Everybody Cut Loose, Footloose.

My name is Russ. Sometimes I go by Russell at the Rascal Ranch. Aunt Vicki only calls me that when she thinks I’m not paying attention.

I am a yellow Labrador Retriever. I once read that we can run 12 miles an hour in just 3 seconds. I think I might be able run 14. I am not the only yellow lab in the pack, so I do my best to stand out. I wear a bright red harness every day and keep my teeth clean for pictures. Aunt Vicki always has her iPhone out, but her battery seems to die right before I do my best moves. I swear I jumped 22 feet the other day- you should have seen it!

I live with my human mom and dad at home. We lived in the city for a while, but we moved to the suburbs when I demanded a bigger yard. I was sick of having to walk two blocks to find a tree just to pee- how demeaning.

This morning, mom offered me a stuffed Kong when she left for work. It’s got cream cheese, my favorite! I am headed to the Rascal Ranch today, so I told mom that I needed to load up on carbs- ya know, for the energy. I take my breakfast and hop up on the couch. When I settle into my preferred spot on the chaise lounge, I nudge yesterday’s empty Kong onto the floor. Dad was all excited for me to hear his new Spotify playlist and it’s blaring. So far I’ve heard Hungry Like a Wolf, Dog Days are Over and Bark at the Moon. Humans always think they are so clever. Whatever.

I savor my snack before my mid-morning nap.  My Rascal Ranch chauffeur should be here soon. I go to the Ranch three days a week. Mom had talked about cutting back to two, but I guess after I jumped through the front glass window when I got excited, she decided to stick with three.

It’s about 9am. Sigh. Aunt Vicki isn’t here. I guess I’ll head into the kitchen. Shoot! Mom remembered to put up the plastic baby gate this morning. Even worse, she latched it on top and bottom. I can push through if she only latches one, but not both. I can see a loaf of bread, a box of cookies and a steak marinating in a dish. Are you kidding me? I’ve got to get over this barrier. Last week, I managed to hunt Aunt Vicki’s turkey panini, my little human sister’s hot dog and my human dad’s Frappuccino. It was a decent tally.

Ok, so if I move that bench over to the gate, I just might be able to jump high enough to clear…Wait, someone’s at the door.

“Russy! Hey buddy! You ready for your ride, dude?”

Not now. I am in hot pursuit of a steak.

“RUSSEL! Come on. It’s time!”

Ok, fine. Hopefully the humans won’t have feasted before I get back. I walk out to the car. No, I don’t need a boost. I am perfectly able to get myself onto the seat, thank you. I ride in the middle row. I sit on the bench- never the floor. If there happens to be someone in my seat, I just sit on top of them. Aunt Vicki is singing again. She must be in a good mood because we’ve already heard Footloose three times. We pick up my buddies, Mojo, Hobbs, Cooper, Charlie, Daisy, Rudy, Claire, Vixen, Lily and finally Penny. Vicki reaches back, scratches my ear and starts to sing again. Santa, please upgrade this van with a jukebox option.

The drive to the Ranch is about 10 Footloose performances long. Hobbs is tall and always let’s us know that we are almost there. He gets even louder than Aunt Vicki when we get close. We all stand up, laughing and yelling. Aunt Vicki tells us to hush, but we all know we outnumber her. Besides, we’ve been listening patiently to her all morning. And really Aunt Vicki, do you have to talk to your mom every day on the phone?

The Rascal Ranch is awesome. There are so many balls. And not just tennis balls. We play with those cool bright orange ones, ya know the ones that bounce really high? We have like a thousand of them. We also have soccer balls, Frisbees, tug-o-war toys and a sand pit. We have a playground made of tires to climb and jump over. I usually hang with Mojo in the high stakes fetch area.

Aunt Vicki lets us out, one by one. She’s funny, although I am not sure she is trying to be. Everyday she says things like, “Phoebe! Are you kidding me? Stop humping your brother,” or “Honey, this isn’t a joke. I said to sit. Please sit. Come on, sit. For real, Honey. Will you sit?” The best is when she kneels down, calls one of us over and we all race over to her. She always looks surprised and says, “Brakes! Brakes! Braaaakes!” I guess she gets worried when 6 labs are rushing at her going 12 miles and hour, or in my case, 14. If you didn’t want us to come, why did you call us?

We have Happy Hour every day. Aunt Vicki fills up a huge tub of fresh water every morning so that we can drink the good stuff. The table is just about my height so that I don’t have to stretch too far to get a good a swig. The little guys have their own drinks on the ground. It’s not too bad.

The ride home is always a blur. I lean up against Claire usually and sleep through most of it. I occasionally wake up to hear Vicki rewinding some song to perfect what she calls her American Idol moments. But mostly, I just hear the snores. Like a low rumble, the snores fill the air and soothe me back to sleep.

“Russ, wake up. You’re home, bud.”

It’s 2:30. Kitchen barriers are still intact. Shoot. Aunt Vicki gives me my second Kong of the day. Cream Cheese, my favorite! I return to my couch post and wait for the humans to come home.

Victoria Stephens