Monday, May 14, 2012

"Pure air and fire," a final tribute to Jack

Last week my wife and I put our Jack dog to sleep for the last time.  He'd fought colitis for the last three years and I don't think we had quite an appreciation for how dangerous a condition it was.  But that's behind us now.  We were there at the end, when I really didn't want to stay, but I was glad I could be there for him to say a very final goodbye.
Don't know quite how we caught him still enough to get this picture. 

Jack was a very special dog.  All dogs are special and wonderful, at least the ones I've known.  But Jack was the different from all the other wonderful dogs I've come in contact with.  Maybe it's because nothing ever escaped his senses, or that so many of his qualities seemed so human.  Perhaps it was because he was essentially in my care, and he made me love him so much.

Jack was a rescue dog, a quarter full sized Australian shepherd, three quarters miniature.  He'd been sold by his breeder to the Brown family, and his first owner was an itinerant minister on Camano Island, with a semi-invalid wife.  Those who know Australian shepherds at all know they are pretty active and Koba, as he was originally called by his breeder and new parents, was all of pretty active and more.  So active they kept him tranquilized and frequently crated.  It also allowed the little dog to retain a memory of being stuffed in his crate by a male, one that would haunt him almost all his life.
Lucy and Jack were buddies.  Just like peas and carrots.
The Browns lasted a year with Koba, and when we met him in May of 2003 he was living with a nice couple in Olympia.

I was at sixth grade camp in Purdy and made my daily call to Lorri just to check in.  We talked about a potential companion for Lucy, our two year-old black tri-color mini-Aussie.  We also had Rosie, a dog much older than Lucy, and we were interested in someday getting a playmate for her so she wouldn't be alone when Rosie was gone. Purebred Aussies are expensive and we were still absorbing the indulgence of flying little Lucy up from Fresno the year before.  So when Lorri anxiously announced over the phone that she'd learned of another mini-Aussie, a red tri-color, and it was FREE, I became interested. We drove down to Olympia to meet this little guy with Lucy in tow.  No point in taking him, unless his future step-sibling approved.
On the leash out at Owens Beach in 2010
Lucy was non-plussed, but his current care-takers were anxious to part with him. They owned a full sized blue merle and a ten year old Pomeranian that was driven to apoplexy by the little mahogany colored dog.  It seems that he always wanted to play, and was bad at taking no for an answer.  Coupled with the fact they had no backyard, it was clearly not the place for a little year-old pooch with all the energy of a fusion reactor. He was a cute, fuzz-faced little guy, short legged with prick ears.  Lorri, Casey, and I threw leashes on the two dogs and took them for a walk.  No magic, no chemistry, but when we got back to our car, Jack's crate was piled next to the Subaru.  It was clear he couldn't stay, so he came home with us.
Friends taking a walk in the Sound
He was not an immediate success.  Though completely housebroken, he got into things, a hallmark until the day he died.  He was a bully, harassed Rosie mercilessly, took her food, and could be mean to Lucy.  When he wanted Lucy to play, she had to play.  When she shrank away, Jack would simply grab one of her ears and run.  Lucy learned to play.  In later years, she also learned she was bigger than Jack, and would simply beat the crap out of him.

Through the summer of 2003, I was having a hard time liking him.  I didn't like the way he treated the other dogs.  But in September something changed all that. We took the two dogs with us to a pet-friendly B and B in Astoria.  Astoria is one of my favorites towns, a place I could actually see myself retiring.  I can stand the weather, and the town is old, close to Lewis and Clark sights and not so far from family.  One of the days we visited, we drove down to Cannon Beach and let the dogs play on the beach.  Jack showed Lucy how to swim and was genuinely kind and sweet to her.  It was even better the next day when we stopped at Cape Disappointment State Park on the way home and drove out to the ocean beach and let the dogs run.  They chased birds into the ocean, and had a great 'ol time together.  It was forever after Lucy and Jack, just like peas 'n carrots.
With his illness, Jack became a bit more serious.  It's hard to generate a lot of enthusiasm when you don't feel good.
One of my real pleasures was to watch the little red dog in motion.  Relatively short, with short legs, appearing a lot like a tailless fox, he could run like the wind.  Whether racing around the back yard, or on Sunday walks at Pierce college Jack could outrun any dog around.  Labs or golden retrievers three times his size were no match for him.  For a little guy, he could also really jump.  Short legs yes, but he had enormous feet and could hop from the floor to the kitchen counter in an easy leap--much to our chagrin.  It kept him regularly in baked goods and kitty food.

Eventually Lorri got Jack into agility training.  They only lasted a year.  In the end it was more time than Lorri could give, but Jack was a prodigy.  Very talented and easy to train, he loved the activity.  Something he wasn't very good at was catching a ball. I'd go out to the back yard with the two Aussies and toss balls until my damaged shoulder gave out. Jack would inevitably misjudge them, while his ungainly step-sister grabbed them on the fly, on the bounce, you name it.  He'd watch Lucy and bark helplessly and insanely.

Jack was, shall we say, barky.  That was a good thing and a bad thing.  He became a fabulous watch dog.  Dogs on the street?  He let us know about it. Random walkers, Jack told us.  He reserved his special ire for the UPS man.  When those brown trucks were on the block, Jack barked incessantly.  And woe betide those who came to the door uninvited--by Jack.  Pizza delivery people, Jehovah's Witnesses, little girl scouts peddling cookies were all given the Jack treatment. Worse, he became a terrible role model for Lucy, adding her much louder bark to the cacophony.  The worst was during the summer, when I would try to nap, fall asleep, only to be suddenly awakened by an eruption of sound as both dogs, led by our little red protagonist rapidly moved the needle on the sound meter into the red zone.
Two weeks before his death, Jack had a successful surgery we hoped would cure him. Unfortunately it didn't work out.
Yesterday my father characterized Jack as "hyper."  He was.  This didn't exactly endear him to people.  Like my dad. He was always at the front door to bark his fool head off at anybody entering the house, including Lorri and myself.  He unquestionably bugged and in some cases scared the crap out of company.  He'd get right in people's space and bark until he was done greeting everyone.  Sometimes it seemed like the greetings in Jack culture went on a little longer than necessary. 

Despite these little flaws, Jack was a dear, affectionate little dog with lots of lovable attributes.  He often seemed so human.  His face lit up with a wonderful smile when he was happy.  He loved to roll on his back and made strange sounds like a little old man.  He was always happy to see me come home, barking his approval and giving me a little shove as if to say, "Good to see you again old boy.  Now how about some dinner."  He was quick to wash my face, and was not immune to a brief cuddle, but wouldn't curl up in laps. He loved Lucy and would go to great lengths to clean her ears, to the point we were afraid he was actually washing out her very small brain. He was very sensitive to unhappiness in the house.  He didn't like listening to disagreements or yelling and if he heard it he'd run for our bedroom and sometimes climb into his crate.

Yes, there were those times.  He was an expert at getting at food almost anywhere.  My least favorite Jack talent was when he'd empty the kitchen garbage all over the house.  We had baby locks on the cupboard doors, but swore he managed to find his way in to them anyway.  Food left on the counter was in Jack's hunting ground, and more likely than not, gone when we got home.  He loved cat food, bread, muffins and doughnuts, and could actually chew through the lid on a jar of peanut butter.  Any pb within the length of his tongue was a goner. Still, he was well behaved around people eating, and while he wasn't opposed to accepting a proffered nibble, he wouldn't demand contributions.

We had Jack for nearly nine years.  Though he was high maintenance, especially after he became ill, he was a wonderful dog.  In many respects he and Lucy encompass the happiest years of our marriage, some of the best years of our lives, and in all the important ways he was a wonderful pet, a loyal and attentive companion. I miss him more than I  can say.  Though I know he is gone, I look for him on walks and on bike rides.  It seems as though he should be there. Jack was drawn in bold relief, "pure air and fire" to borrow from Shakespeare's Henry V. Not likely to generate a lot of apathy, one loved him or disliked him.  He was my dog and I don't expect everybody to understand my affection for him.  It's not important everyone understand, it's only important that I do, and I will remember him the rest of my days.

No comments: