Rudder (FKA Shadow) and Tuggboat, or “Tugger” as we know him (FKA Ducky) are both rescues through New England Lab Rescue. NELR brings labs from high-kill shelters in the south to New England for adoption. Rudder is a Black Lab mix and is about 2.5 years old, we think. Tugg is a pure-bred English Yellow Lab, formerly papered by the AKC, and is 1.5 years old. Both were on kill-lists in their respective shelters on the day they were pulled by NELR. Rudder has been with us since March of 2015, and Tugg since September of 2015.
We got Rudder first. After too many years of being dog-less, we were finally able to move to a house that allowed dogs. We started searching locally and nationally, specifically for lab-mixes. We came close to adopting another black lab, but some concerns about aggression with other dogs (we knew we wanted a pair- or more…) led to us backing off. That dog has since been adopted. While they resumed the search, their NELR adoption coordinator emailed pictures of Rudder, then about year old. Jenn knew immediately. She told Norm, without question, that he was the one. Norm wasn’t so sure. Rudder kind of seemed, well, boring. Little personality. It turns out, he was dead wrong.
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Rudder had been a stray. No one knew his background, but his foster family said he seemed like a nice guy, super food motivated, and a “counter surfer.”
On a cold day in March of 2015, Norm and Jenn drove to Kittery, Maine, to pick up Rudder. They had never met him, and were just going on faith, confidence in their dog skills, and Jenn’s absolute resolve that he was “the one.” They waited a long time for the van to roll into the parking area, and could hear barks from inside. When the driver got out of the van, she immediately said “Who is here for Rudder? He needs to pee, BAD.” Rudder was the first one out of the van. On the leash, a quick pee, and he settled in to meet his new family. He was a happy, affectionate, well-mannered little guy. Any doubts Jenn and Norm had about Rudder’s fit in the new family dissolved as soon as Rudder jumped in the back seat of the truck and promptly put his head on Norm’s shoulder as they made the trek home. It was love at first sight, for Norm and Rudder in particular, who share a deep bond to this day.
From day one, Rudder was their constant companion. Rudder would go to business meetings and social events with them. He took to boats and the water immediately, and was a happy adventurer for walks on the Lake Champlain Ice, trips to Maine to run on the rocks, a try at Dock Diving, swimming afternoons with furry friends, and the occasional trip to the dog park. He learned quickly, as he still does, and was and is easy to have around, all the time.
Around August of last year, just about a year ago, Norm and Jenn started thinking about adding another pup to the pack. Rudder had adjusted so well and they had more time and energy and love to share. Rudder, for his part, was adjusting so well, but had lingering and intense separation anxiety. Jenn and Norm thought that maybe having a buddy with him might ease the anxiety and make home life even easier. Jenn had her heart set on a blockhead yellow lab. Devoted and loyal to NELR (in fact both were volunteering with NELR on fundraising and outreach) they reached out to the folks there and asked them to keep their eyes out for one. Jenn and Norm figured it would be months or longer before they found one. Not long after, they received an email from their friends at NELR. They had found a pure bred yellow block head. He was 8 months old, surrendered to the shelter by his owner, and was on the kill list. NELR pulled him immediately and emailed Jenn and Norm. He never made it onto their adoption list.
Again, Jenn just knew. They debated about whether to adopt Tugg, whether it was good timing, could they handle two, how would Rudder handle it? But in the end, both knew that Tugg was coming home with them.
On Labor Day weekend last year, Jenn, Norm, and this time Rudder too, drove the truck down to Kittery to pick up Tugboat. Unlike with Rudder, both were quietly having doubts and reservations, but swallowed their concerns and followed their hearts. Tugg made the trip up from the south in a van full of puppies, many his age, but he was absolutely a giant compared to them. Big, strong, lean, and powerful. He jumped out of the crate he was sharing with two other little puppies, and promptly peed on Jenn’s feet. He was a big goof, easily distracted, and strong enough to require a firm hand -or two- on the leash.
Rudder and Tugg got along from the first moments. A quick sniff, some wrestling and barking, and then, just like before, both boys loaded into the back seat of the truck and took off for home. Unlike Rudder, Tugg was alert the entire time. Watching out the windows, licking Norm and Jenn, trying to engage Rudder who, like any older brother, tried to ignore the annoying big dog and go back to sleep.
Rudder and Tugg, then and now, are within a few pounds of each other, but Tugg towers over Rudder. He is way bigger, faster, stronger, and much more puppy-like. They fit the older brother/ younger brother molds to a “t”.
The first night with Tugg was a long one. He wouldn’t settle, was constantly on the move, listening to sounds, climbing on top of Jenn to cuddle, trying to wrestle with Rudder who was summarily annoyed with him. Much of that hasn’t changed to this day. Norm and Jenn have learned that it isn’t anxiety. Tugboat just is full of energy and joy. He would rather play than sleep, rather chase balls than be inside, and from the minute he wakes up (at 5:30 am) to the time he literally falls asleep sitting up with a ball in his mouth, he is on the go, always looking for someone to play with and a reason to run.
Before Tugg joined them, Rudder had proven himself to be reliable off the leash, eager to chase toys into the ocean or lake and run on the rocks, beach, or in the woods. Jenn and Norm hoped that Tugg would simply stay with his older brother and follow his lead. One day on an island in Maine, Tugg got loose from Norm. Just thinking about it now gives them both anxiety. Tugg sniffed around the house for a bit, and then just ambled off. He ignored calls to him and offers of treats. He wandered through the yard, in the neighbors and then up the hill and through the woods. Rudder followed. Norm and Jenn and their collected friends went into crisis mode, mobilizing to find the two adventurers. A while later, Norm found them jogging down the road, happy as could be, Tugg in the lead and Rudder following with a sheepish “brother, we shouldn’t be doing this” look on his face. Norm opened the door to the truck and both boys jumped right in as if nothing were happening.
Life with these two is a joy. Truly, Jenn and Norm can’t imagine life without them. Sure, they get wound up sometimes. Rudder gets grumpy when his meals aren’t on time and insists on being right next to one or both Jenn and Norm all the time. Tugg cannot stop chasing balls is constantly on the go, even in the house, playing, wrestling Rudder, or jumping from couch to cough. But the joys far outweigh the hassles. They are two of the smartest, most loyal, most affectionate, loving creatures of any species either Norm or Jenn have had the pleasure to know, let alone share a house, bed, and life with. They bring constant smiles, have unique and fun loving personalities and are, despite the cliché, very much members of this family. Life doesn’t always revolve around them here, but it certainly involves them and accounts for them every step of the way.
The idea, the very notion, that both of them were scheduled to be killed; that Rudder spent his early life alone, outside, with no security in food or shelter; that someone could turn a lovebug like Tugg over to a shelter that was bound to put him down, still brings tears to both Norm’s and Jenn’s eyes. It makes them angry. It makes them so very appreciative of the two lives they were able to rescue, and who have rescued theirs in return. It makes them angry. It makes them (occasionally) consider adopting more, and makes them continue to be devoted to animal welfare groups, particularly New England Lab Rescue and RAD Girls, who have taken in Rudder and Tugg as part of their own pack.