Soon after I got her, I decided I just couldn't keep her. She was too big, too enthusiastic, entirely too puppyish. When she came inside, a wag from her tail destroyed the living room. At night I heard her sorting her loot in her burrow beneath the house. If she heard something mysterious, she ran, barking and hitting her head on every one of the support beams between her and the noise. Our tiny wood-framed cottage shuddered with each rap of her head.
Rosie, aka Houdini.
The fence didn't faze her - a disaster when coupled with Rosie's regrettable klepto tendencies. We soon discovered why she was called a "retriever." Shoes, clothes, toys piled up in the yard and drifted under the house. Periodically, I'd go door to door with a box of goodies. "Is this your son's boot?" I'd ask. Or, delicately indicating a folded garment, "Uh, could these be off your clothesline?"
Frequently, a neighbor would knock on the door. "Have you seen...?" he'd ask. Or, "Do you mind if I look around for...?"
One fine afternoon, Rosie retrieved a wallet. "I just set it on the porch for a second," the man said, shaking his head in admiration. "She's quick!"
But it all became too much, and I decided to look for another home for her. I found a young man who was delighted to get her. "Golden retrievers make great hunting dogs," he told me.
"Listen," I said, "she's absolutely terrified of loud noises. We had to hold her during the Fourth of July fireworks."
"I can make a hunting dog out of any golden," he said. "No problem."
I thought the neighbors would rejoice. But when I went out to spread the good news, I heard, "Gave her away? You're joking right? You'll break my kids' hearts!" and "She's the neighborhood dog! My wife buys her dog biscuits. We all love her! What were you thinking?"
But the neighborhood furor didn't last long. Three short hours after Rosie left, there was a knock on the door. "She'll never, ever make a hunting dog," the guy declared as Rosie bounced past me.
"OK," I sighed, to the crash of the coffee table falling over.
Rosie's best friend, Bear, was a sheltie who lived down the street. Rosie would go down to Bear's and invite him over to play. He'd follow her home and, together, they'd gallop around and around the house in panting circles.
One morning, Bear's owner called. She was laughing. "I got up this morning, and guess who I found sleeping on my couch, head on the pillow?" It seems Rosie had taken advantage of Bear's dog door. Or Bear had invited her for a slumber party.
Another neighbor had a close encounter of the Rosie kind one night. She was a young widow with three kids and she often had insomnia. One night, she got up out of bed and went into the living room. She didn't turn the light on, intending to curl up on the couch and watch TV. She settled herself and picked up the remote. Just then, a huge shadowy head rose before her. As she sucked in air to scream, a warm wet tongue caressed her face. Her kids had let Rosie into the house and forgot to let her out.
I was in line at the grocery store. I was trying to decide where I'd seen the man standing behind me, when he said, "I know you from somewhere, right."
Finally, we realized that he had moved in down the street from me.
"You know," he said, "I'd sure like to find out who owns that golden retriever, Rosie."
I'll admit I toyed with the notion of saying, "Yeah, I would, too!" Finally, I confessed. "She's mine. Has she been bothering you?"
"I was out under my car, working on it. All of a sudden, there was Rosie. I guess she thought I was being sociable, because she stretched out, too, with her head on my chest!"
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Sorry? Forget that! I'm training her to come around every afternoon for a biscuit." He smiled. "She's the best listener I've met in a while."
When Rosie fell off a cliff at the beach and broke her shoulder, there was a steady stream of visitors for her. Some neighbors brought gifts - rawhide bones or dog treats or chew toys - for the invalid. One brought the boot Rosie had retrieved (and I had returned) dozens of times.
"She seems to like it," he muttered, his adolescent face flushed. "It's no big deal."
The folks on our street always had a common topic of conversation. "Did you see Rosie after her bath yesterday? She looked gorgeous!" I overheard my elegant elderly neighbor say to the punk-rock musician who rented the duplex next door.
"See her?" he exclaimed, his nose hoop glinting, "Man, I must have left my door open when I sacked out. She was snoozing right next to me when I woke up!" The sound of their shared laughter was like Bach paired with heavy metal, but oddly pleasing to the ear.
One day, I was walking Rosie on the other side of town. A woman came up to me. "Isn't this Rosie?" she asked. She looked me suspiciously up and down. When I finally convinced her that I was truly Rosie's owner, she said, "I'm a friend of the people across the street from you. My kids love Rosie." Then she added, "I've always wanted to meet you!" For one brief glittering moment, I knew how it felt to be a celebrity.
Rosie has been gone for years, but when I see someone from the old neighborhood, our conversation inevitably turns to her.
Rosie had a way of burrowing into your life, klepto-ing your heart, and dragging it home. She wove a tapestry, a family portrait, from the differing threads of a motley group of strangers.
At the very least, she was extraordinary.