Thursday, January 21, 2010

Life and Times with Jack

Note: This was the hardest thing I have ever written.

I first saw him sitting legs akimbo in one of the large pet boxes. His brothers and sisters were scampering to get our attention, yipping and standing, clawing at the wood of the box all clamoring for our attention. Except him, he sat alone off to one side, we made eye contact.

The Wife and two of the kids were with me (The Daughter and SN2) we were in the lone pet store in our area. All the puppies for sale were kept in large wooden boxes (maybe 6 foot on a side) with wood chips on the floor of the each box. We weren't actually looking for a pet, just happened to stop and have a look.

This particular brood was 6 to 8 Black Labrador, Australian Heeler mixes; their coat of black and white hair a mix that made them close to a grey-blue color. They were all good looking pups; they had all the signs of growing up to be big dogs. Large paws, big chests and heads.

The kids and the wife were drawn to all the activity at the front of the box. I reached in and plucked him up out of the box and held him to my chest. He snuggled right into the crook of my neck. His jet black ears were soft as silk. We snuggled like that for a minute or two before the Wife wanted to hold him. She has her own test of dog temperament and she wanted to try it out on this one, and she wanted to determine its sex. I handed him over and the Good Mr.'s T promptly flipped him over onto his back. Most dogs with control or trust issues will immediately show their displeasure in this maneuver. This one rolled up his legs, his head flopped to one side with his tongue dangling out. You could almost hear him purring as the Wife rubbed his belly and chest. This was dog nirvana for this pup. He was a boy; the Wife wanted a female claiming they would be easier to train, house break and would be more even tempered.

We passed this pup around to the kids, he handled the mauling from them well enough and when they were bored with him they handed him back to me. I put him back up onto my chest and he went back to snuggling while the kids looked at other puppies in the store. I knew what I had and was not about to put him back in that box.

He came home with us and we named him Jack.

Home Life

He was never a burden on us, a very pleasant dog to have around the house you just had to watch the food around you. I am convinced that "Labrador" is some ancient Indian Tribe word for "Food Hound" and that these dogs were originally bred to go out and steal food from the Pilgrims! We used to joke that Jack was immune to People Food. He ate it all too even bland stuff if you put something on it. You know celery dipped in a salad dressing, crackers with some cheese whiz, oh hell just spray the cheese whiz down his throat. It did not matter. He knew you had to wait for the beep on the microwave oven to get excited about snacking. He would follow the kids upstairs and wait outside the doors to their room hoping for scraps. And if you opened the Freezer he could expect Ice Cream. I am sure he kept an inventory of all the food in the house, knew what was available.

He was clever too; I des cribe him as the smartest dog I have ever lived with. Here is an example of how shrewd he was when it came to getting food. We ate a lot of pizza having teenagers in the house. Jack loved pizza. He got all of our crust and on his own he found ways to get whole slices. One night we got comfortable around the table each with a slice or two of the neighborhood pizza. Suddenly Jack starts barking and runs to the front door. This usually means there is an intruder penetrating the initial defense ring, maybe the UPS or Fed Ex delivery. Both the wife and I got up to investigate and as we approached the front door Ja ck retreated right back to my plate where he promptly relieved it of my slice of pepperoni. The kids all laughed at us being "punked" by a dog and I marveled at his creativeness. He attempted this again on another evening but, wise to his ways I hung back and busted him in the scam. On a third try a few weeks later instead of retreating back down the hall he did a flanking maneuver, circling through the Dining room and getting back to the kitchen before us. Score one for the dog. After that we started pushing our plates to the center of the table.

We were involved in Ice Hockey back then, hauling SN2 to games on the weekend. One weekend the Good Mrs. T cooked up lasagna for us all once the daily hockey game was done. We left it on the stove top with our oldest son staying at home; he had instructions to help himself. Upon our return the 8 x 12 inch casserole dish was empty. It was actually past empty it was slick clean, like someone had washed it after eating it all. The Wife went after SN1 accusing him of being selfish and eating the whole lasagna himself. But no, it was not him, he never left his room the whole three hours we were at the game. I knew it was Jack almost right away; normally he would greet us at the door crying and whimpering at us, his big tai l hammering the cabinets at the entry to the kitchen. This night he lay in the dining room wallowing unable to get up and come to greet us. He did wag his tail, and when the Wife figured it out she said bad things about him. I think I was supposed to also but I couldn't bring myself.

He loved poaching fresh veggies out of my garden, eating stuff right off the vine. His only problem was that he could easily get into the garden but he could not get himself out. It was a raised bed with a short fence around it and he could not come out without help. He would sit inside looking like Mr. Pathetic hoping someone would come out and free him.

He loved sleeping on the couch in our Family Room. You could find him there curled up or stretched out most anytime of the day. At night, I would sit at one end and the Wife would lay down at the other. She would of course fall asleep and Jack would want her spot. So, he would stand there looking at her and then at me with these pleading look. After a while I would wake the Mrs. up and send her to bed, Jack would climb right into the same spot.

The big guy slept with the Wife and I in our bed. While he was a puppy he was no problems but as he grew it became apparent someone would have to move out of the bedroom or we would have to get a bigger bed. A bigger bed it was. He always slept with some part of him making contact with me. Usually he laid his head on my legs as a pillow, sometimes he would simply sleep length wise his whole back on me, his feet pushing the Wife away. There was tension in the Bed, the big guy insisted on doing maintenance on his feet every night. He would lick each paw clean spending maybe 5 minutes on each. The licking sound and the movement of the bed drove the Wife crazy. She would always yell at him and he would stop, look over at me and see that I could care less and he would start up again. I think th e contact in bed with him put him in my dreams. He was in almost all of my dreams, he drove cars, trucks and airplanes. He was everywhere in my dreams, always at my side.

One night we had a big fight. This was after Lady started living with us, the Princess Pomeranian usually sleeping right next to my head. Jack always took the bottom of the bed. This one night the Wife is already snoring away and the Lady is in her position. Jack is stretched out in my spot and instead of getting up and moving south as usual he showed me his teeth. Now this was different, I thought a challenge for leadership of the pack. Well, this could not stand. We went at it, right there in the bed. The two of us rolling around, growing and snarling and I mean both of us. The Lady ran for cove r, taking refuge on the Good Mrs. T's pillow. The two of us wound up on the floor and I was able to get him pinned down where I held him. I snarled at him while I had him down and he soon went limp. I let him up. I then scratched him and petted him on the head, letting him know that I had no hard feelings. I got up into bed and then called him up, making him take his position right next to me. Order was restored and the hierarchy was maintained. Well except for Lady, poor thing never recovered. She never felt safe in the bed with us after that and today sleeps on her own bed on the floor.

On Patrol

We used to do walks twice a day. This was a period of time where I mostly worked from home so I had the time twice a day for an hour walk. I let him set the course at critical junctions. He really liked exploring and any where there was disturbed earth like a new development going in nearby we hit it. I think he thought these places were part of his empire because he got to whiz there first.

During the warmer months I carried a bottle of water on a sling and a foldable bowl. He was not shy about taking in his water especially on the longer walks. Sometimes we would get too far away and I'd have to call home for a pick-up. Nothing like running the gas out of a 100 pound dog. This was never a problem at night, and most of our night patrols were longer than 1 hour. Much longer.

Having a big dog gets you noticed. Having a friendly big dog gets you friends and we had them everywhere. I used to make him sit and "Be Nice" when little kids approached. I used to teach the kids how to approach a big dog safely and Jack was the perfect teaching aid. We knew every house where another dog lived and heard from them whenever we went by.

After a couple of years our neighbor started going on these patrols too, bringing her two dogs along. It was not uncommon for us to be out on the walk with 5 dogs, Jack and 4 Pomeranians. Quite the herd.

Jack loved riding in the car too. We never took him too far, the Vet or to the car wash. I used to take him for his bath to a car wash not far from here that had a bay converted into a pet wash. It was a great place to take him as he was a hand full when it came time for his bath. Afterwards I always took him to McDonalds for a meal, the #1 Value Meal with a Coffee for me, he got the Fry's and the two burgers.

The End.

I was away on a trip when it started. One Friday night he would not come inside the house, he was as far away on our lot as you could get. The Good Mrs. T thought he was just being mad or stubborn because I had not returned home. I usually came home from my trips on Thursday or Friday. This particular trip was a two week affair. Jack was a different dog when I was not at home and the Good Mrs. T thought he was just pouting. But it was a bitter cold weekend to be outside and she had to go out and herd him inside many times. More importantly, he had quit eating. This was a major issue.

Finally on Monday she took him to our Vet. He advised her to immediately take him to the Pet Hospital over in Quakertown. Jack was in dire straits and he needed to be in intensive care. The Good Mrs. T drove him straight away, the Vet calling ahead and getting things set up for her. She called me, I was in San Diego. I had to scramble to get all the equipment I had with me tendered and I had to make contact with people to let them know I was leaving town. It was a holiday Monday and most everyone was at home. But late that night I was on a non-stop flight for Philly. Try as I might I could not sleep.

I first saw him in this big metal kennel, he had two IV's goi ng into him and he was weak. But he was happy to see me, his big tail pounding on the sides of the kennel like it used to bang on the kitchen cabinets. I got down into the cage with him.

I stayed with him as much as possible, they let me take him on short walks in the small yard they had. He was weak but able to get up and outside. We would wonder around a bit me holding his IV bags, when he would stop he was always aligned pointing towards home.

On Thursday morning I was visiting him, he was weaker than before. The vet gave me an update, his prognosis was poor. The holiday Monday had put the Lab works behind a couple of days (it was all done out at a place near Harrisburg). She could not start a specific course of treatment without knowing what was wrong and she needed the lab work to be sure. I told her I wanted to take him home. I could always bring him back when the lab work came in.

They pulled his IV's and the ve t briefed me on the Med's I had to give him and she also explained what renal failure in a dog his size would be like, what to look for, what it would be like in the very end. I listened, took it all in, I carrie d one end of the stretcher they used to move the very sick. I loaded him into my Subaru and I drove him home.

I carried him to his beloved couch setting him up in his favorite place. I brought up a small desk and my laptop and set up shop right there next to him. He slept comfortably I think for the first time in many days. That night the neighbor came over to visit, bringing Jack some Pizza crust. He couldn't eat. I slept on the floor next to him so he would not be alone.

The end came early Saturday morning. Jack thrashed on his front paws only, his back legs were no more. He made his way to the door across the room but I wouldn't let him out. I took him in my arms and held him while he struggled. I kept saying to him "You're a Good Boy, You're a Good Boy" over and over. It took maybe 10 or 15 minutes but he finally whimpered and then went still. I continued to hold him for quite some time, crying into his fur. My big goffy, lovable Fella was gone.

Eventually I went and woke up the Wife, had us another Cry. We positioned him on a blanket in the Family Room, she went back upstairs to bed and I spent what was left of the night with Jack. As each of the kids got up I broke the news to them. In the late morning I carried Jack back to my Subaru and we took a drive around the Neighborhood one last time. I then drove him back to the Vet Hospital for his cremation.

That was 5 years ago today, January 22nd.

We still talk about him to this day, always with a laugh about some crazy thing that he had done, always something goofy or funny or about something about his eating.

He was one of a kind. He was my Best Friend. His name was Jack.

BT: Jimmy T sends.


Bag Blog said...

Family pets - I totally understand. Your Jack reminds me of our Sadie, whom we got at an adopt-a-pet in Taos when the kids were little. We still talk about her too. We lost my son's old roping horse during the first bad cold spell this winter. I haven't been able to blog about it yet. He was 28 years old and had been one heck of a horse.

JimmyT said...

Lou, Funny how they worm into your life and heart. It's really hard when they go.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

Buck said...

I've lost several Best Friends over the course of my life as well, and I totally understand the hurt. I still miss my pups and it's been well over ten years since they went on. I have many of the same memories as you, Jimmy. Many.

alison said...

Gosh that's so sad. I'm so very sorry Jimmy. You wrote a truly wonderful dedication to him.

ASM826 said...

No matter how many good dogs you have, there is only one great dog, the one that sets the standard for all your relationships with dogs. The one you truly love.

Thanks for sharing.