It’s said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But, an old dog can teach a man a very valuable lesson about life.
I knew a year and a half ago that the day would come. Jack was living on borrowed time. The enzymes Floyd Dorsey prescribed back then to keep Jack’s kidneys functioning were only stop-gap measures.
The blood tests done on the 9th revealed what we intuitively knew. Jack’s kidneys had shut down. There was really no choice for me but to have Doc end things as mercifully as possible.
Once the decision was made it didn’t take long. First there was a sedative. It took about 12 minutes for it to take hold, which gave me time to say goodbye and thank Jack for being such a loyal friend. Then came the intravenous injection that ended his life. Within 30 seconds, Jack twitched a few times, let out one last gasp, exhaled, and everything stopped.
Jack died peacefully.
The pain of loss is still with me. Our mutual bonds of affection were strong.
I didn’t think they would be almost five years ago when Nancy tried to convince me that our Sheltie, Ranger, needed a playmate. She’d noticed a dog named Butterball at an animal adoption fair being conducted by Wayside Waifs at the River Market in Kansas City. For Nancy and Ranger it was love at first sight. It wasn’t for me. He was the ugliest dog I’d ever seen. He was obese. He grunted. He was ding-toed and his eyes bulged in his head. His legs were spindly. For the life of me, I don’t know how they supported his body.
In the end I was out-voted. Ranger and Nancy wanted him and Butterball himself seemed quite pleased with the arrangement. So, Butterball became Jack.
A lot has happened since that morning at the River Market.
I came to love the sound of his tap dancing as I prepared meals for him. We taught him how to sit on command. He learned how to give a gentle “high five” in exchange for a dog biscuit. As soon as he heard the sound of his leash in the morning he’d scoot along the hall runner and howl with excitement. He loved neighborhood strolls and chasing squirrels.
Last summer we took Jack to Poochapalooza and he won the ugly dog contest. He was quite proud of himself. I’d occasionally tell him, “Oh, Jackie, you’re soooooo ugly.” He’d wag his tail with delight. If it hadn’t been for his weight he might have taken off like a helicopter.
Jack wasn’t above the occasional practical joke. His favorite was to sit quietly between Nancy and me while we were watching TV. Then, without warning, the odor of sulfur would fill the air. Feigning innocence, Jack would then ease his way over to his bed. It took us a while, but we finally figured out that it was Jack’s little “gotcha” game.
What was it about Jack that I found so endearing? It certainly wasn’t the tricks or his good looks. It’s taken me a while, but I think it had much more to do with my own self-image than it did with the things that Jack did to amuse me.
A few days before Jack died, I told Nancy I’d come to see that in life we often project what we’d like people to believe about us through our possessions or titles. There are times I like to think I’m a Ranger kind of guy. I’ve seen people’s reaction to him as I’ve walked around town with him. “Oh, what a beautiful dog.” I sometimes feel the urge to take credit where it isn’t due. “Thanks, I made him from some spare parts I found in the basement.” The reaction to Jack was usually different. “What an interesting looking dog.” I never knew how to respond. Did they think that Jack was born on the rings of Saturn? Couldn’t they see that Jack was a creature of the earth who simply delighted in being himself? Isn’t that what we all should be?
If Jack had been a person he would have been an “everyman.” He wouldn’t have needed a title to make himself feel important. He would never have worn a mask to hide what was really going on inside. He wouldn’t have been pretty, but he would have been real. He’d have been known as a guy who was limping his way to the Promised Land.
Jack left a valuable life lesson. We’d be much better off if we took of the masks and shed the pretenses. The titles we like to hear along with our names, the images we project for the sake of public consumption and the alter egos we adopt in life are no substitutes for the real thing.