My Life with Golden Retrievers

           His name was Sunset Lad, “Laddie”. The year was 1944 and he was my first Golden. His sire was the nationally-renown Ch. Tonkahof Bang owned by the businessman Henry Norton of Tonkahof Kennels, Wayzata, Minnesota. Laddie became the stud dog for my parents’ kennel, Winyon Kennels, established in Alderwood Manor, Washington. (My name is on the AKC kennel registration as well.) Laddie’s partner was Tawny, Dawn O’ Light, whose sire was also a national specialty winner, Ch. Highland Chief, half-brother to Bang. I can still remember the night the first litter was born. I ran screaming into my parents bedroom saying “Mommy, Mommy Tawny’s having puppies on my bed!” I named everyone of the ten puppies after my school classmates, the bully, the sweetest one, the prettiest one, the most awkward and I did that for every litter thereafter for many years.

My Mother never seemed to stick with anything for very long so when we moved back to Minnesota, the dogs gave way to her newest interest, the ownership of an antique shop. I preferred the dogs. But we always did have a Golden in the house. When my father died and my Mother and I moved to Boston, we once again bought a Golden, Camelot, who took great exception when Alfred started coming around, nudging him away from me every time Alfred came courting! Cammy became the first of many Golden to find eternal rest in our Wayland, MA woods.

  After several years of marriage and working on our respective careers, we got a call one night to come see the new 8-week-old Golden puppy a fellow faculty member and his wife had just obtained. That did it! I could not go on without a Golden and for three days I hounded Alfred to let me get a puppy from that litter, He finally gave up and we arranged to have a neighbor boy come every day after school to walk and play with Princess D’Or “Diora.” That first night, Alfred set the alarm and got up every two hours to let her out. By morning she was housebroken!

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Each day as we went to work, we put the radio on WCRB, Boston’s classical music station, and left her with lots of toys. She adapted well to our routine. One Friday evening, after a long and hard week at work, we came home, fed her, let her out and went back out to eat at a neighborhood restaurant. Diora was not happy with us and she let us know. When we came home, she was sitting in piles of stuffing from the family room couch which she had torn to shreds. She trained us well. We never went out to dinner on a work night after that!

  In 1986, while visiting our Vet, I saw a notice about an organization called Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue. Why would Goldens need a rescue organization, I thought. I soon got my answer and began a decades-long commitment to Golden rescue. I worked on the Dog Walk Committee, chaired the annual auction for years, did home visits, sold calendars and then, in 1991, upon my retirement from Northeastern University, I began a capital campaign to raise funds for what would become Riverview, the first Golden Retriever Rescue shelter in the nation. Alfred surprised me one day by suggesting we donate the funds necessary to name the facility and with that, the Alfred and Joy Viola Shelter and Adoption Center came into being. Throughout my fund-raising endeavors, my mentor was a woman beloved in the Golden community, Rachel Paige Elliott. It was my honor to speak on behalf of the Golden Retriever world at her memorial services when she joined her Goldens at Rainbow Bridge.

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Once that task was completed, I moved on to volunteer as Director of Development for the Golden Retriever Foundation founded by the Golden Retriever Club of America. I raised another $1.5 million for the Foundation to aid their financial assistance to Golden rescue groups across the country and to canine medical research, especially in the field of cancer which plagues the breed all too often.

Subsequently, a woman approached me about her idea to raise funds to stabilize the ruins of Guisachan House, the mansion in the Scottish Highlands upon the estate of which the Golden Retriever was founded in 1868. The non-profit Friends of Guisachan was established in 2014, I served as President and chief fund raiser and then became Chairman of the Board, a position I hold to this day. We raised funds to erect a life-size bronze statue in the historic conservation village of Tomich, Invernesshire on former Guisachan lands. Currently funds are being raised to erect a permanent stone marker in front of the mansion ruins, but the COVID-19 outbreak has precluded any work on the mansion itself.

My efforts on behalf of Goldens were recognized by the Sandy Sonntag Service Award and life membership from the Yankee Golden Retriever Club, Honorary membership from the Maine Golden Retriever Club and it was with great surprise and humility I received the Vern Bower Humanitarian Award in 2008 from the Golden Retriever Club of America.

But it’s not the awards I was working for. It’s the big brown eyes and often white faces of my Goldens whose unconditional love is the greatest reward of all.

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But it’s one thing for me to tell you about my involvement with Goldens over the years. Better you should hear from the current object of my affection, Apollo, who will be contributing remarks regularly to this website. Hello Again! It’s me, Apollo! This is my second entry, but I’m not so chipper today. I had a lot of dental surgery and I’m still on something called Gabapentin that has me pretty sluggish. Joy talked to the vet today and they are going to take me off of this now, so maybe I’ll feel like barking at the neighbors again. I really haven’t been doing much these past 48 hours but sleeping. I had six extractions and two root canals. And they tell me I have to go back later for four more extractions. I guess I didn’t get very nutritious food in my younger days and now I’m paying the price. Joy has to fix me soft food for two weeks and no milk bones or hard treats. I’m not even supposed to have my toys right now as the vet doesn’t want me to chew on anything. So life is kind of boring. I’ll try to write a happier note next time. So keep visiting me each week and I’ll post a new note. Love, Apoll0