One of the worst things about owning and becoming attached to a dog is that we humans usually outlive our dogs by a number of years. When we lost our Brittany spaniel several years ago we has a case of “empty rug by the fireplace syndrome” and began looking for another dog to fill our empty space at the house.
Being busy and getting up in age ourselves we decided that we weren’t quite up-to raising and training a young puppy and started looking around for an adult dog with a good background. We decided to look for a Labrador retriever since we’d had good luck with Labs in the past and already had a yellow Lab that, like us, was getting on in years.
With hopes high to find a young adult Labrador we started shopping around at the various kennels for a “broke dog.” It wasn’t hard to find an available dog that matched our needs but, wow!!! Prices for a broke Lab usually ran anywhere into the five-figure dollar range. It was time to retreat a bit in our specifications for a new Lab.
Since times are tough all over there were a lot of people and dog pounds wanting to give away (or sell at a very reasonable price) adult Labs but things just didn’t look right no matter where we looked. It was beginning to look like that new dog that we hoped to have as a member of our household (and buddy to go duck hunting with me for years to come) was going to be hard to find.
I often “surf the web” and Craig’s List hoping to find some outdoor item that I need and one day about a year ago I happened on an ad that simply said, “Five year-old, neutered male yellow Lab free to a good home.” On a whim, I replied to the listed address. That was the day that Nikki and Michael Kies and their dog Luke entered our lives.
Once the lines of communication were established on the telephone a very personable young lady named Nikki explained that the yellow lab she wanted to find a good home for was named Luke. Nikki’s husband (Michael) was once a bombardier and navigator on a U.S. Marine Corps Intruder jet and was frequently off fighting wars in the Middle East but now he was working as a defense contractor and still gone from home a lot. Nikki and Michael had a 2-½ year old son and another baby on the way and Luke was just a bit too much for Nikki to handle at this time. She hated to lose Luke but, if a good home could be found for her dog, she thought it best for the dog if he could have a better place to run and a human to spend more time with him. My ears were beginning to “perk-up.”
Telling Nikki that I’d like to meet her and Luke we agreed to set up a time and place. When I heard that the Kies were located in Newport, North Carolina I told Nikki that we had a house near Newport on South Creek near Aurora and I planned to be there within the next few days. “That would be great,” she said. “I grew up in Blounts Creek and went to school in Aurora myself. In fact, I believe I sat on the steps of your mother’s house in Aurora and listen to my cousin taking music lessons from your mother some years ago.”
Here I was sitting at our home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, talking to a person 450 miles away in Newport, North Carolina and it turns out that we both grew up in the same area. I even knew Bobby Pipkin, Nikki’s grandfather. It is, indeed, a small world.
On the appointed day for my initial meeting with Nikki and Luke we met at Mary’s Chapel where Nikki’s father (Harold Lewis) now lives. Nikki drove up, opened the car door and out jumped one of the largest Labrador retrievers I’ve ever seen. He was well muscled-out, a bit “rangy” and bursting with energy. I could see why an obviously expectant mother with a handful of young son could have a hard time handling a dog like this. As I watched Luke prance around the yard I began to wonder just how well trained he really was.
Those doubts disappeared as Nikki grabbed a handful of training dummies (bumpers) and started putting Luke through some of his training routines. This dog was not only well trained, he was brilliantly trained!
In fact, Nikki and Michael Kies (with the help of Hank Witten) had done most of the training of Luke themselves. Both liked to hunt ducks and the five-year old Luke was well trained on obedience, hand, whistle and voice commands as well. He was to come complete with custom dog bed, a bag of his favorite dog food, his AKC papers and up-to-date veterinarian’s medical records. The only condition that the Kies’ put on the transfer of ownership was that if I ever decided to get rid of Luke that they wanted him back.
I’ve had Luke under my care for a year now and “I gotta tell ya” I’ve never in my life had a better, well-trained dog. I work with him nearly every day just to keep his former training fresh in his mind but as far as his being a trained (broke) Labrador retriever; I have to say that Luke came to me that way “out of the box.” I’ve raised Chesapeake and Labrador retrievers, I’ve personally trained retrievers but I’ve never owned a dog as well trained as Luke.
My wife, Cynthia, is amazed at the way that Luke and I have bonded. Wherever I go, Luke goes. When I say to “heel” he’s immediately at my left side. When I command him to sit and stay, I think that he’d sit in the middle of a road and get run over by a car unless I told him to “come.” He’s beautiful on blind retrieves, multiple retrieves, sits on whistle or voice commands, takes hand commands from many yards away and, best of all, is a very, very enthusiastic hunter.
Michael Kies described Luke as being an “athlete” and that was an accurate description of Luke. Recently I was throwing dummies for him off a bulkhead that stood nearly 12 feet high off a packed clay walkway. On the first retrieve Luke assessed the situation and decided that to jump off that 12 foot-high bulkhead was a bit much. He wisely went around the wall to the Pamlico River shore and brought in the training dummy. On the second such retrieve Luke became bold and took a flying leap off that 12 foot-high bulkhead and landed like a cat on a hard-clay walkway. I nearly died when I saw him take the jump and figured for sure that Luke has at least one broken leg. Needless to say, I was very relieved when he was unscathed and wasn’t even sore the next day. I hope Luke never tries that again.
Luke gets along famously with our older yellow lab, Beau. Beau isn’t (and never will be) a hunter. He was raised in a “Yankee” kennel that specializes in producing seeing-eye dogs. We keep hoping that some of Luke’s unfailing retrieving and water instincts will rub off on Beau, but I don’t anticipate that ever happening. Beau is just a lovable pet.
Hunting buddies that have gotten to know Luke over the past year stand in awe of this dog and amazedly ask me if someone actually gave me that dog already trained like this. I always reply that you’d have to know Michael and Nikki Kies to understand this but they really love this dog as much as I do. They wanted what was best for Luke and that was to include his having a loving home, lots of land to run on and someone who’d hunt him as they’d trained him to hunt. I hope that I can live up to their expectations.