Sandy breeds and raises Golden Retrievers in Grand Junction, Colorado. I met her at the small airport there, while we were both sitting at the gate waiting for a flight. While sorting through her wallet next to me she happened to pull out one of her business cards, and as soon as I saw the embossed dog-in-profile on one side, it was all the opening I needed.
"You run dogs, too?" I asked, explaining that I lived with border collies.
Her face lit up. As she talked, she pushed back her carefully done gray hair, animatedly, touched the bright scarf that partly concealed the wrinkles around her neck, and moved the light sweater she had thrown over her bag. Sandy was 66 years old, I learned, and divorced, and had been "in dogs" since the 1970's, when she was single. She hadn't wanted to be single back then, but well, so it was: "Vietnam took so many of the men of my generation, there just weren't that many good ones left."
The dogs, instead, became her life. She showed and still shows her Goldens in obedience and agility. She very rarely breeds; at the moment she was co-owner of a bitch, she told me, but the dog wasn't a very good parent to her pups, which sometimes happened, and not just with dogs.
"I did eventually get married."
She hesitated, looking down.
"But things didn't work out, Sandy?"
"No. Well. They worked out like this. I left Colorado and went to New Jersey. Why? Because I'd met and fallen in love again with my high school sweetheart. Can you believe it? It sounds so romantic, doesn't it?"
It did, I said . . . and waited.
She adjusted her scarf. "Yes. Yes. It was a wonderful little story to tell people. But it turned out that was all it was."
It turned out her new husband didn't like dogs. Especially males.
"So he made me give up all my dogs, my males, and get rid of all my agility equipment. And do you want to know what? It was NOT worth it. I ended up hating New Jersey, and that man I was living with--he wasn't the boy I remembered from high school. But still, I hung in there for three years."
She touched the sweater beside her. "I am a bulldog."
Eventually she gave up on the marriage and returned to Colorado, where she bought all of her agility equipment back and began raising Goldens again.
"And things are better now?" I asked.
"Oh yes, I am SO much happier. My life is wonderful again, easy again. And just look at this!"
From behind her luggage she pulled out a puppy carrier, which until that moment I hadn't even seen.
"I am. I am going to get my newest dog."
I didn't even need to ask:
"A male," Sandy said, with a smile.