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b2ap3_thumbnail_katiesmall.jpgIt’s 10:13 Monday night and she’s lying next to me, chewing an ice cube. She’s been asleep for hours, which means I probably won’t be.

She grumbles, groans, yawns, stretches, rolls on her side, flips on her back, gets up, shakes, scratches, looks for that long-melted ice cube. Clearly bored – and wide awake – she swipes her toy off the half-wall, lets it fall with a thump, meanders across the room to something else.

Oh wait, she has to go out. Now.

We’re back – after a jaunt outside for some business, some stick-chewing, some wandering around. I pour a bowl of cereal and milk. She harasses me for a bite, settles on trying to nibble my toes. I squirm, walk, move, try to keep eating, put the bowl down while emptying a wastebasket she’s climbing into after a discarded Sour Patch Xploderz bag (really, boys, in a trash can the dog can access?).

I move to the kitchen table to finish my cereal. She’s at the couch, trying to climb up, whining, whimpering, growling a little, pondering how to work that small hole in the slipcover. I put on my best angry face and tell her “no, no, no.” It works, for now.

Oh wait, we have to go out again. More business, a trip to the neighbor’s bush, enough noise to stir the dogs who live outside a street over (sorry) and then a run back to the door when something startles her.

Back in the house, she bites and chews, bites and chews, runs around, watches me wipe down the counters and put a cup in the dishwasher. When I finish, she pounces – ignoring a squeaky pterodactyl, a squeaky rubber dumbbell and a green-and-white knotted rope to lunge at me. Five minutes later, 10:58, she’s asleep in her bed and I wonder where most of an hour went.

This is a typical night with Katie, the yellow Labrador Retriever we invited into our home after almost 12 dogless years. She’s 11 weeks old, cute and a mess. Katie was the largest of four in a litter bred by Emery Jones (Taylor). Emery’s daughter named the puppy Katerina or Katarina or Caterina – we’re not sure of the spelling. We call her Katie and she’s loved like no dog, ever, just like everybody else’s dog. She’s a menace, a noodge, a goof, still a baby and a new – irreplaceable – part of the Clancy family. Ryan (19) is in college, Jack (almost 17) is a junior in high school, Nolan (11) is a sixth-grader. Until Katie, my wife Sam was the only female in this house. Now she’s got the daughter she always wanted, though I think Sam was thinking pink ribbons not collar and leash.

Before this dog, what did I do with my time? With the minutes, hours – heck, days – I now spend chasing her, wrestling with her, feeding her, walking her, saying “no” to her over and over, taking things away from her, teaching her to sit (she’s actually pretty good) and to come when she’s called (ehhh…). Most weekdays, we walk at least 7 furlongs around the Fair Hill Race Course track, visit her friends at Fasig-Tipton and the National Steeplechase office, charm people in the parking lot, cross Route 273 while stopping traffic – literally and figuratively. Monday morning at work, she fell asleep three times only to be woken up by visitors – we never get visitors – including a jockey, her agent, a horse dentist looking for a puppy and a college professor. Katie chewed shoelaces, nibbled fingers, sat, stared, blinked, ran up the steps and back down, took some newspapers out of the rack, tried to nibble on some cardboard, thought about nibbling on some books.

I’m a father three times over, but there’s something about a dog. She’s like a child, only different. She’s more dependent, so waiting for the next adventure, so true, so peaceful (when she’s asleep), so active (when’s she’s awake). In a few weeks, she’s outgrown sleeping in my lap. She’s also outgrown one collar and one crate.

And, at 11:19, she’s up. Off and out of one bed to another – this one a blue fleece Home Sweet Home blanket in front of the couch. It used to be my blanket, now it’s hers.

More than 20 years ago (can that be?), our first dog Barkley chewed off a corner while I slept next to him. Barkley was a yellow Lab too, a light cream color like Katie. Older brother to two boys, he didn’t make it to the third. Barkley died at 10, just before Nolan was born. It seemed too soon then. Labs are supposed to make it to 12, 13, 14 even. I can close my eyes and hear the vet on the phone, feel the boom in my gut. I can see the clinic’s waiting room, the smaller exam room. I can feel Barkley’s head in my lap, hear the explanation of what would happen, see his sides stop rising and falling. I can feel the hug with my pregnant wife back out in the lobby.

One of the great sorrows in my life.

With a new baby, we shelved the idea of another dog, waited, said “someday” over and over and over to the boys. We planted a tree; Barkley’s ashes are in a box under it. I smile when I see Katie sit there – chewing on a stick. And I wonder why someday took so long.

This is Horse Racing

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