Sam and I were married in July of 1999. Just a few short months after the wedding, we were still settling in to married life. We had talked about maybe getting a dog but decided to wait a little while until things slowed down a little.
Then Sam came home one day and told me about a litter of puppies he had heard about. Seems a vet in Ennis, Montana had bred a chocolate lab with a german shepherd and was trying to find homes for the sweet pups. We debated back and forth a little and I don't remember coming to a resolution on whether or not we would get one. All I remember is seeing Sam pulling into the driveway the next day with the cutest little puppy I had ever seen.
I held him right away and he snuggled up as close to my neck as he could, licking my face and whimpering. He had these huge, floppy ears and giant paws that made him look sort of goofy when he walked. He settled down right away and was content just to be held.
We waited a day or so to name him, as we wanted something that really fit. We tried a number of names for him but none of them really suited this dog. Most puppies are full of energy and in between sleeping for long periods they will run around like crazy, but not his one. He was just mellow. Actually I think the word we used at the time was 'lazy.' He was so sleepy all the time and just liked to sit in our laps. Even when it was time to eat he would lay down in front of his bowl, with his head hung over the bowl and lap up his food. We would stand him up and slide the bowl away and he would crawl over to the bowl, flop himself down in front of it again and eat a few more pieces of the food.
It entertained us immensely watching him eat in this fashion. It was while watching him eat that I realized what he needed was a sweet old man name. That is where we came up with 'Elmer' and we knew right away that we had picked the right name.
Don't think for a minute that just because Elmer was a lazy puppy that he wasn't mischevious or crazy. He definitely perked up and acted more typical after a while, but he had a lot of growing to do right from the start. You see, Elmer was the runt of the litter. The smallest of the group and we were told he probably wouldn't get very big. We told ourselves that for a long time, denying the fact that his paws were as big as dinner plates. ;) (Elmer evenutally topped out at about 120 pounds as an adult...he certainly didn't remain the runt!)
As a puppy, we let Elmer sleep in our bed with us. He was so little and sweet and of course he would cry if we left him downstairs (our bedroom was upstairs). At first we would have to carry him up and down the stairs because he was so scared of them. Nothing could coerce him to try it out on his own! Our bed was built up pretty tall and Elmer was scared of the edges. He had to sleep right in the middle of the bed and wouldn't go near the edge. Even as he got older (and bigger!) Elmer was terrified of that edge. He would roll over in the middle of the night and crush us, trying to stay directly in the middle of that bed.
That first winter we were so excited to introduce Elmer to the snow...and he LOVED it! He always had so much energy when it would snow. When we would get deep drifts in the yard, Elmer would bound in the deepest parts and come back out sneezing fluffy snow.
Elmer always had a highly irrational fear of the vacuum. I never did understand that and he never did get over it. I would have to send him outside every time I turned the thing on, and even then if he was close to the screen door and heard the vacuum he would go running.
Another great love Elmer had was swimming. He was never happier than when he was in the water. We used to take him to a little pond not far from our first house in Bozeman and throw tennis balls as far out as we could...he would swim out and bring them back as quickly as he could and he was always eager to go right back out. As he got a little older, Sam even trained him as a duck dog since he had such natural tendencies toward it.
Elmer liked birds and we always had quite a few at our houses in Montana. The funny thing was that we would get hordes of sparrows and red-winged black birds and they would fight over the feeders and take over the yard and Elmer would just watch them from the back patio. But whenever a robin dared to step foot into our yard, Elmer would bark and go running after it. I don't know what he had against the robins, but he never let a single one hang out in our backyard.
Elmer was my constant protector. Sam worked nights during those first years of our marriage and Elmer was a great watchdog. I always felt safe being home alone, knowing that Elmer could take care of any intruder or problem. He was also incredibly protective. Even as we added children to the family, Elmer became very attached and quite protective of each of them. He would have done anything to keep us all safe.
Speaking of children, we were a little nervous when we were expecting our firstborn. We really had no idea how Elmer would respond. He was four years old and had captivated our attention all by himself for that entire time. I worried that he would be jealous. We brought a blanket home from the hospital to get Elmer used to the new scent. Turns out I shouldn't have worried. He loved Henry right from the very start. As Henry grew and learned to crawl, pull ears and tails, sneak food out of Elmer's bowl, turn Elmer's water bowl into a mud bath and ride Elmer like a horse....Elmer adored him through it all. We would say, "Give Henry kisses!" and Elmer would lick his face.
Same thing happened when Jonah came along, and Bridget too. He loved each of the kids and never showed anything but patience to them. Even though Elmer was never good at the game of fetch (he just hated to drop the ball or stick) he would always drop anything for Henry. And when Henry would throw the object just as far as he could and it would go about two feet away, Elmer would gladly bound the one jump away to get it and wait for him to throw it again.
Elmer had many camping adventures, hiking trips and bike rides with us. He enjoyed running with us and also running along with our bikes. Sam has a great story about the time Elmer had a run-in with a moose. Sam was mountain biking and came across a mama moose who was separated from her calf by the road. He stopped and tried to grab Elmer, but Elmer went running after the calf. I don't remember the details, but I do know that moose are notoriously angry when it comes to messing with their offspring so we felt pretty lucky that he survived that encounter.
Elmer had a special affinity for very large sticks. When we were out in the woods hiking or whatever, Elmer had a knack for finding the biggest stick (or sometimes LOG) that he could find and trying to get us to play. I have some great pictures of him dragging sticks that are about ten feet long, trying to convince us to throw them for him. :)
Elmer and Sam always had a special relationship. Sam enjoys puttering around the house and working on projects. Elmer was his constant companion through it all and Sam would keep a running commentary about what he was working on. Elmer would lie down beside wherever Sam was working and when Sam would leave the room to get something Elmer would faithfully follow.
When we moved to Texas, Elmer gladly took the plunge with us. He enjoyed the property we own out here as he has always been fascinated by squirrels and they are abundant here with all our trees. He treed a number of them (and even caught a few) and always enjoyed watching the birds. In the summer his thick coat would get pretty warm, but Elmer enjoyed the shade in our backyard and always did enjoy a nice breeze. In the winter he would always have a bit more energy as the temperatures dropped a bit.
When we had our house fire a month ago, Elmer played with the firemen when they weren't fighting the fire. Even afterward when they were cleaning up and packing up their hoses and everything, there was a group of firefighters throwing sticks for him.
Everyone who ever met Elmer loved him, even those who wouldn't consider themselves 'dog people'. He was just that kind of dog. We had a number of people over the years tell us they thought he was the best dog in the world...and we know that is true.
We'll miss you, Elmer.
You were an invaluable part of our family for the last ten and a half years.
We love you!