A cure for the summer blues


October 31, 2023

And a homecoming for a flat-coated retriever

by Jim Dodson

As I write this, I’ve just returned from East Hampton, New York, where I sat on the porch of a beautiful old house that belongs to my friends, Rees Jones, the famous golf-course architect, and his wife, Susan. The sun had just come up, and the first birds were chirping. Susan’s gardens were lush from recent rains. It was the day after Labor Day, and the summer crowds were finally winding their way home.

I’d be lying if I said I was sad to see this particular summer go. It was a real doozy back home in Carolina, the hottest and driest summer I can recall, which explains why I spent many days watering my wilted gardens that seemed prepared to give up the ghost. 

But I’m already in a November state of mind.

November, you see, is one of my two favorite months, when I pause to take inventory of the year, count my blessings and thank the Lord for unexpected gifts. 

This year, I’m starting early with a dog named Blue. He was the one great thing about summer’s end — beside summer’s end.

Up till the moment my wife, Wendy, found him, I was feeling intense lingering grief over the loss of my beloved dog Mulligan at the end of August last year. Mully, as I called her, was 17 and had been my faithful traveling pal since the October day in 2005 when I found her running wild and free on the shoulder of a busy highway near the South Carolina line, a filthy, joyful black pup that raced into my arms as if she knew I was there to save her — though I’m convinced it was the other way around. Whichever it was, we found each other and shared an uncommonly powerful bond to the very end. 

One of the saddest moments of my life was watching her soulful brown eyes close for the last time as she lay at my feet in the garden she helped me build. Or it felt like it at the time.

Grief is such untidy business. It squeezes your heart at unexpected moments. Every time I saw a dog that looked like Mully — a flat-coated retriever and border collie mix — I found myself almost aching with returning sadness. Even our aging and sweet old pit bull, Gracie, whom I call Piggie for the way she snorts when eating and sleeping, seemed to keenly feel Mully’s absence, despite the fact that pits are not known for displaying much emotion.

One day last fall, I happened upon the site for Red Dog Farm Animal Rescue Network, and there was a black-and-white female puppy looking for a forever home. I was sure Mully was sending her to us. So, on a lark, I filled out the paperwork and supplied proper references. A week or so later, we drove to a farm down in Asheboro to pick her up. 

We named her Winnie — either after Winnie-the-Pooh or my late friend Winnie Palmer, Arnold’s wonderful wife — I’m still not sure which. It wasn’t long before I started calling her Wild Winnie. She is an exceptionally smart and insanely joyful mix of Labrador retriever, English springer spaniel plus something her DNA results termed as “Super Mutt.” She is every bit that and more.

In truth, however, I wasn’t sure life in an old suburban city neighborhood would be sufficient for our beautiful Super Mutt’s needs. 

But I was wrong. Winnie quickly attached herself to Gracie the Bull and my wife, who took her to training classes and soon had her obediently performing an impressive repertoire of commands. Wendy also began taking Winnie to the local dog park, where she fell in with a band of rough-and-tumble regulars named Roger, Jack and Ellie that run, wrestle and chase each other until they drop from exhaustion. 

Winnie, in short, has been a joy. Without fail, she jumps into my lap every morning to give me a soppy lick of gratitude for finding her. 

But she’s clearly one of the girls. Wendy is her sun and moon. I’m just Wild Winnie’s fun playmate.

I was OK with that until the end of August, when the first anniversary of losing Mully approached. 

My intuitive wife seemed to divine that my normal “summer blues” were worse than ever this year. One afternoon as we shared a cool drink beneath the shade trees, she handed me her phone and said, smiling, “So what do you think?”

It was a photo of a beautiful black flat-coated retriever that looked exactly like Mully. 

“He’s over in Tennessee, a rescued young male who belonged to a lady who had to give him up. They say he’s sweet as can be, loves other dogs and even cats. They’re taking a load of rescued dogs to New England and will be passing through western Virginia this Friday evening. If you’re interested. I’ve already cleared our references.”

For several seconds I said nothing, just stared at the photo.

“You need your dog,” my wise wife quietly said.

So we drove to western Virginia and picked him up. On the two-hour drive home, he climbed up front and placed his head in my lap and fell asleep.

We named him Blue, my forever cure for the summer blues. After a bath, he was so black he was blue. My daughter, Maggie, suggested the name.

Blue follows me everywhere, lies at my feet and already answers to his name. Piggie and Winnie adore him. Ditto Boo Radley, the cat.

On the evening I arrived home from New York, Blue was the first one to greet me at the door, hopping up to give me a lick on the chin.

It was good to be home. 

For both of us.  SP

Jim Dodson is a New York Times bestselling author in Greensboro.


Join us for the
SouthPark Magazine Pro-Am benefiting Wheel Serve NC!


Saturday, June 1 at Olde Providence Racquet Club

Presented by Audi Charlotte

Spots are limited! Sign up to play today!