Bringing Jack Home
This isn’t what I wanted to write about. My column this month was going to be another poignant memory, interspersed with moments of humorous brevity, offset with sidebars of whimsical reference.
Instead…Sunday morning happened.
I heard you at 5am in what I thought was another of your deep sighs that came more frequently now. By 5:30 I was heading to the kitchen for coffee, having spent the night on the couch to be near you because I knew you were ailing and probably would have appreciated the company. You weren’t stirring, didn’t lift your head as I passed you by. Instead you were lying motionless on your side, away from your bed, a glassy look in your eyes.
“Jack” I called. No response.
“Hey buddy, you okay?” but again nothing from you.
I repeated your name, more than once, moving ever so slowly to where you lay, terrified to discover what I already knew.
You were gone, went quietly in your sleep, your old heart just couldn’t keep going any longer. I realized then the sigh I heard earlier from you was your dying breath. Gently, I stroked your head and back. You were already stiff, the final indignation of death. My tears fell onto your face and neck, and as I kneeled down to kiss you goodbye my thoughts quickly engulfed the fifteen years that I was so very fortunate to have had you in my life.
Once again you were that energetic, playful pup that I resisted the day my daughter brought you home, who chewed the legs on both our dining room table and bed. That wonderfully happy dog that loved to play, who bothered the cat to no end and adored each and every person who came into your life. I can still envision that spinning move you did when ever anyone feigned chasing you. Round and round you went in one spot until you’d stop and grabbed an arm or a hand with your teeth while emitting a fierce growl. But not once did you ever hurt anyone, you knew the game was a game. Sometimes you’d spin so much that you would be dizzy when you stopped, and how we laughed! You’d bark in acknowledgment.
And that bark! Being a big dog, you had a deep, resonating bark making you sound even bigger than you were. It was a consolation to me when I worked nights, leaving the family at home in bed. No one dared to chance an encounter with the beast you sounded like.
When you were young and we had a fenced-in yard, we would let you out to do your business. You’d scratch the door to come back inside and we would clean up after you. Only, there was a time when we never found anything in the yard. After a few days we thought maybe it was time for a trip to the vet. Then our neighbor came over for a visit, they had a dog similar to you, and told us how she couldn’t keep up with how much crap her dog was leaving. I became suspicious. There was a six-foot fence separating our properties, normally tall enough, one would expect, to keep out overly ambitious dogs. Sure enough, as I watched one day from the window you leapt to the top of the fence, balancing there for a moment on all fours before jumping into the neighbor’s yard. I watched you leave a pile and immediately jump back to our side. Good dog, I thought mischievously, but knew this had to stop. We added foot-high extensions to the fence top. For years we and the neighbors got a chuckle over this.
I wake the Mrs to let her know Jack died, asked what blanket I could use to cover him. If one lives long enough it is too often this scenario is played out in some form. Life is unfairly too fleeting, moreso for dogs. I saw a piece online about a farmer’s dog that recently passed away, having lived to thirty – Jack should have been given more time. I watched him grow old, no longer able to spin without stumbling, walking with a limp the vet said that nothing could be done about. His once glossy, brown coat and slim body rippling with muscle aged to a dull, shapeless form that struggled to rise from his bed.
But through it all, he was Jack. The tail always wagged when you called him, always pined for a person’s touch. You could count on a kiss if you were near enough. He whined with joy when the kids – now all grown and out on their own – came for a visit. Who could ever forget how he crossed his two front legs, one over the other, as he leaned on the front windowsill to watch the world outside? He presented a stately, royal presence observing his kingdom from behind a large picture window.
It was Sunday and I made countless calls to vets, humane societies, animal hospitals, and even the police. No one could tell me what to do with my poor, recently deceased dog that was lying on our living room floor. Most numbers I dialed were never answered. Finally, though, I did get through to an animal hospital a few towns away, Ocean County Veterinary Hospital in Lakewood. They were very understanding and yes, they would take our Jack but it was up to us to get him there. The Mrs and I struggled with Jack’s mortal remains and got him to our truck. I took him alone to the hospital where they met me with a gurney. With my help, we shifted Jack from the truck to the gurney and they rolled him inside. I arranged for a private cremation. It seemed like such an ignominious end to this beautiful creature, this “gentle giant” as a friend of ours called him.
Of all my children, Jack was closest to our youngest son. They loved playing together in the yard when it snowed. Jack’s favorite was having the ball hiked to him, his head low, legs spread wide and tail wagging in anticipation of the ball sailing over his head and the both of them scrambling for its possession. The game was afoot and went on for what seemed hours, but the tail never stopped wagging.
You were my hero, Jack, and I loved you dearly. Though being the creature you were, most considered you lower on the pecking order, but that wasn’t how it was. I will always aspire to be as you were: kind, gentle, wise, and always forgiving, incapable of seeing malice in anyone. You were the master and I hoped I served you well.
It is Friday following the Sunday Jack passed and the hospital calls me to let me know Jack is ready. This time the Mrs takes the ride with me. Without her I’m sure I would lose it when they hand me the beautiful cedar box they’ve put your ashes in, the way I broke down the day I brought you there.
My heart has been aching everyday since you left, and a lot of people cried upon word of your passing, Jack. You were that beloved. I still shed tears for you every moment I am alone. I miss you, Jack, and always will, but it’s a bit easier now because you are back home where you belong.
RjCook is the author of The Road Behind Me & Dream Lover and Other Tales. Click HERE for info.