For months, Jack, our 16-year-old sweetheart-of-a-dog had been inching his way toward heaven. It was hard to watch. He weakened. Stopped doing the things he loved. He slowly lost his zest for living.
If you’re lucky, once in a lifetime, a dog comes along who opens your heart a little more than usual. If you’re lucky, you have the privilege of knowing a special creature who touches your soul and reminds you what true love is. My Jack was one of those soul-touching dogs.
Jack joined me sixteen years ago when I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado. (I stayed for three years, as it turned out before returning to my beloved mountains of North Carolina). I wanted a companion for my five-year-old dog, Emma, who seemed homesick for eastern forests.
So one hot August day I drove to the Ahimsa Ranch Animal Rescue nearly on the Wyoming border to meet a dog of uncertain age (estimated at 8 months) and 50 pounds. He was an orangey-brown (from the photos on the website) and got along with other dogs, as well as cats. His name was “Cricket,” which implied energy and youth. Was I up for this?
Before arriving at the rescue ranch, Cricket had been in Ukiah, California at a no-kill shelter. I don’t know the details, but he was sent with some other dogs to the Colorado ranch. So by the time I met him, he had already been through a lot.
I wandered for over an hour on dusty country roads with Emma in the back seat of my ancient Toyota Corolla. Emma had the power to approve or disapprove if Cricket would be hopping into the back seat with her on the drive home.
I took a left at a long row of rural mailboxes with no evidence of where all these people lived. It was easy to imagine that these boxes were only checked periodically on the way into town for ‘supplies.’
Down another long gravel road, countryfolk and coyotes alike could see me coming as I raised a dust cloud that announced my arrival.
When I reached the small rescue ranch, which amounted to a double-wide trailer, we were greeted by Lauren who smiled and extended her hand.
Having lived in the southern US all my life, I had never seen a genuine cowgirl before, but there she stood as if she had been dressed by central casting at Universal Studios. Her hair pulled back in a braid, she wore a cowboy hat, tight blue jeans, a checkered shirt, and leather boots. A large knife was strapped to her belt that I imagined she used daily, and not just for peeling apples.
Behind the double-wide was a huge, corralled area that contained a mixture of gray swayback horses, two mules, and various three-legged goats. Various weather-beaten chickens scattered about with haggard-looking geese. It occurred to me that whoever ran this ranch was an angel of sorts who let old horses age with dignity and grace.
As I approached the trailer to meet Cricket, I was told that he was one of 16 dogs who resided on her bed because the air conditioner was in her bedroom. I waited on the porch as she went inside.
Within minutes, my boy bounded out. As mutts go, he was ordinary looking. White chest, ears straight up, white paws. Little did I know then that I would caress those soft ears thousands of times over the years.
Emma and Cricket met. They exchanged business cards, a.k.a. sniffed butts. All seemed well enough to give it a try. I gave the ranch-hand angel the required nominal fee for changing my life forever for the better.
I settled on a new name – nothing clever, indeed a much-used but rock-solid name for dogs: Jack. I often called him Jackie, and on occasion for fun, Jacqueline.
Happily, he was a total mutt:
Jack’s personality was so even-keeled – nothing fazed him. He wasn’t aggressive with people or other dogs, but he also wasn’t fearful. He was mellow with my cats and happy to let them head-butt him. If he had been human, I imagined he would be a laid back surfer dude who smoked s little too much weed.
He was intensely loyal as dogs usually are, following me from room to room wherever I would go.
He was not a big barker, just when people would come up to the house.
Jack was a huge sniffer compared to Emma and other dogs I’d had. He loved his walks and he loved to play in creeks and rivers.
And he was very huggable – he didn’t mind hugs at all–and was like having a living teddy bear.
I nearly lost him at age 13 to some illness, but he pulled through. Thirteen is already pretty old for a dog. He later had trouble with his hips. His back-end gradually weakened to the point he couldn’t go up and down the stairs without help. Both getting up off the floor and laying down were painful.
I gave him all manner of joint and other supplements that seemed to help some, as did some hemp oil. The surfer dude loved his ‘weed.’
I struggled to get him to eat enough, and he lost a lot of weight. His walks grew shorter and shorter. He slept the days away and I often looked closely to see if he was still breathing.
After almost sixteen years and an estimated 6,000 walks, last Friday I said goodbye to that pup who bounded off the porch of the rescue ranch and into my heart. At about 104 in human years, I didn’t want him to suffer anymore, even though I knew I would miss him terribly.
Well done, faithful friend. Thank you for your service. Until your last day on earth, you stood and came to me whenever I entered a room like I was royalty. You were the sweetest dog in the world. Thank you for loving me with your whole being. I became a better human because of you.
Jackie, I will love you forever. xoxo