Judge Ron Swearinger's melancholy complaint that his golden retriever doesn't seem to know what he's supposed to retrieve, but simply stands on his porch looking puzzled and forlorn, has provoked a response of incredulity from other golden-retriever owners.
Most of them claim their retrievers will retrieve anything that's loose.
"The modern-day urban retriever," explains Donna Haugaard of Pasadena, "does not retrieve game for his master, just as surely as the good judge does not go out to shoot his daily dinner. His honor will soon find out that this proud breed has merely adapted to its environment--retrieving anything that's not screwed down."
Mrs. Haugaard says her golden retriever is named Maile Kaui Kealoha, having been born in Hawaii, where the hunting of the Hawaiian Nene is more recent in history than the hunting of the grouse and the grovel in England.
"Maile has an uncanny talent for retrieving socks, shoes and underwear and returning them to their rightful owners. Also eyeglass cases (with glasses), VCR remote controls, pillows and the L.A. Times (but never on Sunday)."
"What does a retriever retrieve?" asks Howard Groman of Tustin. "Why slippers, of course. Fuzzy slippers, or sometimes woolly socks, or stuffed dolls. Surely a good retriever doesn't sit about tingling in response to 'distant challenges.' "
"We are absolutely daffy about our golden retriever, California Gold Dust XIII, known as Dusty," says Patricia Vasquez of Lomita. "He loves nothing more than to chase his ball. . . . He also retrieves the L. A. Times from the driveway. . . ." Mrs. Vasquez says that one day Dusty jumped into the pool after his ball, but didn't know how to swim. Her husband taught him the Australian crawl.
"What does a golden retriever retrieve?" echoes Lois Rosenfeld. "My beautiful Royal Golden Alexandra, familiarly called Sascha, retrieves whatever is retrievable. She retrieves avocados that have fallen into our yard from a neighbor's tree. She has brought home tennis balls, baseballs, rubber balls and even small footballs. She is a happy and proud dog who seems to have fulfilled her destiny and has never groveled."
"Golden retrievers were bred for one reason," writes Patrick W. Huber of Tustin. "Chasing Frisbees and tennis balls."
Helen Miller of Pasadena recalls an incident that defined the golden retriever's function for her:
"I was walking my dog, Rudy Mahoney. An elderly lady stopped us to say, 'Why, what a beautiful dog! What kind is it?' I told her he is a golden retriever. She looked at me, and then again at Rudy, and said, 'Ah, yes. Those are the ones that pick up things after they are shot.' "
Gretchen Trent of Granada Hills answers the question with verse:
Be there a golden/(I'd like to know)/Who is not seen/With ball in tow?
She says: "Tasha, our solar-powered golden, has a collection of upwards of 20 balls, most of which she has nosed out of the cul-de-sac. Living in Granada Hills, with its famous ivy-covered yards, she has discovered a myriad of treasures. . . ."
Jerry Haden writes: "We had a Labrador retriever for 15 years and he had no trouble retrieving in Mandeville Canyon. If he didn't bring home the neighbor's newspaper, he brought home the neighbor's son's baseball glove, or a dead mouse, bird, old shoe--always from down the street or up the street, never from our own back yard. He was happy to retrieve, never discriminated, and was never at a loss for prey. . . ."
In recalling that in England golden retrievers traditionally retrieved grouse and grovels, I admitted that I didn't know what grovels were, though I did remember that the late S. J. Perelman referred to them in a passage that went something like this:
"He turned on the radio. Savagely the radio turned on him. He went groveling in the dirt. After gathering a basketful of grovels. . . ." And so on.
I was afraid I had misquoted the inimitable Perelman, and I had.
Martin E. Mullen Jr., a Perelman fan since his teens, traces the passage to "The Love Decoy: A Story of Youth in College Today--Awake, Fearless, Unashamed."
Dolores Hornbostel, a student at Tunafish College for Women, is describing an incident with her amorous instructor, Russell Gipf:
"He caught my arm in a vise-like grip and drew me to him, but with a blow I sent him groveling. In ten minutes he was back with a basket of appetizing fresh-picked grovels. . . ."
Evidently the groveling was not related to the savage radio. But somewhere in the Perelman oeuvre there is a savage radio that turns on the person who turns it on.
Also, a grovel appears to be a fruit, not a bird, but, according to my correspondents, a retriever is just as likely to retrieve a fruit as a bird.
However, Ernest S. Rockholt of Bakersfield chides me for saying that there are no grovels in Los Angeles (one reason, I suggested, why Judge Swearinger's dog feels so unfulfilled).
"All one has to do," he says, "is look behind palm trees, pyracantha bushes, oak desks and glass doors. Grovels are everywhere!"
Rockholt says there are even grovels in Kern County. "Just last Thursday I saw 17 grovels in the back of a '53 Studebaker pickup headed into the sunset . . . about six miles due west of Weedpatch."
If you believe that a 1953 Studebaker pickup is still on the road, you should find it easy to believe in grovels.
I think I can help Judge Swearinger solve his dog's problem by sending him an old tennis ball I used to throw for my Airedale.