This week’s prompt is “A family member” but because I don’t want to pick just one family member to single out and write about, I’m giving it a little twist.
I’ve been lucky enough to have five dogs now, and every one of them has been wonderful. Let’s start at the beginning.
My parents got Jasper, a Britney Spaniel puppy, about a year before I was born. (They joke that they wanted to “practice” before having a kid. He broke his leg running in the backyard and drank antifreeze in the garage. So…yeah.) (He survived both of those events just fine. Apparently he stayed at the vet’s overnight after the antifreeze thing on a vodka drip. They said he was a loud drunk.) So I basically grew up with that dog. Walking him after the school was my first official “chore.” He was fun, playful, energetic — until he got older, when he started developing arthritis. I learned that dogs don’t live nearly as long as people — and worse, that it’s part of our job as dog owners to decide when the kindest, most loving act is to put them down.
I remember when dad told me that Jasper’s kidneys were failing and soon, he would stop eating on his own. I said, “I wish Jasper could tell me what he wanted.” My dad asked if I could accept the vet telling me what was best. I guess I did. I remember the morning when Dad told us he would be taking Jasper to vet for the last time while we were at school. I took one last picture with him in front of the fireplace and Dad and I took him for one last walk — just halfway up the block and back, because he couldn’t walk much farther.
We got Jake, a Golden Retriever puppy, about a year after putting Jasper down. Jake still holds the title in my family as “World’s Greatest Dog,” and he earned it. By now, I was old enough to take part — a little — in training him and started to learn about disciplining dogs and asserting dominance and their pack mentality. Jake exemplified the Golden Retriever traits — smart, eager to please, loyal, active. He loved going to Tahoe — and we took him there a lot. He’d patrol for squirrels, keep watch from the patio, go on hikes, swim in the creek. At some point my dad, and then I, started taking him on runs. Dad established this four-mile loop with him and they’d run four or five days a week. When I tried to take him, he would not go on any other route. That was his running route and that was it. He obviously loved all of us, and really anyone who’d scratch his ears or give him treats, but he had a special bond with my dad.
It was heartbreaking to watch Jake get older — he got horrible arthritis in his hips, and this dog who used to run four miles and want to go again as soon as we got home started to struggle just to stand up. I remember one time when I was home with my dad — we had just eaten dinner and we probably watching the Giants game. We heard a commotion behind us. Jake had gotten his front legs on the dining table and was going for the last half of the French bread we’d eaten with dinner. Dad and I were so impressed that he, at 12 years old, could still do that, I think we rewarded him with a Beggin’ Strip.
We found Will at an adoption event about a year after getting Jake. He was older — about eight or so — and clearly had a rough past, though we never knew much about it. When we first brought Will home, if you banged a cupboard door shut or even clapped your hands suddenly, he’d run to the corner and shake. Eventually he calmed down and learned to trust us. He and Jake were instant buddies. I think Jake helped keep him young and Will sort of acted as an older mentor — like Shadow to Chance in Homeward Bound, a little.
Will loved car rides and jogging. He used to lay on our beds and snuggle himself into our stuffed animals. He was so chill — we could put sunglasses or hats on him and he’d just sit there like “whatevs, dude.” Once he settled with us, he just seemed happy. That perfectly content, free-from-cares, what-more-could-I-ask-for happiness. He had found a loving family and there was no reason to ever be anything but relaxed and carefree. Except in crowds — he’d get overwhelmed when we’d go to Tahoe with the whole extended family. I used to find him hiding in the bathtub. And my youngest cousins, at the time, didn’t fully understand that some dogs liked some personal space or to be handled gently, so he ran and hid when one would see him and yell “WEEEEEELLLLL!”
We used to have baby gates to keep them in the kitchen/den area at night or when we weren’t home. The night that we put Will down, Jake jumped the gate for the first time and made his way to my parents’ room. So just a few months later, we adopted Sam from an Old English Sheepdog rescue group. Oh, Sam. He was a big, klutzy, crazy goofball of a dog. If I’m being honest, he and I probably had the closest bond when I was in high school. The summer I was home from college and only working part-time, when I was usually the last one to get up each morning, he’d come to my bedroom, nudge the door open, and plant himself right next to my bed until I got up. When I took a shower, he’d sit right outside the bathroom, waiting for me/guarding the door.
It was a role reversal for Jake — Sam was a couple years younger than him, so where Jake used to bug Will with his youthful energy, Sam now hounded Jake. Their relationship was more like brothers — they mostly got along, but they also kinda bickered a lot. We tried to get Sam to run with Jake on those four-mile loops, and Sam would go, because he didn’t want to be left out, but OES are really not made for distance running. I’d go with them and have Jake’s leash in one hand as he pulled ahead, and Sam’s in the other as he lagged behind. Sam’s favorite part was when we turned the last corner home — it was downhill, and I’d drop Jake’s leash (he would pick it up in his mouth and trot straight to the front door) and Sam would muster up his last bits of energy, knowing that treats were coming soon. Nothing, absolutely nothing, made him happier than mealtime. Sam, at his lightest, weighed around 105 pounds, but when he realized he was about to get dinner, he got all four feet several inches off the ground in his excitement. He literally experienced Christmas morning every single day, and still is an inspiration to me to get that excited whenever I have the chance.
And now Husband and I have Onyx, and she’s 100% one of the best things in my life. She’s my running partner, my hiking buddy, my shotgun navigator, my fierce protector. I’ve never referred to dogs as “furbabies” and I don’t call myself Onyx’s “mom.” I’ve recently thought about that, and decided it’s because even though she’s “dependent” on me and my husband, it’s not a straight caregiver-dependent relationship. In many ways, she’s more companion than child.
When we first adopted her, I wasn’t totally sure it would work out. She was so shy, so reticent, so damaged by whatever asshole had her first — but it took just a couple weeks for her to start to break out of her shell (with me, at least). And I saw this playful side to her that had probably never been shown before (at first, we’d give her toys and she’d have no idea what to do with them), this intelligence, this amazing capacity to love if someone would just do the same for her.
I’m grateful that Will taught me how amazing and wonderful rescue dogs are if you can be a little patient. I’m grateful for Jake showing me that dogs are the best running and hiking partners. I’m grateful that Jasper first taught me the awesome, amazing responsibility of owning a dog. I’m grateful that Sam showed me what pure joy looks like. I’m grateful that Onyx just makes me smile every single day. And for all of them, for so much more.
I’m grateful that they taught me — are still teaching me — how incredible unconditional love and loyalty feel. How amazing it is to have someone so excited for you to come home or say the word “walk” there’s nothing to do but run around in circles for two minutes.
If you have the love of a dog, you’re doing something right.