My Boy

Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, and filling the emptiness we didn’t know we had.       ~ Thom Jones

From the day my husband brought him and his sister to the house in North Carolina for me to see “the cute puppies the neighbor found on the side of the road,” Jake has been my constant companion.

I remember kneeling down to pet him and his sister. His sister was running around my legs, wiggling and squirming – she was a cute little ball of black fur.

Then there was the other pup.

Quiet and shy. He laid his soft head on my lap and looked at me with his big brown eyes. He was taller than her, his spine and hips were visible with quite a few ticks hanging on. When he moved, he seemed to struggle a little to walk.

OK, the pups are cute – now take them back to the neighbor. I don’t want a dog!

I got up to walk away and the tall, gangly, odd-walking pup followed me. For some reason, yet unknown to me, I said…… OK, he can stay.

One of the best decisions I have ever made.

After bathing him and removing all the ticks, I looked at his paws and found out someone had dragged him across a rough surface. His back pads were chewed up and bloody. He walked funny because he had painful back paws and enormous “clown feet” front paws.

I guessed him to be about 11 weeks old. At the time he could fit under our coffee table, but in a short time he was too tall to fit under the table anymore. And he continued to grow.

I have MANY funny and beautiful memories of him at our North Carolina property – growing up surrounded by farmland. He was so funny and gentle, hard-headed and silly. I needed him more than I ever realized.

We had a friend watch him at their house when we had to make a trip home (Pennsylvania) to visit my parents. Jake was SO funny when he put his head in their little pond to watch the fish. His ears floated on the surface as his face was totally submerged following the fish around the pond. Not sure where he learned to hold his breath!

Our next move was to Iowa. Jake and I made the trip to Iowa in my VW Passat along with my son. The back seat was Jake’s space – by the time we moved he was 100+ lbs. and needed his own “seat”. We stopped in Pennsylvania to visit my parents on the way to the Midwest. He was a gentleman as usual.

Next stop was living in Iowa for 3 years. We went for walks in snow that was deep enough for him to walk over our fenced yard (I dug paths so he could go out to go the bathroom comfortably). We took walks in the -35 degree winter weather. He swam in the lake in the summer. He was a trooper and always adapted to whatever surroundings we adventured to.

Then we (my husband) were transferred to Ohio. I remember staying in a hotel with Jake on the way to our next state. We stayed on the 2nd floor. The elevator door opened and a person saw Jake and stopped dead and said “Whoa!!!!” and backed away.

Jake was a big, black beautiful Lab who had a tremendous presence. Everyone that met him commented on his size and beauty – even though he was not a pure Labrador Retriever, he looked like a purebred.

The Ohio rental had a small lake he liked to play in once in a while. It wasn’t every day as he liked to stay clean, but didn’t like to get a bath (until I started bathing him, then he loved it and knew he was “so pretty” when done).

The first day we were in the new rental, my husband had to go to work so left Jake and me at the house at 6:30 in the morning. I had taken one of Jake’s beds (the largest orthopedic dog bed I could find) to the house the previous day – so that’s what he and I shared in the early morning (it was still too dark to get started on cleaning the new house). Jake was generous with his bed – after he gave me a “what are you doing?” look – he laid against me and we kept each other warm.

My constant companion – he stayed near me every day of our lives. I can never begin to explain how much this dog was loved. He was with me more than anyone (even humans) in my life. He was attentive, gentle, and intuitive. As I was yet to learn just how much.

After Ohio, we moved to Georgia. We bought 5 acres, surrounded by hundreds of acres of farm and hunting land. Jake loved it. He came with me when I rode my horse, he chased all the squirrels, bunnies and pheasants he cared to chase. He came for walks in the woods and rarely let me out of his sight.

Then came my cancer diagnosis. Jake was there through the pain, through the tears and with me when no one else understood or was around. When I went through treatments and surgeries, he took care of me. Maybe not getting me things – but my Boy never left my side. When I walked slow, he walked slow. When I had good days, he was off like a healthy (my) day. I can not begin to explain his love.

I miss him.

At the end of his life, I made sure he knew how much I loved him.

Every night he woke up panting from pain, we would go to the living room and I’d sit with him on the floor and rub his back or sore shoulder. I’d tell him it was OK until he finally relaxed and fell asleep again.

During the day, when he walked slow, I walked slow beside him. He and I knew the end was coming. We enjoyed every day we had remaining.

I had to make the decision to let him go with dignity. He was in pain every day. He couldn’t get up without help anymore. He went from 116 lbs. to 106 lbs. in 2 months, I hated to see him fading. He had dignity even in his pain – I can’t explain what a classy gentleman my Boy was.

I hate saying WAS.

It still hurts. I still hear his collar jingling and his deep voice barking – letting me know someone not welcome was on our property. I still miss his big head on my lap, looking at me with those beautiful, kind brown eyes. I still miss hearing his “oof” when he laid down, and his dragging those big, front clown feet. His paws always smelled like Fritos. And his big, soft floppy ears were so soft and beautiful. He loved when I gently rubbed his ears – it was as therapeutic to him as it was to me.

He gave me a sense of safety and peace, even in his older years. My property has a different feel now – my guardian is gone.

I remember his last day – he walked out to where I was working in the bottom pasture – a good bit away for him on such a hot day (he didn’t like the heat). He slowly walked out to where I was and stood with me. Just stood there and let me pet his soft, shiny coat and talk to him. Then we slowly walked back through the pasture to the house. He’d lean against me when we stopped. He knew I loved him beyond words spoken.

Once he turned the corner, his health declined fast. Too fast. Not enough time with him, but I wouldn’t change a short second. He came through my life when I needed him as much as he needed me.

If anyone has ever loved a dog, you know what I mean when I tell you he was MORE than a dog. He was my life companion for 11 years. Until time passes and heals the space, I have a huge hole in my soul for this animal I have been blessed to love.

I find comfort in knowing Jake knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I love(d) him.

FYI: The photo is of my Jake.

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