Jackie

She was rough-cut, a girl of the streets, small but wiry; she’d mouth off to anyone or anything that got in her way. No object was too big for her to tackle; she took no guff from any other living thing.

And yet, she had a tender side, too; albeit one that took a great while to surface. Man or animal, when you have suffered years of untold abuse, it takes a long time and a lot of unconditional love to surmount the hurt. She knew almost immediately when she had transgressed a trust and readily rolled over in submission. Subsequently, she loved to lie on the settee to be idly stroked by whomever sat in contemplative solitude.

Like all of us, she had her bad habits, moments when reason gave way to outright rage; and many a morning solicitor regretted ringing the doorbell or rapping on the front door. Shamelessly, she begged tidbits from the table, dutifully making her rounds until she found the softest heart willing to sneak her a morsel below the cloth.

She loved to be out exploring on an early morning walk; an afternoon saunter by the river was equally pleasant. Her floppy ears, one brown, one white, would bounce in unison as she padded down the street. Intelligent, she would readily sit and offer a forepaw when asked, then wait patiently for a tasty reward.

She played aggressively with stuffed toys, snapping them back and forth in her mouth as if to break their spineless backs; but there was hell to pay for the individual who might attempt to extricate the toy from her teeth.

She adopted any number of stuffed animals as though they were her own offspring, gently cuddling them in her paws, resting her chin on their heads. No human mother was ever more possessive of her children. Jealously, she guarded the bed of any family member she slept with, growling at the approach of another — until it was time for her morning walk and feed.

We did not know what demons possessed her until the very end, when one afternoon without warning she began to pace the kitchen floor in smaller and ever smaller circles, oblivious to her surroundings. She whined and whimpered, pressed her head against the side of her bed, refused to acknowledge our attempts to soothe her discomfort.

A Friday evening wild drive to emergency care resulted in the final diagnosis: some sort of “central neurological event,” most likely a brain tumor.

The palliative care was brief: she didn’t respond to a cocktail of steroids and sedatives; and eighteen hours later we once again returned to the house of healing for her final exit. She died in her mistress’s arms, the young doctor kneeling at her feet, her master looking silently on in untold horror and grief, understanding everything and yet comprehending nothing in the same moment of briefly elapsed time.

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It’s almost Thanksgiving again

It was a grey day. Yesterday’s biting cold had lifted to a balmy morning temperature of 42 degrees. I took the dog out for a run over the grassy expanse at the mill down by the river.

When we passed by the entrance gate, I let her off leash; and like a small white sheep she bounded through the remnants of dry leaves lying in the tall grass at the base of the ancient sycamore trees. The river was low and black and fast as it ran along the base of the concrete retaining wall at the back of the old mill. We paused to watch it pass around the bend where it would begin its descent into the gorge.

I snapped the leash onto the dog’s collar and we crossed the main road at the stoplight and headed up Mountain Road to the blue-blazed trailhead. As the dog nestled her nose into the brown debris at the far edge of the tarmac, I noticed a man standing on the front porch of one of the small shanties perched along the street. He was a big mustachioed man with a shaved head. You could see tattoos on the biceps that bulged beneath the short sleeves of his T-shirt. He stood coiling a heavy-duty extension cord around a bent forearm.

“That a Jack Russell?” he called out as we walked by.

I paused and nodded. “I think they call it a Jack Russell rough cut,” I said.

“Jack Russell long hair, Jack Russell rough cut—same breed. I had two of them myself: a Jack Russell short hair and a Jack Russell long hair,” he said. “The long hair was the best. She was a good dog.”

“They’ve certainly got a lot of energy,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, that’s the breed. Mine lasted 14 years,” he said. “Had to have her put down. In the end her bowels gave out. She couldn’t stop throwing up. You don’t like to do that, put a dog down, especially a dog you’ve had that long; a good dog, too.”

I stood in silence, aware of a slight tug on the leash in my hand.

“But I figured, hey, she had a good life. Fourteen years, that’s a good long life for a little dog,” he said.

“I guess so,” I said.

“Well,” he said, “you have a nice walk with your dog.”

“And you have yourself a nice Thanksgiving,” I said.

He gave me a big smile. “You, too.”

Up ahead we picked up the trail. A little way into the forest I let the dog off leash again and watched her bound through the bed of dry brown leaves.