Naked frolicking, golden vibes at Twain Harte lovefest

By Friends & Neighbors May 22, 2013 05:00

It reminded me, eerily, of Woodstock.

Longhairs frolicking naked, splashing in pools, emerging soaked to the bone, eating anything available and continuing, relentlessly, to enjoy all the pleasures life threw at them.

Remarkably, doing so in apparent peace and harmony. Benghazi, the IRS scandal and confiscated AP phone records never came up. The cops, if there were any, turned the other way – even when revelers repeatedly relieved themselves in public.


Murphy romps in the pool

Like Woodstock, we got in for free. In fact, I was admitted only on a flimsy promise to be “well-mannered.”

Actually, I never said I’d be well- mannered. I pledged only that my buddy Murph would be well-mannered.

Murph is an ever-cheerful three-year-old golden retriever, and our answer to Woodstock last Sunday was Twain Harte’s Golden Retriever Playday. Although without acid, pot or even a lone guitar player, this mid-May bash at Eproson Park annually attracts more than 150 goldens and raises funds for Norcal Golden Retriever Rescue (this year’s take from donations and auctions: $3,000).

But I came to Eproson Park on a different mission – to find a nasty, snarling, attitudinal, attack dog among this coterie of congenial canines. Lacking that, I’d look for dog breath, excess shedding, fleas, flatulence or failure to sit on command.
Have you noticed? Goldens have become the default dog of choice for TV commercials. Peddlers of everything from insurance to beer and from dog food to convertibles to arthritis cures figure that adding a retriever translates into millions more in sales. Coming soon: goldens hawking Viagra.

This is because the handsome breed has been cast as the perfect suburban accessory for the 21st Century. The breed’s new, heavily burnished image, I reckoned, needed some humanizing. Or would that be caninizing?


Jack, 9, imagines future tasty treats

In any case, I went in search of confessions.

“Jack gravitates to anyone with food,” Sonoran Gerry Dahlin said of his nine-year-old golden. “He’s not above stealing a snack right out of a kid’s hands.”

“She moves our shoes around,” said Dave Mortensen of Rose, his third retriever. “And one of our earlier goldens ate through the drywall.”

Now we were getting somewhere, although Murph’s chewing through 10 Dish Network remote controls in his misspent and still-continuing youth seemed at least as egregious.

Then came chatter from a few retriever owners in attendance: An unidentified golden had resolutely walked clear across the Eproson Field turf, stepped into one of several plastic wading pools Playday organizers had put out, and lifted his leg.
Which his splashing breedmates, unlike a few owners, didn’t mind a bit.

Next I approached Playday founder Jill Morgan, who owns four goldens herself and is now looking for homes for orphaned retrievers from, among other places, Taiwan. There, she says, some 500,000 stray dogs – including more than a few goldens – prowl the streets.

So far, 72 retrievers have been flown here, adopted out, and thus spared not only a marginal life but, perhaps, an appearance on a Taiwanese dinner plate.

Finding good homes for goldens, Morgan admitted, is like dealing drugs to addicts. “I don’t have enough dogs from local pounds, Taiwan or anywhere else to meet the demand,” admitted the Lodi woman. “People love them. We have a saying, ‘Once you go golden, you never go back.’”

So I learned, talking to owners now on their fifth (like us), sixth or seventh golden. One retriever junkie, Sherl Johnson of Twain Harte, named her latest – a prohibitively cute three-month-old puppy – E. Ross Johnson II.

Sherl Johnson with young Ross

“It’s after my dad,” explains Johnson. “We just call him Ross.”

Goldens, according to numerous online sources, are kind, friendly, confident, loyal, athletic, smart and popular (third nationwide behind Labs and German shepherds). They rescue disaster victims, sniff drugs and bombs, hunt birds, guide the blind and win obedience trials.

The downside? Retrievers are so trusting that they absolutely suck as guard dogs – unless intruders can be licked into submission.

So the answer, of course, is no: I never did find that psychotic Cujo of a golden retriever at the Playday. In fact, said Morgan, only two “snarls,” both easily quelled, were reported Sunday. That’s with 155 dogs for nearly three hours.

Think about it: What other breed could even pull off such a playday?

Chihuahuas? A marathon yapfest, with several dogs swallowed up by gopher holes. Or by gophers.

Beagles? Coulterville’s coyote howl could barely match the caterwauling of 150 mini-hounds.

Irish setters? More than 100 together might breed, further ratcheting down the strain’s flickering intellect.

Jack Russell terriers? This breed is so smart and so hyper that it would be less a play day than a Mensa meeting on meth.

And what about an annual Pit Bull Playday? Forget counting the snarls, and get ready for a canine version of “Hunger Games,” with the last dog standing presiding at next year’s “playday.”

But as hard as goldens play and as agreeable as they are, they have one terrible, often fatal flaw.

Nearly two-thirds of them, said Morgan, fall prey to cancer. Veterinary researchers are looking into the problem, but as it is golden retrievers often die within a decade.

Sunday’s playday proved, however, that they live their sometimes short lives to the fullest.

Which is what keeps us serial golden owners coming back for more.

Want to adopt a rescue dog or make a contribution? Call Norcal Golden Retriever Rescue at (650) 615-6810 or go online to

Chris Bateman, 67, is a journalist based in Sonora, California, where over the past 40 years he has covered everything under the Sierra Nevada sun (and almost all of it more controversial than goldens).

Copyright 2013, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Friends & Neighbors May 22, 2013 05:00
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1 Comment

  1. Mary May 23, 08:06

    Hey, Chris–

    When we were searching out a pooch for Laura years ago (being more careful this time, after our first dog adpotion of Jesse, the Irish Setter), we used our vet’s wife as a consultant. Came down to the choice of a golden or a lab for a great non-agressive family dog. One final question, was how did we feel about dog smell.
    Dog smell?!? Don’t all dogs smell? No, that was a characteristic of dogs with an undercoat of finer fur under their outer more coarse guard hair. Golden’s do, lab’s don’t (that is of course, depending also upon what they’ve rolled in.) We’ve been lab fans since. So, were people noses out there checking the breeze, as well as pooch noses that day?

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