The White Lab and Mary Oliver

Because my husband was redoing the roof on the storage building this past weekend, he left the garage door open to haul stuff, and a white Lab wandered into our garage.

We tried to find her owner, assuming she hadn’t wandered too far. We let her wander into yards, hoping she’d wander home. We let her wander into the courtyard at the apartment complex, and though she seemed right at home there and played with the little dogs and little kids, that wasn’t her home either. Everyone we asked said they recognized her. No one knew where she was from. I knocked on two doors that I knew had light-colored Labs, but their dogs were accounted for. In short, I met lots of people yesterday—people from my own neighborhood.

Polo and Clover have been welcoming of the new dog. They all slept in the garage together on my daughter’s old mattress, covered with a purple sleeping bag. With the help of the little space heater that could, the garage was pretty toasty this morning.

I knew my daughter would want to keep the dog because she wants to keep every dog, but to my surprise, my husband seems to want to keep her, too. He’s never wanted a Lab, but he knows I’ve always wanted one. He likes that this dog is not a puppy, so she’s passed the destructive stage. He likes that she doesn’t bark. He likes that she’s been so friendly with other dogs and people. In fact, when a friend came by yesterday, she thought the Lab was our dog.

I can’t have a third dog. I’ve had three dogs before, and it was too much. Plus, I’m leaving town this week. I’m the one who does 90 percent of the dog duty in this house. I’ve seen this sort of enthusiasm fade before. I’m not judging the dog’s worthiness, just my own limitations.

The dog is too good to not have an owner. She can sit. She can stay. She likes to ride in the truck. She doesn’t bark.

Enough! I don’t want to like her.

I feel guilty because I’ve just read Mary Oliver’s latest collection of poems “Dog Songs,” and it appears that she has taken in many strays over the years. She lets in wandering dogs and lets them bring their friends, at least for some water. She despises leashes. She encourages dogs to break their ropes.

And while I’m very happy for Mary Oliver, she lives in Massachusetts, near the beach. I live in Texas, near sheep and goats and cattle and oh, so many white-tailed deer. Mary doesn’t have children; I do. Mary is a full-time poet; I just play with the stuff. She has a Pulitzer Prize; I have a job.

I am not Mary Oliver. If I were to keep this Lab, I would not turn into Mary Oliver.

So, if you have lost a mature white female Lab with an orange collar, a Lab with sad brown eyes and paws the size of pancakes, please come and claim her. Come quickly. My daughter has already named her Delilah.


P.S. We learned yesterday that her owners live two and a half blocks away. She’s back home now. She seemed just as happy to be there as to be here, just as happy with her own big yard as with our small one.

Mary Oliver, you taught me “why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life and the dog down the street.” I didn’t know I could love them both. But I did use a leash to take our new friend home. 🙂


  1. I’ll admit, I wanted you to keep the dog. But imagining how hard it would be for the actual owners to be without their pet, that gave me pause. The ending you got really was the happiest kind.

    But I wonder what Polo and Clover think of all of this?

  2. “If I were to keep this Lab, I would not turn into Mary Oliver” made me laugh. I get what you mean, I think (said the part time poet).

  3. “paws the size of pancakes??” Oh, goodness, Megan. YES YOU ARE A MARY OLIVER. Love this. And you.

  4. Oh! It’s good I didn’t read this before her owners came to claim her! You know me and Labs.

    And, I’m so glad you got this book. So very glad.

  5. i hope that you told them that her name has been changed to Delilah…

  6. I love Labs. There was Elsie the black–who came from Elsie. It fit since my FIL raised dairy cows. Then Rose the yellow… with the pink nose who was anything but fragrant (in a good way.) Now we’ve got these two little things.

    Delilah’s a good name. Will you share custody now?

    Oh, oh, and I love this line!

    “I’ve seen this sort of enthusiasm fade before. I’m not judging the dog’s worthiness, just my own limitations.”

    And one more thing… there are paw prints the size of pancakes on my daughter’s porch. We’re not sure it’s a dog…