by Myles Abroad
Fond memories of our dog
(Word count: 2489)
One winter's early morning, I was enjoying a walk in the recently plowed field adjoining our property. It was a glorious morning, the sun shining and the air crisp and fresh. I was in my own world when, suddenly, I was knocked onto my back, my knees giving way from having an eighty pound energetic, mass of muscle and black fur barrel into the back of them. Amidst ferocious growling, my outstretched arm was gripped by powerful jaws and pulled from side to side.
"Doggone it, Jodie," I yelled. "Cut it out!"
She immediately let go, covered my face in saliva and hopped away wagging her tail, pleased she had bested me. I scrabbled up quickly, wiping my face and dusting my clothes down. My frustration turned into a chuckle. It was the first time she had dumped me on my backside.
"You dumb dog," I yelled after her.
This was common practice when I, or our teenage children, went for walks with Jodie. My wife and the younger children, though, were never subjected to these games, instead, they were treated with surprising deference.
Five years before, my wife picked me up after work holding a four-week-old pup to her chest, its head nuzzled into her neck. She had visited the animal shelter that afternoon, where that very morning Jodie had been found in a cardboard box at its gate. Common sense prevailed and my wife brought her home. I was surprised, as the emptiness and pain we both felt since the tragic death of our last dog had made us reluctant to adopt another. Yet, a vacuum existed in our young family that only a dog could fill. Little did we know then, how fully and richly that pup would fill that vacancy in our home.
Jodie was a Black Labrador crossbreed; what with, we weren't exactly sure. Initially, she was a lethargic bundle of black fur; just weaned, her milk teeth barely protruding. Our children laughed when they put their pinky fingers, dipped in milk, to her mouth and she would latch on, sucking for sustenance; her puppy breath making their noses wrinkle. They named her Jodie, much to the disgust of a friend of ours who shared the same name. Jodie's strength grew, as did her stature, her paws outpacing the rest of her in size.
To say that her energy levels were transformed would be an understatement. She was hyperactive. A blur of perpetual motion with jaws that never ceased; an added flurry of activity in an already rambunctious household. We had puppies before and knew what to expect, but were not prepared for the whirlwind of destruction. The expression, "A Puppy is for Life", was no longer an empty phrase, but an adage we had to live up to. Vibrant memories come to mind of my wife angrily holding up the chewed remains of one of her shoes, or the inconsolable tears of my son when he found the headless remains of a prized teddy bear.
Despite the inconveniences, the children were delighted with Jodie's exuberance as she chased them around the house, but quickly found out some games can be taken too far. From Jodie's diminutive perspective the slap of bare, succulent feet as they quickly pitter-patter across the floor, was too much for her to resist. The children squealed with delight, as she chased them, clamping onto their feet, growling and shaking her head in a mock hunt. The squeals turned into shrieks of pain as her needle teeth sunk into their soft flesh. They found refuge on the top bunk of their bed; Jodie's front paws on the second rung of the ladder, her tail wagging furiously and barking, gleefully unaware her game had turned sour. "I hate that dog." My eldest shouted through tears of pain, holding onto her feet, watching the pinpricks in them swell with droplets of blood. Jodie needed to be taught limits, an action that would be repeatedly taken over the next few years.
As Jodie grew and filled out, we realized the unknown parentage of her pedigree must have been Rottweiler, and the resemblance to her two breeds morphed across her face depending on her mood. Asleep, relaxed or being scolded the skin on her face hung loose; the gentle Labrador breed shining through. My wife coined it as her "soft look". However, when she was at play or angry, the skin on her face tightened, drawn up into a furrowed brow; the whites of her eyes on display. Those that didn't know her were frightened of her appearance.
Her fascination with feet remained as she matured, although she learned to leave the younger members be, her attention turning to larger prey. I grew accustomed to dragging around a growling bulk of vitality, her jaws locked onto my work boot; the imposed routine continuing until in frustration I'd yell "Stop it!" Her task completed, she would then happily follow me around. Visitors tended to find this custom a little tiresome, if not downright frightening, but not all.
When we were building an extension of our home, a delivery man arrived. I joined him at the gate, discussing with him the best place to drop the building materials. As he walked with me, Jodie joined us, begging to be the center of attention. He gave her a friendly greeting and Jodie, delighted to have made a new friend, latched onto his boot growling playfully. He paid no heed, though, the only indication of her intrusion was a slight break in his stride as he now had to drag a heavy weight attached to his leg. Embarrassed, I yelled at Jodie to stop and started to apologize. He quickly cut me off, saying with a smile. "Don't worry about it. I have one at home just her like her."
We owned a property in the countryside, and Jodie was fortunate to have the freedom to wander. She had plenty to keep her amused, sharing the grounds with chickens and a Billy goat. The goat was normally tethered on a long rope keeping him away from the fruit trees and bushes. Jodie felt sorry for him and took on the task of entertaining him, while at the same time providing him with an exercise routine. The poor goat would be contentedly grazing when Jodie would grab his rope and pull him around. It wouldn't be long before they would be locked in a duel; the goat lowering his head, horns exposed and charging her down, she daintily dodging him. Jodie never bit him, preferring her version of 'counting coup'; the object, to quickly pull his beard without receiving a blow. Sometimes, the goat made contact; a yelp, a momentary respite, and then play resumed. When both were tired, they would sit side by side and pant, the game drawing to a conclusion.
Jodie had learned never to harm the chickens and she never interfered with them; with one exception. We had a cockerel and like the goat, he was another of Jodie's 'playmates'. We would watch the rooster chase her around the garden until she would reverse the game simply by turning around and pinning him to the ground with her paw. She would bark, wagging her tail and let him go; it was her turn to chase. On many occasions, the exhausted bird would seek sanctuary in a shed, where he would bury his head behind a piece of furniture, his backside sticking out for all to see. He may have been convinced he was hidden, but Jodie was not deceived. Her reaction was to bark and tug at his tail feathers, as though to say, "Come on. I can see you. Let's play!"
When she was two years old, another dog strayed into us. He, also, was a Black Labrador crossbreed of similar height but with a thin build; a warm natured but funny looking dog, some thought resembled a goat. The children named him, Oh-Joe, and the two of them became inseparable, giving the goat and cockerel a reprieve from Jodie's over-zealous friendship.
They took on the self-assigned task as guardians of our small estate. We had a tall mound of topsoil in the backyard where they would lie while overseeing the property; our younger children quietly playing, basking in the security they offered. Any perceived threat and they jumped into action, ensuring no one came onto our property. Our house was never broken into, even though others in the area were.
While security is good to have, it was difficult to receive deliveries. The mail, milk, heating oil or anything else we needed, all had to be arranged for, as most insisted on not stepping onto our property. We never had to worry about putting up 'No Soliciting' signs, nor did we contend with politicians at election time. People we wanted to see, Jodie accepted, but maybe her exuberant greeting was unwelcome as many times we helped clean the streaks of mud off their clothes and allowed them the use of our bathroom to wash the slobber from their faces. Of course, she would be chastised for her actions, but reprimanding Jodie had its own challenges.
On the occasions when we needed to correct her and ban her to her pen in 'time out', she would pitifully drop her head and tail and roll onto her back in an act of submission, but also in defiance saying, "If you want me in the pen, then you'll have to carry me." Not wanting to be outdone, I would lift all eighty pounds of her and carry her to the pen as though she was a lapdog. She had the knack of worming her way into your heart while getting under your skin.
Jodie and Oh-Joe also banned the local wildlife from our property and kept the domesticated fauna under supervision. Neighbors would complain about the rabbits stealing their vegetables. I would scratch my head, bewildered, and say. "That's strange, I don't have that problem."
For a brief time, we had a vicious cockerel. Sometimes he would escape from the pen and attempt to attack whoever came close. His warlike stance, though, was normally cut short as a black blur of motion bundled into him; gripped in Jodie's mouth they would roll together in a flurry of feathers. Released from her grip, the rooster would dizzily run for his life, yet completely unharmed.
Apart from her duties as a security guard, Jodie was always willing to help out with any chores. If we were digging a hole, she would be right beside us, filling it in. When marking out a piece of plywood for cutting she would lie on it. When burning branches and cuttings she would happily drag the burning branches off the fire just so you could throw them on again. Lying under a car repairing it, she would crawl in next to me and wash my face, whether I needed it or not.
In the late summer and autumn when as a family we would harvest the fruit off the trees and bushes she would accompany us, plucking the fruit she could reach. We put ours in baskets while she decided on the efficiency of carrying them in her belly. She was especially good at harvesting strawberries and gooseberries; we never had to worry about the birds stealing them. I always marvel at how she would delicately hold the fruit in her mouth and give a gentle tug, never harming the plant. That gentleness extended to how she took food from our hands, careful only to take the offered morsel.
Both dogs had great appetites. Jodie could only be described as a glutton while Oh-Joe tried to keep pace for the sake of appearances. One evening, while we had a number guests over for a barbeque, Jodie returned from a walk with my daughter, proudly holding a hare in her mouth. She sat by herself on the lawn eating the fruits of her labor, the bones crunching and grinding in her maw. Before we sat down to eat, I saw her look up, gasping as though she had eaten her fill. Surprised, I went over to investigate. Before her rested the hindquarters of the hare; all that remained. Jodie saw my sudden interest in her treasure, and unwilling to share it with me, she proceeded to finish eating the poor creature. Not inclined to watch, I left her to it. Later, while we ate, Jodie appeared at the table with a mournful look in her eyes, drool hanging from her mouth; successfully eliciting pity from the guests.
"Poor dog. She must be starving," they commented.
Arriving home, Jodie and Oh-Joe always made us feel so welcome; they missed us and abounded in joy on our return. As we would slowly drive the car in, they would keep pace, anxiously waiting for our exit from the vehicle. At those times, Jodie would excitedly pick up one of her toys, usually the carcass of a crow, and nobly walk with it. She always reserved a special greeting for my wife, embracing the opportunity to deposit the 'toy' onto her lap, accompanied by a slobbery kiss. Understandably, my wife would explode in frustration and Jodie would sadly drop her head, eyes and tail drooping as she slowly walked away, wondering why her affection had been so badly received.
Jodie was not all about mischief, though. She was incredibly empathetic, gauging our moods and quietly giving comfort if needed, whether by a gentle lick on the face or simply sitting next to you; leaning against you in shared solace. As the years passed, she was that anchor of comfort; that source of lightheartedness even as the afflictions of old age started to manifest.
At the age of twelve, after a prolonged battle with a hip disease, her hips finally gave way. She was in severe pain and the only recourse was to put her out of her misery. It was one the hardest things I've ever done. I brought her home from the vet's and buried her in the backyard, all of us weeping at our loss. A few days later, I was near her grave but out of sight. I could hear my youngest son, sitting by her grave, talking to her. He was ten years old and had never known life without her. It was heart-rending and I wept bitterly.
We often reflect on her life, knowing she had the ideal dog's life; the freedom to roam and a family that loved her. For us, she was able to draw so much out of us, a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Although, it's years since her passing we still speak of her; laughing, remembering embarrassing moments or, with misty eyes, remembering the sheer pleasure she brought into our lives. They are bittersweet memories we will always cherish; that spot in our hearts, empty again.