The Dogs in My Life: Part IV – Copper

In Part I, I told you about my first dog, Sandy, a Golden-mix from my childhood. Part II was devoted to Einstein and Part III to Ranger, both purebred Golden Retrievers. Each of these dogs made an impact on my life, and I loved them all, but none made an impact the way Copper did.

It was December 2002, less than a month after we had to put Ranger down due to an inoperable tumour. Neither Mike nor I was ready for another dog. We needed time to heal. Fate had other plans.

At the time I was with a running club training for a half marathon. As with any running group, there were people of all paces, though we did tend to meet for coffee after our Sunday long runs to lament aches, pains, and cold weather. I was one of the slower runners, so I was surprised when one of the speedier ones, Teresa, sat next to me.

“I heard you lost your dog,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

I nodded, not able to speak.

“The thing is, my friend owns Kyon Kennels and they have an eight-month-old puppy that was a return to breeder. They’re looking for a good home for  him. I thought about you and Mike.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “We’re not looking for another dog. Not yet.” Especially not one returned to the breeder.

Teresa patted my hand and handed me a piece of paper with Kyon’s website. “Copper’s picture is on there. You can see him on Boxing Day, if you’d like. They don’t believe in placing dogs in new homes before Christmas.”

I went home, checked online, and found Copper’s picture (no mean feat in a time of internet dial-up). “Hey, Mike, come see.”

“Well,” Mike said, “Let’s go see him. We don’t have to bring him home.”

HA! You can imagine how that went. A slightly overweight puppy ran out of the breeder’s barn and sat on my feet. Well, I needed my feet, didn’t I?

We brought Copper, CKC name Kyon’s Time to Shine, home on December 26, 2002. He’d never seen stairs and had no idea how to navigate them. When I let him out in the yard, a car drove by and spooked him. “I think we have our work cut out for us,” Mike said.

He was wrong. A gentle soul, if you taught Copper something once, whether it be a command or an admonishment, he obeyed forever. After a couple of months, were even able to leave an open bowl of dog cookies on a small table at the front door. He didn’t eat them unless we gave him one. He walked on a flat leash as though he’d been trained to heel at birth. If he had a fault, it was that he wasn’t a great car traveller. Gravol took care of that, too, and we even drove to Florida with him when Mike did his first Ironman in Clearwater. I can remember when the US Customs guard asked if Copper was aggressive. As if on cue, Copper sat up in the back seat, his red Dino stuffed toy in his mouth. I think the guard may have actually cracked a smile.

For 12 years, Copper helped us get through some tough times, including my 2008 breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. That dog didn’t leave my side from the moment I got home from the hospital at night to the moment I left for treatment every morning. 

But of course, the heartbreak of dog ownership is that we outlive them. On Boxing Day 2014, exactly 12 years after we’d brought Copper into our home, he died of stomach cancer. I don’t think I’ve ever cried quite so hard. It truly was like losing my best friend.

Today, I view Copper as a wonderful  blessing in my life. But even as I write this, I find a tear or two trickling down my cheek. Here’s a two-minute video of his life with us, should you care to watch it.

Thanks for reading.




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The Dogs in My Life Part III: Ranger

By Judy Penz Sheluk

Ranger with Judy, fishing in Collingwood

In my previous posts, I shared stories of my first dog, Sandy, and my second dog, Einstein. Neither of those stories had a happy ending, though they did come with a message, and hopefully, a lesson that can be shared.

You might think that after our heartache with Einstein that my husband, Mike, and I would find another breed. But we both love Golden Retrievers, and so this time we were determined to do things differently. We were going to do our research.

This was in November 1992, long before the Internet and Google, so we bought books, read lots, and went to dog shows. It was at one of those shows that we met Liz and Bruce Russell, owners of Gowrielea Goldens. As luck would have it, a litter was due in January 1993. We went to the premises, where we were able to meet the mother, as well as several other Gowrielea Goldens. We’d found our breeder.

Gowreilea’s Forest Ranger was born on January 23, 1993. Every Sunday for the next seven weeks, we went to the Russell’s to watch Ranger and his siblings grow. Week eight, Ranger came home with us, pretty much house trained.

Obedience school followed, and Ranger thrived on learning his commands. He was a gentle, bright boy who loved his soft toys and could be trusted alone in the house (though he did like to sleep in his crate with the door open).  In fact, his only real fault was a propensity to pull on his leash (not sure if there were gentle leaders and harnesses then, if there were, we weren’t aware of them). He also had “selective” hearing when off leash, but only if water was nearby. That dog loved to swim.

For more than nine years, Ranger was a terrific dog and wonderful companion.  He particularly loved a cottage Mike and I rented every October in Collingwood, right on Georgian Bay. It was while we were vacationing there in 2002 that we realized something was very wrong. We cut our vacation short and took Ranger to our vet, only to discover he had a large, inoperable tumor. He died in November, in our arms, in his own home, just two months shy of his tenth birthday. At the time, Mike and I truly believed we’d never have room in our hearts for another dog, let alone another Golden Retriever.

Then we met Copper. Stay tuned for Part IV!

In non-dog related news, my most recent audiobook, LIVE FREE OR TRI, is now available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. And yes, one of the short stories take place in Collingwood!

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The Dogs In My Life: Part II Einstein by Judy Penz Sheluk

In my first post, I wrote about Sandy, a golden-something mix from my childhood. It would be many years before I would get another dog, but I finally managed to talk my husband, Mike, into getting a purebred Golden Retriever. We named him Einstein, after the dog in Dean Koontz’s novel, Watchers

When it came to Einstein, Mike and I did most things wrong, starting with where we bought him. Not from a reputable breeder, but from an ad in the newspaper. Our first clue should have been where we picked Einstein up (a condo apartment). Our second clue should have been the fact that his mother wasn’t anywhere to be found. But we were young and excited about getting a dog. Who had time to do research?

We were to learn, too late, and much later, that Einstein was a puppy mill dog, but we loved him all the same, even after he failed obedience school. Twice. I can still remember the horrified look on one owner’s face when we were instructed to “switch dogs” with another owner. As I handed her Einstein’s leash, I overheard the hushed tone of her husband whispering, “Oh my god, you’ve got Einstein.”

Einstein settled down a lot when he was 15 months. Too much, in hindsight, though we were just so happy when he did that we didn’t think to question it. We just figured he was growing up to be a good dog. And he was… he never barked, growled, jumped up on people, or any of that. Not even when he was at his craziest. He just wanted to be loved and petted, to be part of our family. Einstein had grown up to be the perfect puppy.

Mike was out of town (as he often was during his working life) when one evening, as I was walking Einstein,  I noticed a van following us. I started walking faster until the guy rolled down his window and said that he was trying to find a certain house number. The driveways in our neighborhood were long (ours was 85′ long) and it was dusk. I bought the story but hustled my way, dog in tow, to our house.

I was inside the house about five minutes when the doorbell rang. It was the guy from the van. I opened the door, but kept the screen door closed. Einstein was sitting next to me, growling softly.

“I’m here from the gas company,” the man said, holding a clipboard. I remember thinking how clean his nails were, how smooth his hands. My dad had been in the trades. He could never keep his nails looking like they’d just been manicured, or his hands not roughened by weather, no matter how hard he tried. Why was the van white, without a gas company logo? And why was Einstein growling?

“I have a report here to inspect your furnace,” the man said, at which point he attempted to open the screen door. Einstein was having none of it. My calm, quiet dog went crazy, barking, baring his teeth, and literally scaring the guy into stepping backwards. I slammed the door, shaking, and then called the gas company.

Einstein Sheluk

You can probably guess what comes next. The gas company hadn’t sent a guy to look at my furnace. I called the police, who came promptly. There was a man, the officer told me, fitting my guy’s description. He’d been getting unsuspecting women into their basements and then beating and raping them. Without Einstein’s intervention, I would have been his next victim.

Einstein was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer two weeks later. He died at eighteen months, a puppy mill pup who never really had a chance. But to this day, I believe he was put on this earth to save me from getting raped, or worse.

RIP Einstein. Your spirit has lived on in every dog I’ve owned since. It lives on, inside me. #ForeverGrateful


A Holiday Giveaway: Win one an Audible audiobook copy of either The Hanged Man’s Noose OR Skeletons in the Attic (winners choice) by signing up for my newsletter before December 15th. The winner will be notified by email before December 18th. Here’s the link.




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