Jack had it rough from the start… Born with the dubious distinction of being his own uncle (yes, his half-brother was also his father), he was the runt of the litter, and had to be bottle fed to survive.
He didn’t let a little thing like having the odds stacked against him get in the way of his survival though. He knew there were important things waiting for him in life, couches he needed to hold down so they wouldn’t run away. And somewhere, there was a family out there waiting for him, though they didn’t know it yet, a family who knew nothing about pit bulls, or even dogs for that matter, who needed to have their lives changed irreversibly…
“I think we should get a dog” I told John.
John was not unaware of my love for animals, and over the years we’d always had the staple cat(s) living with us, along with guinea pigs, snakes, hamsters, hedgehogs, etc, but this statement still caused him to raise an eyebrow. I had never expressed any interest in having a dog before that day. In fact, I had always thought of myself as a cat person. Something had been nibbling at the back of my brain for quite some time though, a feeling that my life was missing something.
“You don’t know anything about dogs” he told me, eyebrow still raised. “I watch Victoria Stillwell on TV” I replied, “How hard can it be?”
He looked at me for a moment, shook his head, and went back to whatever it was he was doing at the time. He didn’t say no, but he hadn’t said yes either. It was time for some strategy on my part. Over the next few months I went to work on Operation Canine Reciprocal Acquisition and Partner Persuasion, or O-CRAPP.
So what was my plan to convince John I was capable of taking care of a dog? Easy, I trained the cat to do doggie tricks. I taught MacDuff to sit on command, beg, stand on his hind legs, and also to dance by turning three circles on cue. I did it using the positivity method of dog training, and of course it worked. Why wouldn’t it? It’s not like cats are a different species or anything, right?
Still, John was not so eager to jump on my band-wagon. I had to break down his resistance even further, and so I began sending him pictures of available dogs. It didn’t matter what breed they were, if they were cute and helpless looking their picture landed in his in-box. I took Tiana to play with puppies at the pet store, and sent him pictures of the event so he could see how happy she looked with a little bundle of fluff. In short, I wore him down until he was putty in my hands. Now it was just a matter of finding the dog that was meant to be ours.
They called him moo-moo. They thought his markings made him look like a cow. Personally, I didn’t see it. What I did see though, was that there was something not quite right about him. John saw it too. He leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He walks a little sideways.” “So does your daughter!” I hissed back, and before you knew it, he was leashed up and riding on my lap in our car. We knew he wasn’t quite right, so he needed a family that wasn’t quite right either; we would love him no matter what. Little did we know that it would become our mantra. Vet: “Your dog is not quite right.” Us: “We know, but we love him anyway.”
“I am going to KILL that damn dog!” I yelled as John walked in the door. “He ATE my dining room chair!” I pointed to the adolescent dog sleeping peacefully on the couch, totally oblivious to my screaming. “That wood is a half inch thick!” I continued to rant, “How did he manage to chew THROUGH it in the thirty seconds I had my back turned?!?!?” John stood silently at the door, work bag still in hand, a bemused smirk on his face. I eyed him with a scowl, if he dared laugh at me, I was gonna punch him!
Training Jack, as he was now called, had been a test of my patience. He spent the first few months in our home either leashed directly to my belt, or tethered to a piece of nearby furniture so I could keep an eye on him. Because if he wasn’t eating something in the house, he was peeing on it. He kept me chasing after him so much, that I felt like I was running in an exhausted stupor, barely able to care for my kids because I was so intent on keeping the dog out of trouble.
Most days I wasn’t even sure I liked him, let alone loved him, but then a funny thing happened…
Well, not funny in a ha ha way, but a curious kind of funny.
Among the many physical ailments Jack was born with, one of the more noticeable was a deformed spine. It didn’t hamper his mobility to any large extent, but he didn’t run much, and he was never terribly agile. One morning, as he was going out to the bathroom, he fell down our front steps and injured himself. He didn’t show it at first, except for a torn up ear, but he had wrenched his back pretty badly. About a day later he began to show us he was hurt, when anytime he was touched he screamed in pain.
It was the first time, of several, that I was majorly concerned for him and his well being. I curled up next to him on the floor, and I cried. I realized at that moment in time, that he had become so much more than a four legged piranha intent on destroying every article of furniture I owned. He was a furry child. Sure, he would never grow up and go to college, would never be able to care for me as I grew old and infirm, but on the flip side he would never ask me for money for a prom dress or wreck my car either. From that moment on he was, without a doubt, my baby, and it was my job to protect him.
So that’s how it was, and everyone knew where they stood. Jack eventually stopped gnawing on all I held dear as he grew older, but his health continued to plague him. He was prone to all sorts of infections; ear, eye, sinus, and yeast. In another heart wrenching emergency run to the vet, he was diagnosed with pancreatitis that was brought on by eating an entire pigs ear in thirty seconds or less. He only had one visible testicle, a condition which caused me to nearly faint when I saw the estimate to get him neutered (apparently they have to go exploring in the abdomen for the other one), but in the end it didn’t matter because each time we’d schedule the surgery he would either get sick or hurt himself and it would have to be postponed until he was healthy.
It never happened…
During the summer of 2012, Jack began fainting every time he stood up. We rushed him to the emergency vet’s, and eventually he was diagnosed with a heart condition. Expense wasn’t even discussed, we just threw enough money at the vets to start sizable college funds for all of their children, and told them to fix our dog. Medications were ordered, and we were told to cross our fingers and pray, which we did.
I performed CPR on him one beautiful warm August morning. I begged him not to leave me while my kids looked on in horror, and he didn’t. Maybe he heard me and knew I wasn’t ready to let go yet, or maybe he was worried that the couch would run off if he wasn’t around to hold it down.
I had six more months with my beautiful boy before his heart gave out on him for good. Each day was a blessing, and while I was hopeful that the medication could stabilize his heart, a voice inside of me kept telling me to prepare for the worst. In my gut I knew that Jack’s shining star was meant to burn bright, not long.
I was with him for as long as they allowed me to be, practically pushing me out the door because I wanted to see it through to the end. I kissed him over and over as he fell asleep in my arms, whispering I love you, I love you, I love you, as I did.
If you had told me four years ago that a pitbull would come into my life and change me forever, I would have laughed at you. The truth of it is though, his absence has left me shattered. An empty crate, an empty collar, a pitbull shaped hole in my heart. I wonder if I could have done more for him, if I should have done things differently, despite the vet’s reassurance that we did more than anyone ever expected of us. There was something not quite right about that dog, but we loved him anyway.
He changed my life, he changed many of our friends and families perceptions of pitbulls. He was a good dog, who never bit off anyone’s face, and looking back through the many, many pictures I have of him, he was a happy, silly dog most of the time.
When I picked up his remains from the vet’s office a few weeks later, they gave me a ceramic tile with his paw print on it. I took it home, and after shedding a few tears over it, I scanned it into the computer and cleaned it up. I then asked John to help me do one more thing for my dog. I didn’t even have to launch a secondary movement of O-CRAPP, he agreed with a simple nod and a couple of phone calls…
I miss you Poopy dog, but it turns out that you’re not the end of the story. You opened up my heart to the fact that without a dog it wasn’t completely full, and you opened my eyes to the plight of millions of good dogs out there just like you. I think that might have been the important thing you survived against the odds for, and I’m so very glad you did. Do all the things you dreamed about but couldn’t do here on earth while you wait for me. Run, jump, play! I’ll be with you before you know it, and we’ll play a game of fetch.
I’ll love you forever…