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William J. Raube, 88, of Thorofare, formerly of Gloucester City; Member of Boilermaker Local # 28

Our Best Friends: Trooper, Sheba, Misty, Bear, Nikki, Lacey, and Erica...Gone Too Soon...


William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNewsnet 

6a00d8341bf7d953ef00e54f6239aa8833-640wiLacey is on the left, and Erica is on the right.  Friends from the first day they met.

(CNBNews photo)


GLOUCESTER CITY, NJ (First published July 4, 2022)(CNBNews)--We have been very fortunate to own many excellent Labrador retrievers over 60 years of marriage.  Three of our eight Labdores were therapy dogs.  Today, Peyton holds down that title.  Before her, the two pictured, Lacey and Erica, performed those duties.  Seeing the faces of senior citizens and hospital patients brighten when we walk into their room with our dog is very rewarding. 

One of the places we visited with Lacey was a Camden County correctional facility for young kids incarcerated for breaking the law.  The kids ranged from 10 years old up to 13.  We had to go through several locked doors before we entered a large, empty gym.  A few minutes passed, and the kids were brought into the room with several guards.  We were instructed to be wary as some juvenile delinquents committed severe crimes.  There was this one young boy who went running over to the gym wall and sat on the floor.  When I approached him with Lacey, he said, "Mister, get that dog away from me; I am afraid of all dogs, even the little ones." The guard told me the kids come from Camden City, and the only dogs they see are ferocious pit bulls.  "They think all the dogs are like them," he said.  Hearing this, I just had to try to change this kid's mind.  It took some time, but eventually, the boy reached out and petted Lacey, and she did the rest.  Before we left, he walked Lacey around the gym with a big smile. 

Growing up, I wasn't allowed to have a dog.  But, shortly after we were married and in our own house, a friend heard we were looking for a Lab, and along came Trooper.  He was a big black male who epitomized everything a Labrador Retriever was supposed to be, from the large head at the front of his body down to the perfect-shaped otter tail that a Lab needs to propel along the water.  Add the friendly disposition that most Labs possess, and you have Trooper. 


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Unfortunately, we have no photos of Trooper.  It was 1967 when we got him.  But, if I did, these photos resemble what he looked like.  (source Wikipedia)

At this time in my life, one of my passions was duck hunting.  Another thing I wasn't allowed to do as a teenager was go hunting.  But after marrying into the Sarlo family, my father-in-law Tom, who hunted and fished all his life, took me under his wing (pardon the pun).  Tom told me, "If you were going to be a duck hunter, you must have  a Labrador Retriever." So Trooper, who was four or five years old when he was given to us, fit right into my grand plan. 

Trooper was not only lovely to look at but also already trained.  Stay, heel, sit, fetch all those commands, and then some.  For example, he responded to some hand signals.  On the opening day of duck hunting, the two of us are sitting in a duck blind with the decoys out in the swamp.  We were hunting Mannington Meadow, Salem.  A duck flies in, and I shoot, "Bang!".  Trooper goes busting through the cattails that surround blind people.  Wow, I think this dog is so anxious to retrieve that duck he is not waiting until I give him the command to fetch it.  How lucky am I?  This dog loves hunting.  But that feeling quickly faded.  Instead of retrieving the duck, Trooper ran in the opposite direction.  I found him where my truck was parked; he was under it.  He was gun-shy.  I asked a trainer at a field trial what secrets he could share to help me fix my gun-shy Lab.  As he walked away from me, he gave this advice, "Shoot the dog, don't waste your time, you'll never break him." Just in case you're wondering, I didn't shoot him.


Screenshot 2023-10-08 at 22.22.10Misty (left) and Bear on the right...mother and son.  In the middle is Connie


MISTY AND BEAR--We adopted Misty in 1973.  In 1975, she was mated with another labrador and gave birth to 12 puppies via a Caesarean section.  Dr. Bert Allen, DVM, delivered the puppies.  Those 12 dogs had to be fed every six hours, and Misty wasn't up to the task.  As a result, she had to be sedated.  Connie fed them and used different color ribbons to identify each puppy so she knew which ones were fed.  We kept Bear for almost a year.  But, having two dogs was very expensive.  Plus, Bear started to bully his mother.  We ended up giving Bear to Dr. Allen. 


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Erica was a super dog also.  Before we adopted her, she worked as a seeing-eye dog. 



We adopted Erica at 15 months of age.  She never left my side.


We had some engaging Labs in the past.  Lacey was a curious countersurfer, Misty loved digging holes, and Sheba only came when she felt like it.  During decoy training, Sheba often swam away with one in her mouth.  Nikki, who resembled a Newfoundland or a baby bear when she was a puppy, demanded attention by barking until you petted her.  Sometimes, I would come home to find one of my children with a pillow on their face while Nikki stared at them.  If they removed the pillow, she would jump onto their lap.  Erica encouraged Lacey to jump onto the counter and toss food to her.




Lacey (died at age 11) and Erica( died at age 13).  One of their favorite spots was lying at the front door of our home.


Looking back, I can vividly recall the faces of all those dogs: Trooper, Sheba, Misty, Bear, Nikki, Lacey, Erica.  Any pet owner would agree that their time with us goes by too quickly.  The memory of having to euthanize Nikki still brings tears to my eyes.  She lived to be 15 years old.  Lacey lived to 11, and Erica to 13.  The emotional pain of losing each one is still fresh in my mind.  I understand why some people choose not to get another pet after their loss.  Going through that kind of heartache again can be too much to bear.  However, it has been my experience that getting another dog helped me through the grieving process.

Screenshot 2023-10-08 at 17.00.34NIKKI CLEARY


Of all of them, Nikki stood out as the most beautiful.  She was a female with a large, blocky head and a sturdy build, reminiscent of a Newfoundland.  I recall taking Jes, Adam, Brandie, and David Jr. to the beach during our stay at the shore house in the mid-90s.  Despite the cold, windy weather, Nikki eagerly led the way, and once in the ocean, she lay down, enjoying the waves as they crashed over her.  She anxiously awaited my throw of the ball, even with icicles forming on her coat and face. 


After Erica died, we said no more animals.  Thirty days later, we were in Gettysburg, Pa., adopting our present furry friend, Peyton.  It didn't take us but a few minutes to fall in love with her.  Our granddaughter Brianna made the trip with us, and as soon as the three of us saw her, we knew she would be coming home with us.  At the time, Peyton was 14 months old.  She entered the room carrying a stuffed toy in her mouth and made this funny noise like a turkey gobbling, walking around the room smelling each of us. 


There hasn't been a day since that time she hasn't made us laugh.  To think we said no more dogs.  If we had kept that promise, we would have missed out on all the enjoyment that Peyton has given us and so many other people she has met.  She has a little bit of each of those other dogs I described inside her, making her even more special.  At age seven, she developed a tumor above her thigh.  Since then, she hasn't had any more problems, thank GOD. 


Peyton Cleary


Some say they could never go through the heartache of losing another dog (pet) and that it was worse than losing a human being that they loved.  But, in doing that, they are depriving some other animal of their love.  Peyton will be 10 in February.  A Labrador's life expectancy is 10 to 13 years old.  Although I dread the thought of life without Peyton, I cannot see myself without a dog by my side.  Connie and I are also in our twilight years.  Ultimately, GOD will decide the fate of all three of us.

Peyton has a little trait of each of the other Labradors we own.  She, like Nikki, loves to swim in the ocean.  Last year in Hilton Head, SC,  I was on the beach throwing the practice dummy in the sea for her to retrieve.  The surf was rough this particular day, and the practice dummy got lost in the waves.  She continued looking for it, swimming further out to the calmer water.

Suddenly, I saw a fin bobbing up and down out of the water.  Was it a shark, or was it a dolphin?  I didn't know.  Peyton is whistle-trained.  Two toots of the whistle mean she is to come.  One toot of the whistle, and she will sit.  Moving my hand and arm down, she will lay down.  By this time, the training dummy had washed ashore.  I blew the whistle twice, and she swam back to shore. 

The topic of pets dying was being discussed on a veterinarian's website.  One person asked the vet what was the most challenging part of his job. 

The specialist answered without hesitation that it was the hardest for him to see how old or sick animals look around the room for their owners before they close their eyes for the last time. 

The veterinarian said, 

The fact is that 90 % of owners don't want to be in a room with a dying animal.  People leave so that they don't see their pets die.  But they don't realize that it's in these last moments of life that their pet needs them most.

Veterinarians ask the owners to be close to the animals until the very end. ′′ It's inevitable that they die before you. Don't forget that you were the center of their life.  Maybe they were just a part of you.  But they are also your family.  No matter how hard it is, don't leave them."

Don't let them die in a room with a stranger in a place they don't like.  It is very painful for veterinarians to see how pets cannot find their owner during the last minutes of their life.  They don't understand why the owner left them.  After all, now more than ever they needed their owner's comfort.

Veterinarians do everything possible to ensure that animals are not so scared, but they are completely strangers to them. Don't be a coward because it's too painful for you.  Think about the pet.  Endure this pain for the sake of their sake.  Be with them until the end.

I found this poem, The Last Battle, written on a plaque hanging on the wall of a local veterinarian.  It is a tearjerker. 

If it should grow frail

And pain should keep me from my sleep,

Then, will you do what must be done,
For this — the last battle — can't be won.
You will be sad, I understand,
But don't let grief then stay your hand,
For on this day, more than the rest,
Your love and friendship must stand the test.

We have had so many happy years,
You wouldn't want me to suffer so.
When the time comes, please let me go.
Take me to where my needs they'll tend,
Only stay with me till the end
And hold me firm and speak to me
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time you will agree
It is a kindness you do to me.
Although my tail last has waved,
From pain and suffering, I have been saved.
Don't grieve that it must be you
Who has to decide this thing to do;
We've been so close — we two — these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.

— Author is Unknown

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Peyton and Nikki


Reminiscing about my best friends brought back so many fond memories. Sheba, Nikki, and Lacey were puppies when they came into our lives. All three were so cute.  The time has gone by so fast. We have been very fortunate.