There’s nothing you can say to me that I haven’t already heard, no admonition that hasn’t already been served to me like a flaming bag of poop. Alone I sit in a sea of shame, just me and my labradoodle. That’s right, I said it. I own a labradoodle, an Australian labradoodle if you must know, and I am a veterinarian who is apparently making some very poor life decisions. Nonetheless, although I am reluctant to admit this in today’s anti-doodle world, he’s kinda great.
Like many of you, I was aghast at the idea of a doodle. I’ve seen a few of them in practice, big floppy bundles of neuroticism who have learned over the course of many vet visits for their ear infections that I am not to be trusted. I do weird things like stick bits of plastic in their ears. I am to be avoided at all costs. Active resistance, if possible, passive resistance if necessary: much like bumbles bounce, doodles noodle.
Despite all this, my husband, who has gamely endured the parade of needy, infirm, and/or abandoned dogs I’ve collected over my years in practice, had his heart set on a doodle after meeting what he claimed to be a lovely example at a friend’s house. He was not to be dissuaded, feeling it was well within my capabilities to handle a puppy, especially one who didn’t shed. I felt it obligatory to my marital bliss to give it a go, so we (subtly, in the underground doodle circles) began to ask around as to where we might find one. My only rule: I have to meet the breeder and the dam in person.
On the recommendation of a neighbor whose doodle seemed quite civilized out on walks, we found ourselves at the home of one Kramer (not his real name), sitting in a living room stripped to bare concrete and one beat-up couch, covered in 15 floppy Muppets. Only one was pregnant. Kramer, unable to bear being separated from his dogs once their breeding time was up, was running an Old Doodles Retirement home.
Despite the sawdust, abundant kibble dust, and the subtle smell of dog slobber, not a speck of fur was to be seen on the floor. My husband was sold. I did a covert exam of the mother, still a week or so from delivering, and thought to myself, “Well, I guess.” Then Kramer brought out the ace.
“Oh! This one just got returned,” he said, procuring a fluffy round ball hiding amidst the sea of gangly doodlegs. He was 14 weeks old and quite accomplished: it had taken him only 36 hours to convince the elderly couple who brought him home that actually, they wanted to take a round-the-country RV trip, starting immediately, and could not, in fact, keep him. It was, we were assured, through no fault of his own.
This checked all the boxes: Low-shedding (check), puppy (check), and to my preferences as a softie, already rejected by a cruel world (check.) Home he came. Earlier in life, I had brought home a sad sack black lab solely based on her multiple returns to the rescue. Halfway on the long drive home, I found a letter from the previous owner detailing her horrific separation anxiety squirreled away behind the medical records. This was surely child’s play.
I kept him on the DL for as long as I could. As a doodle owner and a veterinarian, I stand in the face of betraying just about everyone I know. My breeder friends tell me I have a frankendog, an aberration, an insult to good breeding. My rescue friends tell me I have obfuscated my obligation to only take home pets from shelters or rescues. My veterinarian friends just shake their heads. No one smiled. Once, after a few glasses of wine, I mentioned I had a doodle to the host of a party, the director of a large humane organization. She froze. She was kind, but I haven’t been invited back.
I once had a breeder admonish me for contributing to the ills of the dog-world by encouraging irresponsible breeding. She was a be-ribboned, responsible breeder of French bulldogs, a breed known for Instagram, herniated discs, and a lifetime of gasping for air. Like I said, responsible. No fewer than fifteen people have forwarded me the New York Times interview with the originator of the labradoodle, bemoaning what has become of them and wishing he had never opened the door to the doodle revolution.
I found myself introducing him with qualifiers. “This is ‘Dakota, The Doodle My Husband Wanted,” I would say, much like others introduce their “Shelter Pug Sheldon.” I got him on pet insurance. Before he began group classes, I had private training at the house to ensure that he would be well adjusted and well socialized. Everyone reminded me to manage my expectations.
My husband could not understand my shame. He works in the tech industry, unencumbered by such judgment from his co-workers. They, too, all have doodles. They view them as the engineers of the dog world: super smart, skittish, and fastidious. One afternoon he took Dakota to the dog park, and despite me assuring him NO ONE goes to the dog park mid-afternoon, he just happened to stumbled upon a monthly doodle meetup. In this cosmic kismet of confirmation bias, he reported 55 doodle owners, all happy, no fights. They were joyous, in fact. Some of the dogs boated on the weekends. Three were local Instagram celebrities.
It was around this time that it finally dawned on me: actually, doodle owners don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks. Their minds are as impervious to your judgment as a Teflon Thundershirt. This is why, despite every hand-wringing newspaper piece and admonitory column in your favorite veterinary magazine (do you have a favorite veterinary magazine?), you see them everywhere you go. Perhaps, just maybe, people genuinely like them despite everything that is supposedly wrong with them.
I’m no stranger to dogs with things wrong with them. My first dog was a misanthropic old lady in a Lhasa Apso’s body. My second dog belonged to the veterinary school radiation department for ten years. His name was Nuke. Most of my vet school classmates own some combination of tripods, cancer survivors, endurers of trauma, or flat out behavior cases. I mean, what’s a doodle to any of that?
Sorry, everyone, crazy doodles aren’t going away, any more than your cancer-carrying Goldens, your slowly suffocating Bulldogs, or your low-rider German Shepherds (yes, all worthy of love, just like doodles, mutts, and every other living being.) I’ve donated time, money, and advocacy to animal welfare causes and will continue to do so, with my rescue cat Penelope on my lap purring and the doodle running around with a sock. I’m sure in time doodle rescues will pop up, and then people can comfortably indulge in their breed- sorry, designer mutt- preference by prefacing their dog’s name with “Rescue Doodle” and all will be well. Words are wind.
So can we allow ourselves to believe that maybe, just maybe, people know exactly what dice they’re rolling and do it anyway and will love their doodle and enjoy all the insanity they bring into their lives? You can continue to infer I have no taste if you want. I grew up listening to Winger. I am incapable of feeling embarrassed.
Let’s get back to REAL important dog topics, like insisting everyone feed their dog (insert your brand or recipe), ensuring all dogs follow the exact same recommendation for spay and neuter (do, or do not)….ok, we’re going to fight over all of that too. Puppy mills? Yes, they still suck. Did you know some of them are masquerading online as rescues now? Sleep tight. Parvo? How about parvo? Yes, vaccinate your puppy for parvo. I’m never gonna stop judging you for that choice if you don’t.