Jack, the Very Bad Dog

jack_the_dogWhen I met my wife she had two dogs and what seemed like 100 cats. The cat herd actually only numbered 4, but that was of little comfort to me. Over time the number of cats decreased by half, then the other half departed this mortal coil, to be replaced by a single, feral, one-eyed cat. The dogs have remained with us all of the time that we’ve been together. They’ve braved hurricanes, Texas summers, and Ohio winters with us.

The dogs were both named by Amy. Lucky was named prophetically, because, with apologies to rocks, he is dumber than two boxes of them, and once when he escaped he was hit by a car and was lucky to be alive. Personally, I’ve always considered him lucky that he can figure out which end to put the food in and which one it escapes from. If he is low on brains, it might be that his compadre got them all.

Jack was named after Amy’s father. Not in tribute, so much, but because he once had to make her get rid of a dog, and by naming him after her dad, she was telling him he couldn’t get rid of this one. Yes, I married a slightly strange woman (who else would have me?), but that is pretty damn funny in my book.

When I first met Jack he would not come anywhere near me. He was this skulking black wraith of a dog with a nervous condition that made him chew his fur off. I was an intruder in his world and he did not want me around. The cats, for the most part, either wanted to lay all over me, or treated me with indifference (something I heartily encouraged). Lucky mostly drooled on himself, and only protested when I kissed Amy. Jack just stared daggers at me most of the time. Of course, I was determined to win him over.

It didn’t help matters when I banished both dogs from sleeping on the bed, nor did it help that Amy encouraged them to jump up on it the second I left the room. Jack eventually quit being completely stand-offish and would come around for some affection now and then. He did not, however, quit being a bad dog.

Looking Bad, even as a puppy
Looking Bad, even as a puppy

Jack’s idea of fun was to grab something that belonged to one of us in his teeth, carry it in the room and wait until we noticed it, shake it viciously, and then run so that we could chase him. This game usually ended with him under the bed, chewing up the item, while we yelled at him. Attempts to retrieve the prize from Jack were greeted by warning growls or a pretty nasty bite.

Another of his favorite games was to trap the alpha cat in a corner or against a fence and bark furiously, snapping his jaws, spit flying, looking for all the world like he was going to eat the cornered feline. However, anyone that looked carefully would notice that his tail was wagging at warp speed and he was having the time of his life. The cat would hiss and spit, and was obviously terrified, but a glance at the dog’s hind quarters was all you needed to know that Jack had no intentions of hurting anything or anyone. Since no one ever bothered to tell the cat that his tormentor was just playing, Jack bore more than a few battle scars.

For a long time I put up with his bad behavior, mainly because Amy never wanted me to “be mean to her dogs.” But then my kids were coming to live with us and the biting had to stop. One day Jack did something bad and I was chasing him through the house. When I caught him he tried to bite me, so I let him. Just as his jaws clamped on to my left arm, my right hand did the same to the scruff of his neck. His growling turned to a yelp as he was suddenly eye level with me and it was my turn to growl, I held his face to mine and showed him my teeth, and in that instant Jack became “my dog.” He still loved Amy most, but he began to respond to my commands and most importantly, he never tried to seriously bite anyone again. He had found his place in a pack and he became a happy dog. A bad dog still, but a happy, non-biting, wonderful family dog as well.

Jack was a big, black ball of fur, half-chow and half black lab. He had the ability to scare adults with his size and his dark fur and eyes, but kids were not fooled. When my youngest son was in grade school I would try to walk down and get him whenever I had the chance. Jack loved to go along. As we stood waiting he would sit patiently, looking like a black lion, as the parents would eye him nervously. Once that bell rang, though, he was a rock star. He would stand tall, wagging his tail happily, as child after child threw their arms around his neck and hugged his thick, furry neck. When we would walk home he just knew he was the coolest dog ever.

Over the years Jack’s muzzle turned gray, his eyes clouded over some, but his sense of fun and mischief remained. He would be deliberately obstinate and then do what was asked of him with a look that is as close to a laugh as a dog can get. He delighted in reminding us that he was still a bad dog

Not long ago Jack started to become lethargic. He would look at me as if to say, “I want to run and play, I want to unleash mayhem on an unsuspecting world, but I just can’t.” He developed a cough and sometimes had a hard time getting up if he was sleeping. Amy took him the vet and he was given some medicine. The change was remarkable. His booming bark returned, and he began to take great joy in tormenting his idiot friend again. He even chased squirrels. While he no longer caught them, it was a wonderful thing to see.

Unfortunately, it only lasted a couple of weeks, but I’m glad he had those weeks to run and play like a much younger dog. Yesterday morning Jack died.

I hope you will forgive this departure from our usual topic, but sometimes events, family, children, and even bad dogs remind us that is not always about the wine. Jack was a very bad dog, but he was one of the best pets anyone has ever had. Good dog, Jack, you are sorely missed today.

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