, and wished we’d carried water for him. It was about 80 degrees. At the house, he liked to go lay in a nearby creek to cool off. Most days, I could take Tank to the top of the mountain (from 330 ft. to 1700 ft. elevation), come home, and a few hours later head out to obedience class with no loss of enthusiasm on his part. He just never got tired.

There are no poisonous snakes in western Washington, so I generally had no problem with Sherman and Tank exploring in the woods with me. I would go up our road to the woods, rain or shine, with the dogs off-leash wandering, sniffing, peeing and running, and then into the rain forest to zoom up and down the trails and wade through the creek. Often Boots the cat would follow us part way up the road, just like another dog out for a walk.

One year, there were reports of a mountain lion on Tiger Mountain. The scariest of these suburban legends was that a woman jogger on the lower logging road felt like she was being watched, and turned around in time to see the cougar move into the woods. Running away from a predator is the worst thing you can do – it incites their prey drive. That year, Tank stayed home from horseback riding trips. It was awful enough to think of a cougar pouncing on the back of my horse (and me) as we moved under a tree; much worse in my mind would be the vision of Tank being carried off to be a cougar’s dinner.

It appears the mountain lions have been more active the past few years. One Tiger Mountain resident recently walked out his front door and a cougar dropped his Pomeranian out of a tree. He shot the offending big cat and got arrested by the Department of Fish and Game when he took his trophy to a taxidermist in Enumclaw to be mounted.

Tank lived to retrieve. I called him the “Relentless Retriever.” One day Dennis was hanging around out front with his buddies, scratchin an’ drinkin’ beer an’ talkin ‘bout fishin and looking at the new boat. Tank, about 4 months old, brought Dennis a stick and dropped it at his feet. Dennis tossed the stick and went back to his talking and beer. Dennis stepped into the corral for something and Tank followed and dropped the stick again at his feet. Without thinking, Dennis threw the stick between the fence boards. Tank followed like a guided missile, through the rails and came right back with the stick. No detour through the open gate for him. Suddenly Dennis realized what was going on. Not only was Tank bringing back a stick, it was the SAME stick every time! “He’s teaching me to play fetch,” Dennis marveled, and of course all the guys got a demo of this fabulously smart dog doing this incredible thing.

His retrieving was pretty incredible. We could throw a stick over the back of the two story house, down the hill to the creek, and Tank would watch it go, zoom off, and come back a few minutes later with the stick…the correct stick. We could throw it into the corrals way up at the front of the property (several hundred yards), and away he’d go, crashing between the fence rails, and barreling into the pasture. He’d stand and bark at you to throw it again, and again, and again.

Tank’s retrieving entertained everyone he met. He would retrieve anything, even a 2 x 4 or a log of firewood. He was so driven, and so excited. We would throw a bumper into the five-foot tall juniper bushes by the driveway. Tank would know if the bumper went through the bushes to the ground, and would plow under the branches to get it. If it didn’t fall through, Tank leaped up onto the tops of the bushes and walked across, with the heavy branches bowing under his weight, swallowing him. All of a sudden his head would pop up out of the middle, with the bumper in his mouth. He NEVER came back without it! If it landed in the top of a tree, he’d stand there and bark at us until we got it out.

When Tank was four I spent a full year getting his AKC JH (Junior Hunter) title. Our earliest beginner classes were great fun, except for time we trained in the pouring rain. So bad that we couldn’t even see the other side of the pond. Why on earth did we stay out there? Because if it was a real test, we’d still have to do the marks. Tank didn’t care about the rain one bit. “Just throw that bird!” he seemed to say.

The only time I ever saw him actually too tired to retrieve was the day after we had our annual picnic for Dennis’ employees and their families at our house. Kids, adults, everyone – threw a bumper for Tank all day. When one person wore out, Tank would deposit his toy at the foot of his next chosen thrower. After about eight hours of this game he was finally tired. The next day I took him to a field training session with my friends. Edith threw the bird and Tank just looked at it and lumbered slowly out to pick it up. You could almost hear him sigh with resignation. After two or three of these, Katie thought I should put a shock collar on him. I decided instead to give him the week off. The following Sunday we went to Suave Island and finished his AKC JH title.

Tank flunked a few of the hunting tests we went to. He got so excited he would be screaming as I brought him to the line, where he was supposed to “mark” where the bird fell, and wait until I sent him to go get it. Even though he brought the bird back, the judges dropped him for his poor line manners. Back in training, every time he’d start his barking and jumping routine, I’d turn around and lead him back to his crate and leave him there. We cleaned his act up enough to get his title, but I wouldn’t claim he was perfect!

At our home club’s (Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Association) test, our second water mark was a swim out past a bunch of decoys; the bird was thrown just past them. But Tank plucked a decoy out of the water, dragging weights and all, and brought it back to hand perfectly. Total humiliation! All my friends and mentors were lined up along the shore in their beach chairs, watching all the dogs working. My dog and I slunk home with our tails between our legs on that day.

But when he did it right, he did it with style. His drive was incredible, his vision perfect. He loved to do what he was bred to do. Tank wouldn’t quit hunting until he found his bird or bumper. This is the type of dog that is perfect for arson detection or bomb sniffing, but is often too much for a pet owner to handle. Several of Tank’s brothers and sisters came through our rescue program over the years. We were tempted to adopt one, but two Tanks would be a formidable challenge. We elected to stick with one!

His sire, Coal Company’s Seven and Seven, hunted until he was 12 years old. Tank and I quit after the JH title for two reasons. One, it took an incredible commitment of time and energy –four or five hours, three times a week – to train. And the next level, Senior Hunter, was a big jump in difficulty. Many breeders and show folks raise dog after dog, train each one of them, and dedicate themselves to putting titles on each. Tank was my only Lab, and my pet. A basket of ribbons wasn’t a big deal to me. Spending time with my dog was the goal; I didn’t want to work that hard! I also had trouble with the idea of killing all those ducks for sport. So we went back to obedience.

Sherman was competing in obedience, and had two “legs” towards his CD, (Companion Dog) title. That is the AKC’s beginner obedience title. When Tank was only 9 months old, Sherman completed his CD with a first place and a blue ribbon. 196 points out of 200! I still refer to Sherman as the winner of the “High in Household” title. Since he was my very first dog, this was a real thrill.

Dennis decided it looked pretty easy, so he decided to train Tank for his CD. Every morning they would get up, and Dennis would train Tank in the dark out front before he went to work. In early November, he decided it was time to enter a trial. On an ice cold day at the Monroe fairgrounds, the Novice A class was large and kind of unruly. I stood outside the ring taking photos, while a bystander lectured me that Tank was way too young to be showing already. He needs to mature, she cautioned. Heck, we could be waiting until he’s 10 for that!

Tank did a passable job on his heeling on and off lead for Dennis. The figure eight , where the dog heels around people who function as posts, was Tank’s undoing. That judge, Fred Marsh (who later became a friend of mine), was such a nice guy that Tank had to say hi, so he left Dennis in the middle of the pattern, jumped up on Fred and gave him a big sloppy Labrador kiss. Needless to say, when it came time to hand out the ribbons, Fred said sorrowfully to Dennis, “Not today,” and moved on to the next dog and handler. On the way home, Dennis said to me, “Well, you can finish him up.” And I did. Tank entered the ring the following summer at only 1 1/2, and completed his CD in three straight trials, taking home a few ribbons, and winning High Scoring Labrador Retriever at one trial with 195 points.  But the CDX wasn’t going to be so easy.

Even in novice, Tank had some problems with the stays. He would whine and yawn, and act impatient, sometimes wiggling or creeping forward on the down-stay. At the Labrador National Specialty in 1994, I entered him in Graduate Novice, a practice class that is a step below the CDX classes. The handler is out of sight during the stays, so I said a prayer as all the handlers disappeared with me behind the canvas barrier. When we came back at the end of five minutes. Tank was in perfect position, appearing not to have budged an inch. I was so proud, and sure we had first place.

We didn’t. Disappointed with my third place ribbon, I was still pleased with his performance as we headed out of the ring. Edith came rushing up. “You won’t believe what your dog did!” she laughed. “He rolled over on his back and rubbed and wiggled and had a great back rub, then rolled back upright and stayed in perfect position until the end of the five minutes!” We were lucky to even get a ribbon!

We trained with Linda Shea for several years, working towards the CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) title. She would do all sorts of exercises to get the dogs’ energy level and attitude “up.” Well, Tank was up all right. She would hold him back while I was across the ring, and we’d get him all revved up for a recall. When she let go, he charged toward me like a freight train. He mastered that a little too well. He was so fast, it was hard to get him to stop and drop mid-recall. At one show, a friend was videotaping our performance. On the tape I can hear Fred’s voice saying to the person next to him, “Watch this recall; he is so fast.” The judge couldn’t get the drop command out in time! Tank never dropped; he blasted all the way in. And his finish, where he turns around and sits at my side, was hilarious. UP in the air, bonk me on the nose, swing around in mid air and land in position with a smile on his face. Gotta keep those judges laughing, you know. I got many compliments on his working attitude, when he wasn’t plowing down the jump or knocking the dumbbell completely out of the ring. I have Linda to thank for that. I’ve never found another teacher that I liked as much. She is an incredible trainer, and he was incredible fun.

He never mastered the stays. He got two legs on his CDX at Puyallup in 1997, and that was it. He never passed again. Tank started whining and standing up during the stays. As time wore on, he would get up as soon as I turned my back on him, and follow me across the ring. Over and over this happened. He usually passed the sit, and then flunked the easy one, the down stay. He was always panting and seemed horribly stressed. His tail would be between his legs and his head down, guilty look on his face. I tried herbal remedies, like Rescue Remedy and Stop Stress, a spray. I used to Touch to relax him and loosen him up. I finally gave up, figuring he hated obedience, it was too much stress for some unknown reason, and we’d just go do something fun. I think back on that with wistful regret, but I did what worked for the dog.

Tank’s absolutely favorite toy was a stuffed hedgehog. We always brought it to obedience class to use as a reward for an especially good performance. He’d present it to anyone who came to our front door, and would start a dogfight if another dog dared to touch it. In class, he was easily distracted from retrieving his dumbbell. Linda had us scatter a bunch of dog toys and put the dumbbell in the middle, and then have the dog retrieve it while on a flexi lead.  The trick was to stop the dog when he went to the wrong item. We wanted total focus on the dumbbell. Sure, Linda…  no matter where it was Tank rammed forward to the hedgehog. Heeling through the toys and keeping his attention on me was a real experience. He’d dart away and back so fast, usually with the hedgehog in his mouth.

When we moved to California, the class gave me a going away party. Everyone brought a little gift, and Tank went home with about 9 new hedgehogs.

In California we began training in agility. He loved it like everything he’s ever tried, and attacked it with his usual drive and enthusiasm. He’d plow through the jumps, leap from the top of the A frame, miss the contacts, and just generally have a blast.  We didn’t name him Tank for nothing. We gradually refined his approach after 18 months of training. But I realized that it was taking him over an hour to quit panting when we got home, sometimes longer.

Off to the vet. Heart okay, lungs okay, it’s nothing. I’m a hypochondriac on behalf of my dog. Tank started to lose weight, and my obedience club friends asked if he was sick. I switched to a better food, Innova, and he put the weight back on. Finally I insisted that Dr Singh look down his throat, I don’t know what for, but SOMETHING had to be going on. The verdict was elongated soft palette, a condition from birth that interferes with breathing. This is usually found in squish-faced dogs, like Boston terriers or Bulldogs. Dr. Singh referred us to a specialist, who decided after an endoscopy that the real and more severe problem was laryngeal paralysis. So Tank had surgery at age 11 1/2 and both conditions were corrected. This only worked for about 6 months, and his heavy breathing started in again. Tank’s performance career was over.

While we had Tank, I became active in homeless dog rescue, and many dogs of all breeds and sizes came through our doors over the years. It always took Tank a few days to accept them, and they had to accept his position as top dog in the house. We were able to let dogs run on our five acres, and Tank often had a loyal friend following him all over. I will always remember Pookie, and ancient Yorkie mix who acted like Tank was his hero. And Stuffie, a little Pekingese that waddled up the driveway behind him, trying to keep up with his big friend.

Bud was a yellow Lab mix that could escape from anything–garage, car, yard–and  he and Tank took awhile to become pals. One day I left Bud in his crate and went out. When I came back, the two of them met me at the door. How Bud got out of the crate I’ll never know, but unsupervised, the two of them worked out their differences without bloodshed. I’ll never forget a few days later, when the president of our rescue group drove up our road, and here were Tank and Bud trotting down the road toward her, running loose like a couple of strays. They were inseparable, and ahem…not fenced in.

Tank often became a role model for shy dogs. Indy, a young black Lab, was terrified of everyone and everything. When he’d jump the fence and leave, I’d send Tank out to bring him home. If it was safe for Tank, it must be safe for me, Indy must have decided. Indy gradually came around, and I credit Tank for his help in training him and so many of our doggie guests.

One year Tank picked out a giant stuffed octopus at Petco for his birthday present. A few weeks later we had the opportunity to foster a litter of puppies for the animal shelter. Tank donated his octopus for the babies to play with. He would stand there looking confused with all these pups milling around his feet. Eight puppies and an eight-legged octopus made for lots of puppy tug of war. Tank never got mad or tried to take it away from them. He knew they were babies. 

Tank would eat anything. Our neighbors left food out all the time for their Norwegian Elkhounds. We finally stopped Tank’s wandering when we discovered why he was coming home so bloated up. One time I made him throw it all up. I bet he barfed 8 pounds of kibble. They started feeding their dogs indoors. Another time he lay at my feet in the family room and ate an entire tube of cortisone cream, package and all. Nothing was left but the metal ring around the top. 

Probably his worst food adventure was when a Great Pyrenees dumped a bowl of food in some gravel in the dog run. I found Tank out there, eating kibble and gravel indiscriminately. The next morning I woke up to the sound of Tank retching up rocks at the foot of the bed. I rushed him to the vet, who took an X-ray and came out laughing. The picture showed gravel traveling all the way from Tank’s mouth to his butt, all lined up neatly and moving along. I fed him mineral oil and bread all week until he passed it all. His next X-ray was clear!

In California I was so paranoid about rattlesnakes; we had all of our dogs snake-proofed by a professional trainer. This is done with a shock collar… excuse me… a “stimulation” collar. Although Tank was a bull in a china shop, he was also very sensitive and soft, and the collar made a lasting impression on him. We’d used one to cure his constant barking in Washington.

The trainer used real rattlesnakes with their mouths taped shut. Tank went through the initial steps of the training and did well, recognizing that if he approached or looked at the snake, he would get zapped. In the final segment they put the dog and owner about 50 feet apart, with the snake in between them. The dog should recognize the snake and go out of his way to avoid it and get to his owner. Tank looked at Dennis, and the snake, made a hard right and headed for home! He went clear out to the edge of the property, detoured through some cars, and ended up on the spectators’ hill, cowering in front of me! Dennis and the trainer were still in position down at the bottom of the hill with the rattlesnake. Our big sissy dog…but the training worked. When we came home, he alerted us to the garden hose. And finally, one day we had a king snake in the house and Tank froze in place. He wouldn’t move until Dennis came over to see what was wrong.

Tank loved everyone so you would think he wasn’t much of a watchdog. One winter night in Washington, he went out to the barn with me while I fed the horses. All of a sudden he was hunched up, head low, growling at the closed barn door. I didn’t know what to do. The door suddenly opened, and there was Dennis, just arrived home from work, coming out to say hi. As soon as Tank recognized him, down went the hackles and he was all wiggles. But for a minute there, my protector wasn’t going to let anyone in that barn.

Every Lab needs his own boy. And every little boy loved Tank. We used to joke that we needed to rent a kid for Tank to play with. Although he never had his own little boy, he soaked up the attention of every child he met. I can remember him following our horse shoer’s son down to the creek, and the two of them spent hours playing in the water together, hiking up and down the length of the creek, jumping and climbing, fishing and digging with sticks. Fetching and laughing like a couple of puppies.

My little niece Kirra was just learning to talk. I usually brought Tank along when I visited, but one time I left him at home. I went into the bathroom when I arrived and Kirra followed me, stood outside the door, and turned to her momma. “Tank?” she asked. That was the first word I ever heard her say.

June 8, 2003

Tank died in my arms that Sunday afternoon. It was awful and beautiful at the same time. Something told me I needed to spend some time with Tank, though Dennis said he seemed okay. Okay, not good, but Tank had eaten pizza crusts last night, an indicator that he wasn’t TOO sick. I came over and knew immediately he was dying. My next-door neighbor Heidi, a vet, came over to help me. She had no drugs at home, so we could only make him comfortable.

I was useless, didn't know what to do. She told me to get a blanket so he'd be more comfortable, and we pulled him out of the doghouse so I could hold him. Tank didn't acknowledge me, but was clearly alive, struggling to breathe, and was bleeding from his mouth. Some unknown internal thing must have ruptured.

Heidi told me to tell Tank that it was okay to go, and that I loved him. So I did. I told him he could take his hedgehog with him, and suddenly Heidi said: "Terry, he's wagging his tail!" I turned to look, and sure enough. As I turned back to his face, he was gone. She and I both looked up with a start, but we were smiling. We made him happy, and we were happy his suffering was over so quickly.  It had been less than 15 minutes since I arrived at the house. 

I will never forget our last moments with Tank. He was a one in a million dog. He was 13 1/2 years old, lived a great life, and died in the arms of someone who loved him. What more could anyone ask for?

Terry Albert