Man's Best Friend: Ode to Jake

On a day at work some almost 20 years ago Lietta and I were contacted by friends who advised us that there was a six month old beautiful dog being held at a local veterinarian's office. He was picked up on Highway 6 East of Raymond and brought in to the vet. Apparently vagrancy for a dog carries capital punishment and we were given to understand that if no one claimed the dog within 4 days he would be put down.

Lietta required that we immediately go over to the vet's and see the dog.  He was a 50-pound Australian Shepherd who looked like Lassie but with a shorter and blunter nose and ears. My beautiful wife fell in love with him but I thought him too big and too rambunctious, but was overruled.

I was allowed to name him. After rejecting the idea of calling him "Larry" after the guy who told us about him and in effect saved his life, I pronounced his formal name as Turner Jake (after two male characters in a novel I wrote).

We shortened it to Jake.

Later a granddaughter, Emily, called him Jakers and that name stuck as well.

My Sweetheart loved that dog from the get-go but I insisted on remaining standoffish; you know, cool calm and detached. For a six-month old dog he was surprisingly dog-mannered did not poop or tinkle in the house. In fact Jake refused to poop in his own yard. Oh, but it was okay with him if his friends came into the yard to leave some poop.

So I was detached, aloof and above all that goo-goo ga-ga pet stuff.

Until the day he took off after a school bus with our grandchild Ashley in it and ran down toward the school dodging traffic right and left. Scared the hell out of me as I followed in our Mountaineer. When I got hold of him and put him in the truck with me he gave me that big wide grin

Grinning Jake

and a look that said, "Boy! Wasn't that fun?"

I was so angry I busted him right in the chops with my closed fist. I was immediately regretful and he was appropriately humbled. We went home and never spoke of it again to each other.

But by smacking him I apparently taught him that I am the Alpha Male in our little pack. Having formally initiated him into our "pack" by use of the ancient ritual of discipline, I had forever become his commanding officer. His role was as a faithful subordinate and he would spend the rest of his life trying to establish that if I was the Alpha Male, he was to Bravo Male (er, dog) and my wife Lietta could only hope to be the Charlie Female.

He got his revenge however. Although we lived in a rural neighborhood in a rural community (South Bend, Washington) I still had to keep him on a leash when we went walking in order to keep track of him. So there we were walking down a grassy slope. I stopped for a moment and when the hesitation became too lengthy he took off with a jump, jerking me forward and downhill, which caused an immediate pain in my knee that was in fact revealed to be a torn meniscus which would require surgery.

 You ARE taking me for a walk!

He turned out to be an instinctive herding dog and a hunting dog where critters of matching size or smaller were concerned.

Jake would herd anything that moved. He used to herd our Mountaineer when he heard us coming. He'd meet us like a tugboat meeting a big ship and escort us right into the carport. He once herded kids on a moped when they drove into our unfenced backyard which ended on the banks of the Willapa River when we lived in Menlo. Rather than chase them away he ran alongside them trying to nip at the tire and bumping the moped with his butt.

We always thought that the ultimate Christmas present for Jake would be two or three sheep and a fenced yard. He'd have them sheep all skinnied up and well conditioned.

Then there was his hunting. I lost track of how many times we came home from work to find him circling one of the trees where there was either a possum or a raccoon. He stayed after them for hours but would then lose interest or get distracted long enough to wander off and the critter would sneak down and flee.

Maybe that was his game and he did it  on purpose so they could play tree-climb some other time.

For that matter, in a fishing village that could fill up with gopher holes on all the lawns where possible, Jake kept the holes on our yard to a minimum.

He met his first porcupine in Bay Center and it took only once to teach him a lesson. He learned it so well, the first time my mother-in-law's Aussie Shiela showed up, he took her to meet the porky and got out of the way.

On another occasion, I think because she was barky and bossy, he and a couple of other friends took Shiela for a walk and abandoned her about a mile away. Next thing I know, I get a call from my sweetheart who was in Tacoma with Joy Ellsworth, my mother-in-law. Lieta told me that Joy got a call from the vet telling them that Shiela had been found in Bay Center, Washington and was being held about a mile away. Shiela had been identified by the dog tag on her collar.

I drove over an picked up Shiela and glared at Jake. His look said he knew nothing about it.

I think that when he was still quite young Jake might have been shot at cause he didn't like gunfire and we came to learn that fireworks terrified him. Not being aware of his terror, we left him alone all day and overnight one 4th of July in Bay Center. When we came home we could not find him for a long time and eventually found him hiding deep within a stand of willow bushes in another yard where we could barely see him almost buried in the ground.

We never left him alone on noisy holidays again.

Gunshots, even in the distance would trigger him. Sunday Mornings in Bay Center often meant bird-hunters in the marshes or on the beach. At the first gun shot, Jake would throw himself at the back door and bang on it until we let him in the house where he would promptly try to find the safest place to hide. It got so bad around the 4th of July and on New Years that we eventually took to giving him benedryl which caused him to practically sleep through the clamor.

Ever seen a dog singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful?"

Jake was quite intellectual and could hold his own in an argument. I have photographically documented one of our exchanges:

You see, I dealt with Jake as an intellectual equal.

Although we had several philosophical discussions, we rarely addressed the issue of canine criminal conduct or the notions of Dostoevsky. As a result I am aware of at least one criminal episode involving Jake (to which my Sweetheart and also my sister Cinda Bennion can testify.)

One sunny barbecue day where you could smell the cooking all over that little fishing village, Jake came prancing down the street to the house with a steak the size of his head in his jaws. He had taken it from someone's grill or picnic table and was bringing it home to celebrate. My sister got it away from him and with Jake anxiously following her all over the 3 square blocks of the village, failed to discover who had previously owned the steak. Besides, who would want a steak full of teeth marks and dog slobber anyway?

His mother, on the other hand, well ... let's just say Jake brought out her mothering instincts.

In the late 2000's Jake was jumping around in some kind of excitement or maybe got too excited in the night treeing a possum. Anyway, the next morning we went outside and found him walking on three legs. His back right leg was useless. We took him to the Vet in Astoria who diagnosed a torn anterior cruciate ligament (you know, what football players do almost casually).

So Jake underwent ACL surgery:

He recovered the use of his leg almost totally but the Vet also explained that as is usual for dogs of his breed, he was already into arthritis in his hips and that it would get worse over the years. Eventually he prescribed an arthritis medication (etodolac) that in retrospect seemed to sufficiently suppress or mask his symptoms that he essentially gave us little indication of how badly the arthritis was progressing.

We moved to Spokane in 2012 and his days as an unleashed marvel in Bay Center came to an end., He had been affectionately known as the "Mayor of Bay Center" because he patrolled everywhere in search of soft-touch neighbors who would give him treats.

City life in Spokane turned him mostly into an indoor dog and he was already considerably slowing down from his earlier pace of living. We walked him on the leash two or three times a day, watching for poop before we went back to the house. I didn't like the sissified garbage bags to clean up after him but used them when I had to. Some times on Spokane streets you can nudge the poop to the curb and get away with it but not always.

His last excitement as a hunter was at an apartment complex that was full of trees and where squirrels were all over the place. By this time his straight ahead vision was severely restricted by cataracts and he could see best only peripherally. But when he saw the squirrels I'd release the leash and he'd take off like a rocket (well a very slow rocket since the squirrels easily avoided him and went up the trees.) And I will confess that with his limited vision, he often charged after sprinkler heads sticking up out of the lawn until he got close enough to recognize them.

A good day for a hunter like Jake was not how many you hunted down, but how many you treed. Those walks where he treed a squirrel seemed to lighten his mood considerably,

He stayed indoors and spent most of his time sleeping. At 15 years (105 human years) He was slowing down more than I realized, but as a member of the family we resisted the idea of his end times approaching with any immediacy. When we moved to our condo, his walks were more frequent but much much slower. We were on guard for indoor accidents and as his enthusiasm for walks began to wane, walks became essentially sniffing tours from bush to bush, hydrants, trees and strange objects on the ground.

Eventually his discomfort became more and more obvious and when the arthritis in his hips extended down into his back legs (including the leg surgically repaired) he lost most of his leg strength. Much more frequently he would fall on his behind and be unable to stand without help or a lift from one of us.

His appetite for regular dog food waned but his enthusiasm for dog biscuits increased dramatically. He couldn't see clearly but unless I put a weenie in with his dog food, he was not immediately after his dish. But his eyes were on our hands looking for biscuits. It was reminiscent of the Sesame Street Cookie Monster.

His deterioration was more obvious - more to Lietta than me. She believes that he was more willing to be the real old and pain-ridden dog in front of her but when I was around (The Alpha Male) he was the Bravo Male and would get all brave, sit up and look to me for his next orders.

After a long time of agonizing we decided to take him to the coast to the Veterinarian Hospital in Astoria who had operated on his leg years earlier. Our idea was that unless they could present a reasonable argument against it, we would have him  put to sleep and drive him up to Bay Center to bury him where he was the "Mayor" for so long.

It was heartbreaking. The journey to the Coast allowed us to see his struggles in the car and in other venues where he was not sheltered, protected and catered to as he was in our home. It was a struggle to pick him up and put him in the car but we were able to then see completely his pain and weakness in being unable to remain standing.

The night before we left for Astoria, he stopped eating, no enthusiasm for food, biscuits or weenies. He struggled out into the middle of my mother-in-law's duck pond and drank an enormous amount of water. I expected him to pass away that night but he didn't.

When we got to the vet it was obvious that we had made the proper decision. She was extremely helpful and encouraging as to what needed to be done.

We said goodbye March 31, 2015.

We elected not to bury him in Bay Center, rather that we would keep some of his ashes with us and sprinkle the rest over an assortment of places where he romped, and hunted and herded in his own sheer delight.

That's a Harry Lauder Walking Stick tree behind him

where he has invited many a possum and raccoon

to play climb the tree.