How a Chocolate Lab Stole My Family’s Heart

Posted by Stacey Venzel
chocolate lab
All photos via Stacey Venzel.

When Louie moved in next door, it was game over for the “no-dog” rule in my house.

My sisters and I grew up with a house full of guinea pigs and goldfish, but it took more than a decade before a dog came into the picture.

Louie moved in next door when I was in junior high. He was a stocky English Chocolate Lab still enjoying his puppy youth. It was love at first sight.

We quickly became friends with the couple, their newborn baby, and Louie. While the baby kept us entertained, Louie was the one I was always asking to see. I began knocking on the door asking the neighbors’ if Louie could come out and play.

chocolate lab


Soon, he joined my family on field trips–soccer games, apple picking, the local ice cream hot spot. But due to my dad’s allergies, he wasn’t allowed in the house–until everyone but Dad started sneaking Louie inside when Dad wasn’t home.

Dad figured it out, naturally, but he, too, had been swept under the spell of this adorable pooch. Louie would play with my sisters and I in the sprinkler, play fetch twice and then get bored. The neighbors and I developed a routine in which I simply opened up the service door in their garage and called for Louie in the house. Sure enough, he’d come running.

After each outing, Louie got into the habit of walking right through the neighbors’ kitchen to the back door after I let him inside, wanting to be let out again so he could wait for us by the fence. As our daytime love affair morphed into sleepovers, it became clear Louie had two homes and two families.

chocolate lab

On Christmas morning a few years after the couple moved in, my family was lounging around after opening presents when our own service door opened and Louie came barreling into the room. He had a big red bow around his neck with an envelope.

I looked at my parents, perplexed.

“Read it,” they urged.

I opened the envelope and began reading the note written by Louie himself, but sobs quickly followed as I learned the neighbors, now with a second newborn, were moving away. I assumed this meant Louie, too, would be loading up his puppy pack and heading east.

“Keep reading!” my parents again urged.

dog in sprinkler

That’s when I realized that the neighbors were giving Louie to us. They said they wouldn’t be able to offer him everything he deserved, and he clearly had claimed us as his family. I remember bawling happy tears into Louie’s thick winter coat, then running next door to ask the neighbors if they were really sure about this. They assured me they were.

Louie lived almost eight more years under our roof, forever entertaining my family with his eccentricities. He became well-known throughout the neighborhood, even if people didn’t know who the humans were walking Louie–although everyone joked Louie was the one walking us.

He used to wander a couple doors down to get treats from another neighbor and disappear for an hour to explore the ravine behind our house. Once, he returned trailing an entire branch under his collar. Another time, he disappeared for too long and it turns out he had waited patiently on the doorstep of our friends down the street, where he often visited with us for dual family dinners.

dog kisses

In winters, Louie chased behind us down the sledding hill. In the fall, he sported a matching bandana at my soccer games, once pulling my mom out of her chair to come greet me during a throw-in. When my 75-year-old grandma lived with us for a few months, she made the mistake of sitting in Louie’s chair. He stared at her until she relinquished his throne.

When I headed to college, leaving Louie was the hardest part about leaving home. I missed him all the time.

Everyone thinks their pet is the best pet on the planet, and my family is no different. Many pet-less people around town would agree with us that Louie was one of a kind. He stole my family’s heart–and now we can’t seem to get enough dogs in our lives.

Do you have a funny or heartwarming dog story to share? Tell us about it in the comments below!

All photos via Stacey Venzel.

WATCH NOW: Labrador Retrievers Are Your Dogs Next Door

How a Chocolate Lab Stole My Family’s Heart