By S. L. Lok
Some time has passed since the Ninth Annual New England Golden Jubilee, yet the memories of the day linger still. It is said that our Golden Retrievers live in the present, and it is true that the most worthy among us do our best to be present with them always. Yet, it is also worth our while to reminisce a bit, for in the reminiscing we may find the treasures of presents past. Let's look back at the first ever New England Golden Jubilee. It was 2015 and the Morris Animal Foundation had just reached its goal of enrolling 3,000 Golden Retrievers in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, groundbreaking research to identify environmental, nutritional, lifestyle and genetic risk factors for cancer and other canine diseases. The rain in the forecast held off and Bowie, who had just been diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, was the first Golden ever to perform on the dance lawn at Dog Mountain in his freestyle rendition of The Fight Song. The mood for the day was indeed celebratory, and the entire gathering was a sight to behold.
By the time of the second New England Golden Jubilee, the reality that sixty percent of Golden Retrievers are diagnosed with cancer by age ten had hit very close to our hearts and home. We had just lost our sweet Ginger to the thief that is hemangiosarcoma. It was not clear how we could move forward with the celebration, yet in doing so our loss became our strength. Almost as soon as we arrived at Dog Mountain, a rainbow appeared over the horizon and it became clear that not only was Mother Nature up for a celebration, but that our Angel Ginger would oversee the entire affair. For us, the Jubilee was particularly poignant. Bowie gave a repeat performance of the Fight Song and the tears of joy, they flowed.
The third annual New England Golden Jubilee came and went leaving in its wake a wealth of cherished memories - kisses for Goldens and kisses from them, sugar faces basking in the sun, in the shade and inside the door of the chapel, pups taking their very first swim, at least one Golden fulfilling the self-appointed role of Ambassador, others who joined the welcoming committee, photo bombers, at least one bubble blower, belly rubs, smiling faces, sparkling eyes and water droplets from golden fur glistening in the sun. There was even one YGRR Rescue Golden who ran free on American soil for the very first time. We remember Sprocket, our most senior attendee at over fifteen years of age, and then there's the moment when I was encouraged to join our traditional cancer survivor photo. We hold these memories dear and forever value these moments in time.
We had even more to celebrate at our fourth annual as it was also the 150th anniversary of the breed. Joy Viola, Editor of "The Golden Retriever - A Scottish Legacy," enlightened us with tidbits of information about how the Golden Retriever came to be and shared several little known facts about the very first "yellow retrievers." The group photos taken this day seemed to speak to us and what we heard from them is that the twelve Heroes are a testament to our commitment, the ten rescues are proof of our compassion, twelve age ten and older are the dream that we all share, twenty-two age two and younger are the promise of the future, fourteen therapy dogs offer comfort at will, six cancer survivors are the reason we are all in this and finally the entire group photo - one hundred twenty smiling golden faces the perfect photo of hope, promise and togetherness.
By the time of the Fifth Annual New England Golden Jubilee, it had become clear that there was no better place for the Jubilee to call home than our beloved Dog Mountain with its breathtaking views, rolling hills, Dog Chapel and frequent rainbow sightings. Friendships had blossomed, laughter abounded and stories of rainbow sightings were accepted as visits from those beloved dogs who had passed before us, offering a promise that we shall meet again. The morning was full of hugs, smiles, tears and old friends meeting new as our Golden Retrievers did what Goldens do best. The romped, play bowed for each other and sniffed to their hearts content. They offered comfort wherever it was needed. Just before noon, Golden Retriever Lifetime Study Heroes Andy, Chompski, Autumn, Skylar, Maggie, Kyrie, Ryki, Zeva, Griffin, Penny, Lola and Sierra made their way to the front of the dog chapel. Donning their hero bandannas they stood before the crowd, their presence representative of all Golden Retriever Lifetime Study Heroes, while I shared details of the extent of their annual health exams, the samples collected from their bodies and the extensive annual questionnaire that must be completed by their owners. A robust round of applause followed. With the lighting of our Remembrance Candle that burns inside the Chapel throughout the Jubilee, all listened as I read the names of Golden friends, including Heroes Chase and Gatsby, who had made their way across the Rainbow Bridge. We spent a moment together in silence to remember them. When the dancing was done, the burgers eaten and the prizes won, it was time for the grand finale - the Great Tennis Ball Toss. A tennis ball had been given to each person and on the count of three, 150 tennis balls got tossed into the pond, bringing out the retriever in all. Laughter erupted, Golden bodies wriggled and splashed and smiles adorned the faces of all. Many of those smiles were filled with tennis balls. With tear stained cheeks, we looked to the sky and we looked to the future until we meet again.
Planning for the sixth annual New England Golden Jubilee was well underway when the COVID pandemic hit and we were forced to change plans. In true Golden spirit, we did not let that get us down and instead hosted a virtual Jubilee where everyone was invited to share their favorite memories and photos from years past. We were together while apart. When 2021 rolled around, many folks had been vaccinated, yet social distancing was still recommended and the availability of services was uncertain. We did host a Jubilee that year and even with no planned program and no fundraising, it was well worth the effort. We had a rather lazy afternoon enjoying each other's company and indulging our Goldens while celebrating our time together.
It had been far too long and once the Eighth Annual New England Golden Jubilee came up, we were more than ready! Over 140 Golden Retrievers attended, among them ten heroes. Reverend Canon Susan Ohlidal provided a blessing of the animals and each Golden got their very own logo goodie bag and bandanna. Mother Nature turned up the heat on us this year and our dance lawn heated up, too! Rico, Tango, Fireball and Porsche all performed freestyle routines with their people. The crowd cheered heartily and literally burst out laughing at Fireball's own personal addition to the dance routine his Dad had prepared. He stopped just short of the pond. As one nose and then another picked up a familiar scent, everyone seemed pleased at the aroma that filled the air. Hot dogs, cheeseburgers, salads, drinks and a wide array of freshly baked desserts all made for quite a feast. When Aaron had flipped the last of the burgers, we marked the occasion of what was perhaps his thousandth on that grill by presenting him with a personalized maple cutting board pronouncing him the New England Golden Jubilee Master Chef. When all was said and done, our bellies were full and we had full hearts, too.
Here we are at the Ninth Annual New England Golden Jubilee, on many fronts the best yet. With it came a spectacular range of emotions from sorrow to pure joy. So many Goldens attended that we lost count at around 200. We raised over $5570 to help support the Morris Animal Foundation in its quest to end the wrath of canine cancer. This amount was doubled thanks to the Stop Cancer Furever Campaign. We had our traditional kibble-cup auction and also introduced the Big-Ticket Auction providing attendees a chance to win some very special handcrafted crafts and works of art. With both auctions, we raised $5,780 for Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue to assist in its mission to provide care and forever families for Golden Retrievers who have become homeless through no fault of their own. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is now in its tenth year, and many of our Hero attendees have reached the age to be included in the group photo of attendees who are ten and older. Sadly, too many of our past Hero attendees did not have that honor as they had succumbed to one of the cancers the study is seeking to help eradicate. We began our program with a Parade of Heroes in their memory - Angel Heroes Chompski, Madison, Grady, Carly, Blue, Kelsey and Griffin - forever in our hearts. In a heartwarming and most meaningful presentation, our guest speaker, Veterinary Oncologist Renee Alsarraf shared her insight into what our dogs can teach us about being present and living well.
Our most senior attendee was sixteen year old Lily "Sheepie" Rudd, and our youngest was Tilly Dutton at four months of age. As I look back on the time all of us shared together with each other and with them, I am touched at this gift of hope that is ever present.