What got me remembering Big Red was an evocative photo in the Little Rock newspaper. Taken by staff photographer Steve Swofford, it depicted a black Lab doing what only a retriever would do on the coldest day of the winter: plunging into the Arkansas River to fetch a decoy.

In bright sunlight, with Pinnacle Mountain in the background, you could even see the fanatical gleam in the dog’s eyes.

How we came to own Big Red was that Diane encountered him on her way to work. He was running along the street near the freeway entrance, pawing at people’s car doors: a handsome young golden retriever who’d either fallen or been dumped from somebody’s pickup and wanted help continuing his pursuit.

So she opened the door and he jumped right in. Problem was, we already had more dogs than the law allowed, so I persuaded a young woman at the grocery store to adopt him. I said she could bring him back if it didn’t work out.

Red bullied her other dog, so back he came. I was pretty sure he couldn’t bully Corliss, the Great Dane/German shepherd mix in charge of security at our place. But he gave it a try. The first time I put them in the yard together, Red charged full-tilt into Corliss, an unaggressive animal unaccustomed to being challenged, but extremely powerful.

Knocked off his feet, Corliss rallied. A brief scuffle ended with the red dog being picked up by the scruff of his neck — all 85 pounds of him — with all four feet off the ground.

You could see him changing his mind in midair: “OK, I don’t have to be Number One. Two is good. I can live with Two.”

The two dogs never fought again. Intelligent, energetic, unfailingly optimistic and a friend to all, Big Red became an ideal house pet. (Corliss preferred the company of beagles, and mostly stayed outside.)

OK, so Big Red wallowed in every mud puddle he ever saw and left what looked like crime scene outlines in dirt on the floor. That’s why God made vacuum cleaners. (Have I mentioned that we are, like, total dog nuts in our family?) I persuaded my wife that walking Red after work would be good for them both, which resulted — as anybody who’s owned a retriever will know — in his quivering by the door every afternoon when she arrived. Rain or shine, there was no not taking him.

He would chase his damn ball until my arm wore out throwing it.

One time, then-first lady Hillary Clinton walked by with a retinue of Secret Service agents (her mother’s house was a few blocks away). She met Big Red, who fawned all over her. She wondered aloud if she should get Bill a Golden retriever for Christmas. I cautioned her about the crime scene outlines and suggested a Labrador. (Labs love mud too, but their coats repel dirt.)

Anyway, the rest is history. It’s the only advice I ever gave that somebody in the White House took.

But I digress.

Along with tennis balls, one of the red dog’s favorite things was swimming madly after diving ducks. Couldn’t get enough of it. As soon as he’d get close, they’d disappear underwater, prompting him to raise his head to search for them. This, of course, resulted in Red himself vanishing under the surface until he’d emerge, sputtering, to continue his pursuit. Needless to say, he never captured a single bird.

Now in really bad weather, I was in charge of Big Red’s daily outing. So there we were, down by the Arkansas River one frigid January afternoon, with the duck ponds frozen over and loose ice floating in the current.

Naturally, Red figured it was a perfect day for duck-chasing. So he plunged down a steep bank and jumped into the current. After maybe 10 minutes, he was ready to quit, except the bank was too steep and icy to climb. He kept sliding back into the water. After three or four tries, I could see he was getting worn out. No luck persuading him to swim to a spot where the slope was gentler.

What was a long-retired lifeguard to do? So into the river I went, grabbing Red’s collar and hauling him downstream. It was maybe 22 degrees, with a strong north wind. It was also about a half-mile walk back to the car, and I was shivering and cursing the big, dumb brute every step of the way.

And Big Red? He was soaking wet and muddy, with actual icicles hanging from his fur. And happy, happy, happy. I’d never seen him more joyous, and this was one happy dog. From the retriever point of view, we’d had a perfect outing, and now it was suppertime.

God, I miss you, Red.

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