Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Jack (2008~2016)

When Jack came into our lives on a bitterly cold day in January 2011, he was neither his former nor future self.   
A magnificent and very large chocolate Labrador retriever, Jack and his sister, Nicky, had been confined to cages and got virtually no exercise.  He had rubbed his nose raw on the bars of his cage and had some weakness in his hind quarters because of the confined space in which he subsisted. There was about three feet of snow on the ground at the mountain retreat when Deborah lifted the tailgate on her SUV and Jack and Nicky saw the spacious yard below the Kittatinny Mountains for the first time.   
They looked at her as if to say, "For us?" 
Yes, for them.   
Jack and Nicky jumped from the SUV and tore off into the
yard.  They burrowed into the snow drifts, chased each other back and forth and did pirouettes in the air in sheer joy for their new home and a freedom to be themselves they probably did not have since they were puppies.
Other than their confinement and the fact their owner, who never walked them, was in the Army and preparing to ship out to Afghanistan, we know very little about the first four years of Jack and Nicky's lives.  We managed to figure out their age from their shot records, but that's about it. 
Nicky also had some issues.  Her coat was a mess and she was obese because of her confinement.  From that first day in the snow, we were concerned that her heart would explode from unaccustomed exertion.   
But given a chance, the resilience of canis lupus familiaris is extraordinary.  After barely three months of regular exercise, a top-flight if pricey diet and that great intangible -- the reciprocated love of their masters -- Jack and Nicky were the selves they always were supposed to be.  Jack's nose healed, muscle and tone returned to his hind quarters, and his coat positively glistened. Nicky lost weight, her endurance improved and her coat also came back.   
While Nicky was no slouch, Jack proved to be extraordinarily athletic.   
He would chase his blue rubber ball beyond exhaustion, his massive figure soaring high off the ground.  He would execute full turns in the air to snatch a bouncing ball before hurtling back down.  He fearlessly dove off embankments into creeks and retrieved his sister's red rubber ball when it floated off and became lost, which it often did.  (Dogs are supposed to be color blind, right? But they knew which ball was theirs.)
Jack adored the ocean.  
The sight of him riding his first Atlantic wave, and a pretty big one at that, was unforgettable.  His head was well out of the water, front legs extended, massive ears flapping in the wind, his big eyes bugged out, and with a look on his face that shouted Ay caramba!   
The wave deposited him on the beach and receded.  Was he okay?  He got to his feet, shook himself off and raced back into the surf for another ride, and then another.
Jack was a guardian, a gentleman and a trouper.   
If he didn't know someone, he positioned himself between Deborah and the stranger.  He always let Nicky go in or out of a door first.  He put up with abuse from the cats, including a rescue kitten who used his nose as a punching bag.  No cat could transit a room in which Jack was sitting without taking a detour to rub up against him in what unquestionably were gestures of affection.
In mid-November of 2014, it became obvious that Jack was not feeling well.  Had we not realized that, Nicky certainly would have let us know.  Bloodwork and a urinalysis revealed that he had a urinary tract infection and was diabetic, which he may always have been.  We began giving him twice-a-day insulin shots.  The infection cleared up, but he began showing hind quarter weakness, almost certainly a form of neuropathy, which grew steadily worse. 
A result of the diabetes?  Probably not.  Genetic?  Possibly so, but Jack was not ready to move on, and after several harrowing weeks when it seemed like he couldn't make it another day, he began showing signs of getting better, in part because of hand feeding and supplements, including a Tibetan kidney cleanser which he gobbled up in spoons of canned catfood. 
Jack continued to rally through the late winter and spring, but it became obvious that he was going blind, a frequent and unavoidable result of canine diabetes.
No matter, Nicky was there to lead the way, and we helped him address stairs and other obstacles. The house, yard, walking paths, fields and creeks were familiar even though he could no longer see them.  When he went for a swim, he would grip his beloved blue rubber ball in his teeth and paddle about, our voices letting him know where he and we were.
Dogs have been the connective tissue in my life since I was a child.   
My earliest memory is of being given a bath while my mother's Irish setter looked on. This is not to say that I have cared more about dogs than people, but I do deeply value their unconditional love and of course mourn their passing.  As an old friend liked to remark, dogs never cheat, lie or get drunk and drive.  And they don't start wars. 
Jack's disability brought out his nobility, and as strange as it may seem to people who have never felt the joy of bonding with a dog, he enabled me to better understand who I was through my understanding who he was.  I was a creature with a stew of emotions percolating inside me.  And that when you lose a dog, you not only lose someone who has been your friend, you also lose a connection to the person you have been.  
Jack had a Zen-like serenity.   He always had been a powerful if deeply emotional dog, but a quiet dignity emerged as he slowed down.  At first, the changes were barely perceptible day to day, although noticeable from month to month, and then in the past week heartbreakingly obvious.  It is possible that he was in pain some of the time and merely uncomfortable the rest, but as long as he was able to maintain that dignity, we were not going to allow anything happen to him.   
Besides which, Jack wanted to be there for us.  Still, we decided last night that it was unfair to ask Jack to keep carrying on because he now had to struggle so hard to do so.  And so this morning we said goodbye.


Anonymous said...

its one of those things, when the minister comes out at the funeral service and thought you didnt know the deceased person but you want to be there for the survivor family. But by the time the gifted minister is done telling the story, you are weeping as you realize the nobility of the deceased and the deceased family. You feel like you truly know everyone concerned, down to the bone.

The pictures are heartbreakingly bueaitulf, capturing the exact essence of all in them.

Thank you Shaun. I see your chocolate lab Jack doing in heaven as he did on earth at his prime. Pirouetting in the air to catch your and Deborah's loving everything still sent.

I can barely stand goodbye doggie stories, because it stirs up my own losses, but also, I love stories about love. Which this surely is.

With love to you,

NiB said...

A wonderful tribute. Although we never met I feel that I knew him well. Jack was richly blest. Now he dreams the sweetest of dreams.


I'm sorry Shaun. It was after I lost my Rusty in April after months of intensive care that I never regretted and for which he was always so apprciative that I finally understood what God's love must be like.

It could be that dogs...and even cats...are messengers. It's not only the love they give to us but the quality of love we are able to give to them.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Look for signs of him telling you guys he's okay. A puppy running and being silly. So sorry for your loss but happy for your shared life.

Holly Robinson said...

May you be comforted!

Joe Gandelman said...

I am SO sad about this. First, Shaun Mullen is dear friend. Secondly, I met Jack on two occasions. A wonderful, loving spirit. These wonderful beings come into our lives and we help them by giving them a nice life but they help us by their love, our experiencing the nonverbal wisdom of animals, and the joy, smiles and laughs they bring. No, they are never child or spouse replacements or surrogates, as some suggest. They are separate beings who, as the Pope has contended, most assuredly have spirits. And they bless us every second they are with us. If I get to Shaun's place again, I will sorely miss Jack.

Nancy Willing said...

I lost my bestie poochie Yonah in the early spring from cancer. You never really get over losing besties like that. He was 10.

WP said...

So sorry to hear about your wonderful friend. I know you and Deb are hurting . Peace and love.

Anonymous said...

I just read Shaun's tribute to Jack and have been crying my eyes out. What a beautiful piece of writing -- written about a beautiful (big) piece of dog.

Dan Shanor said...

This really doesn't have to be said.... having dogs, or any pet well they aren't pets they are family, is knowing that likely you will see them die. those little bungles of energy turn into either trusted guardians or one of many other positions. What they give you back is unconditional love at the cost of a little love and a good meal. I remember all my dogs, most are in an area here called the grave yard with markers. May they all rest in peace!!

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss.

John Digiovanni said...

Very sorry Shaun.

Anonymous said...

So sorry for your lose.

Michael Hinkelman said...

Sorry for your loss, Shaun. I know the feeling. I lost a beloved, sweet cat last month.

Clint Stein said...

They teach us so much about unconditional love, loyalty, courage and forgiveness !

Laura Borgess said...

Sorry for your loss.

Michael Fahey said...

That is a noble visage...Something very special about those breeds..not only loyal but their eye contact is what grabs you. Their arc of life is compressed and by traveling through time with them the poignancy of life is intensified. The highs and lows. My advice , to you and me, is always have a dog or dogs...it is a special niche of nature Bye Jack.

Hank Carter said...

I'm with you in the dog department. There would be a huge hole in my life if we lost Buddy, our pug.

Bscharlott said...

Your writing gift allowed us to share his wonderful life and the poignancy of his passing. Best wishes. Maybe there will be one more new dog in your life to bring you such joy.


Anonymous said...

Hard to find a better friend than a dog, they will always love you more than you can love them.

Deborah Griffith said...

So sorry for your loss. Sending positive thoughts your way.

Dane Treacy Keesee said...

I am so very sorry for your loss.

Jennie Phipps said...

As hard to lose a dog as it is to lose any other good friend. My sympathies.

Kris Pauley said...

Kris Pauley Love to you and Deborah

Rhonda Hovan said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss of Jack. All of us who have ever loved a dog can share your sadness, and I hope that in time your precious memories will help to bring you comfort.

With deepest sympathy,