Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Memory of Jack

Our Golden Retriever, Jack (also known as Jack Boy, Jackson or most affectionately by Leslie as simply J.A.) came to us in December of 2005. He was a roly-poly Christmas puppy at only 8 weeks old.  His father was a raucous, leggy Golden, who banged and scrabbled at the back door when we saw him in Modesto. His mother was an elegant, almost regal canine, who watched us with accusatory eyes.  He was the last of the litter, and cried the first night we had him until Elizabeth climbed into the laundry basket with him. Jack was indescribably cute and perfectly puppy-like in all the right ways.  We adored him immediately.

Jack grew into a goat-sized adolescent quickly, as large breed puppies will do, and began to lose his downy coat.  As he changed, he gained in mischief what he lost in cuteness.  He got into absolutely everything, and trounced all over our 12 year old Golden, Casey, which caused her physical pain, so he spent much of his time in the kitchen behind a gate.  There he chewed up every cord he could find, destroyed numerous kitchen appliances before we could puppy proof the room, and shredded puppy pads thoroughly all over the floor. Jack was an escape artist, as well, and in our absence, once left the kitchen to torment our macaw, General.  General never recovered from that nerve wracking experience and had to move on to another home.  Constantly jumping, scratching and nipping, he was thoroughly exasperating and impossible. More than once, his ride in the car, however precarious for the driver, could have been his last. He almost made the trip straight to the SPCA.

In June of 2006 we moved to Connecticut, and Jack took his first ride in the belly of the beast, a giant 747 that was loud, cold, and terribly frightening.  We watched his crate move up the conveyor belt into the cargo bay through the window of the plane and could see he was trembling.  We worried about him through the flight, and when we picked him up at JFK’s cargo warehouse, he was brought out in his crate on a forklift.  Jiggling back and forth, he was clearly terrified.  However, we were certain he would bolt, so we didn’t let him out of his crate until we made it to the hotel in Connecticut. 

When we opened the crate, what emerged was a completely different dog.  In the hotel room, we kept his dog crate visible and it served as a behavioral reminder.  Jack watched it with one eye as though he expected it to wake up and swallow him again.  Large movements like opening the sofa bed for Elizabeth made him flinch.  But shortly he became focused, happy, extremely eager to please and prone to only the tiniest moments of fancy. He managed an impulsive escape once to run blissfully and happily through the halls of the Marriot Courtyard with Elizabeth running behind him.  Who could blame him?  What a glorious fiasco!  He co-existed peacefully with us in a hotel suite for three weeks before we were able to move.  It was an amazing transformation.

From that point forward, Jack grew into a prince. It was as if he emulated his rowdy father as a pup, and in his adulthood became more like his mother.

We were there living in Connecticut in 2006 when we got Daizy, and she was just a tiny loaf of bread. We introduced her to Jack carefully and he greeted her with gentle love.  Our home became their playground. When they played together, Jack tossed her about by the collar, and took her tiny head in his jaws without ever hurting her.  He would lay prone in order to level the playing field as she danced and yipped around him.  That was something he continued to do right until the end. Jack leveraged his size only when something tasty was at stake, and he’d simply put himself in the forefront and ensure Daizy didn’t have access until he was finished. They became a unit although they had vastly different personalities.  Jack was all heart, gentle and compliant, and Daizy is cerebral, willful and diligent.  Right up until the end, he tolerated her pushing him around incessantly, licking his ears obsessively, and getting into his bits and pieces whenever she felt like it.  Most recently, they wouldn’t be separated at the dog park, so Daizy navigated the big dog side with ease and confidence to be near him.  Jack wasn’t as social with other dogs as Daizy was and spent most of his dog park time exercising superior olfactory senses around the perimeter where other dogs wouldn’t bother him.  This was due to an encounter with an aggressive dalmation that bit his flank. He enjoyed his dog park time, and greeted all the humans enthusiastically, but he was cautious with other dogs. His memory was long.  He and Daizy would return to one another every so often muzzle to muzzle with deliberateness, and then go about their separate business again I image to relish the bountiful banquet of olfactory delights the dog park was.

Over the next three years, and thoroughly enjoying Daizy’s presence, Jack grew into an exemplary dog.  We left Connecticut, returned to California, and the mature Golden Retriever that returned with us wasn’t terrified to go back on the airplane, rather he was accepting of it.  He was a prince in the hotel, too.  Our family, humans and dogs alike, seemed to be truly in synch here in Pacifica, where he and Daizy had an almost 360 degree view of the outside, where together they went in the car almost every day, and where neighborhood dogs provided an even more delightful bouquet of smells and experiences. 

Leslie was acknowledged as the pack leader in our home.  The dogs both loved her dearly and wanted to be near her constantly.  They knew instinctively when it was time to get Elizabeth at school.  Jack demonstrated natural compassion by helping Leslie at the stairs.  She’s always had bad knees, and at times when climbing the stairs were difficult, Jack would ascend first, wait at the top, and extend his neck so she could hold his collar to step up.  He braced himself for her.  When she went to bed, they went to bed.   In fact, I was out of town once on business, and Jack slept on my side with his head on the pillow all night.  Next to being in the car, being on the big bed was his greatest joy.

Jack’s relationship with Elizabeth was particularly special; after all they’d grown up together. He treated her like a sister, although she had no fur and had two legs instead of four.  Daizy considers Elizabeth a bit of a nuisance, but Jack only wanted to make her happy.  He got better walking on the leash, learned tricks, and bestowed smooches simply to please her. He even posed deliberately for photo sessions with her iPhone (yes, he was a poser!).  Once at the dog park we saw a completely different side of Jack.  A big black dog approached Elizabeth who was standing next to me, and for some reason Jack considered it a threat.  He came between the two of us with tremendous intent, rushed at the dog growling, and then acted proud of what he’d done.  They say dogs can read energy, so only he would know what the danger might have been.  But we didn't get angry with him. He was expressing his love.

Seating was of particular concern to Jack, and I wonder if it wasn’t some sort of pecking order he observed.  If he couldn’t have his place on the couch each evening, he’d sulk deliberately, or stare wide eyed at Leslie until she couldn’t’ stand it any longer and made seating adjustments to accommodate him. He always had to have the second passenger seat in the car, as well.  Once we drove to Los Angeles and made him a big space in the back of the van so he could stretch out.  He chose instead to remain curled up like a croissant on the second passenger seat next to Elizabeth for the entire 7 hour trip, moving only when we walked him, which was frequently.

Jack would spend his mornings and evenings lounging on his couch, with his head resting on the arm so he could stare at Leslie sitting in her lounge chair.  He demanded his toast every morning, as well, so we gave it to him.  Although Elizabeth was the exception, he wasn’t much of a kisser, and rather gave full body hugs using the length of his torso.  Jack wasn’t crazy about dog cookies, most times couldn’t care less, but he ate them so not to be outdone by Daizy.  He wasn’t much of a barker either, but turned into one at Daizy’s insistence.  Jack hated to be left home during the day, and if he didn’t get his daily time in the car, he would brood and sulk again.  But car time was his favorite thing, just like being on the big bed, and he would sit in the passenger seat with his nose at the open window, smelling the world, and closing his eyes in canine bliss. His intense happiness was completely sincere and a sight to behold. 

We considered Jack a prince, and he was in every way, fully matured and having left his troubled youth behind him.  He had one weakness. He ate toys. Not all the time, but in less than a four year period, he needed two major abdominal surgeries to clear blockage.  The first was just as we were leaving Connecticut, and the second was here in California less than two years ago.
Last Friday, Jack began vomiting. It wasn’t alarming initially, but within a day it was symptomatic of GI blockage, so off to the vet we went. He took a turn for the worse a day later after receiving his true diagnosis.  A sizable portion of Jack’s large intestine had telescoped or turned in on itself, shutting down his GI system, and accumulating toxins quickly.  The doctor said he had an infection, as well, but the root of the problem was scarring from previous surgeries. 

As a family, we made a hard decision to spare Jack the numerous painful surgeries that would be a gateway to a severely decreased quality of life. We cried a lot, but came together at the vet’s office to say our final good-byes.  It was obvious Jack was in pain.  His flame seemed to be barely flickering and even his coat, usually shiny and luxuriant, seemed muted.  He took his special time with Elizabeth, resting his head in her lap as she said her farewells.  When the doctor arrived with the syringes, he was compliant.  Jack actually liked the doctor, gave him hugs despite being sick, and knew he was being helped.  He laid down on his side willingly, his head still up, and we all thanked him for being good to us.  When he fell asleep, his head gently held by the nurse went limp, and Elizabeth began sobbing.  Soon we were all sobbing and reluctant to leave him even though the deed had been done.  He looked like he was only sleeping.

In the car, Leslie extended Jack’s collar to Daizy. Obviously, she knew something was going on.  She sniffed it up and down with focus and determination and must have learned everything she needed to know because she wastes no time looking for him.  She hasn’t shirked her protective duties, and she checks in with each of us from time to time.  We’ve noticed she misses the affection he gave her, and the physical contact. So, she’s taken to falling asleep on my chest in the mornings.  Daizy and Jack are two completely different dogs, one made of the heart, the other of brains, and I wonder how she will evolve in his absence. She’s a big dog in a small package, but she’s always had his companionship.  I think another dog in the house would make her happy.

The space Jack left behind in our family and our home is huge.  We all miss him terribly.  I’ve never been a dog person, but I got to know Jack.  I feel his absence poignantly appreciating that he didn’t’ start out the Prince he was went he left us.  It took patience, process and the passage of time to turn him into the wonderful dog he was. Jack made quite an impression on me, and I can’t escape the feeling of loss he left behind.  I wish I could because I hate it.  Elizabeth wears his tags around her neck on a chain, and the rest of his jewelry is hanging on the rear view window of the van. He’ll be given a private cremation, and we’ll receive his remains in a sweet little urn that will have his photo on it.

We’re not sure how we’re supposed to get used to being without him yet.  But time is relentless. When you lose someone you love, it feels like time should stop. But it doesn’t.  Instead, time marches on, and ironically heals with an unending measure of days, weeks and months.

Jack, we’ll miss you terribly.  

Good voyage, dear one, and thank you for loving us.

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