Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Jake the Wonder Dog

Robert Ridings

To say that Jake was a good dog would certainly be an understatement.

Jake was an Alpha pup. The other puppies in his litter all had little nips in their ears where Jake had been nibbling. This is the sign of an Alpha dog, to be aggressive and the leader of his litter.

This title in itself would not fit the dog Jake. For all who knew Jake knew that this couldn't be further from the truth. He undoubtedly was the friendliest dog in the country. He called everyone "friend" and was so delighted to see them that his tail never stopped wagging as long as they were visiting us. The only time he barked would be at night if he heard a noise outside. That's the mark of a smart dog.

But Jake was far more than that. He instinctively picked up on things without us giving him any training at all. For instance, every morning as soon as Helen or I got up and came out of the bedroom, he would be ready to go out. Not just to go out, but for a purpose. You see he had taken it on himself to go out and down the driveway, pick up the morning paper, and bring it in and drop it in front of us. If there were two papers he would bring in both of them. When I put out the trash in the big trash cans on pickup day, Jake would insist that he pick up the top to the can and bring it back in to the garage. Never taught to. He did it on his own. If the mailman came before we picked up the trash cans,
Jake would first want a piece of mail of some kind. He always got the junk mail. He would then take that piece of mail, drop it in the trash can lid and bring them both in. Never taught him that. He picked it up himself.When I emptied the recycle can in the container in the garage, Jake would almost take the recycle can away from you to bring in and drop in front of the cabinet where it was kept.

Jake and I would go out every afternoon to walk around the yard and play fetch with one of his toys. He liked the old ball best because he could catch it better. I never took a toy out with me. Jake would go by his toy box on the way out and pick up a toy that he wanted to play with. We would play outside in the backyard. Sometimes he played catch with me and sometimes he just wanted to kind of sniff around at things. When it came time to come back in, Jake would run, pick up the ball, bring it in the house, and put it back in the toy box. The only instruction I gave him was "Jake, in the box". Never had to say it twice.

Jake would lie everywhere in the house. He always lay where he could see Helen and me at the same time. His favorite place was under the big coffee table that we had. That was his safe place and he would generally fall asleep under there. By the way, Helen had made him a bed out of a child's sleeping bag filled with foam rubber to make it soft. Jake went to bed on that bag at precisely 9:30 every night. I could swear he could tell time.

When he heard the sound of the TV being turned off at 11:00, he would come wide awake and ready to go out for his nightime tinkle. Then back in the house. When Helen and I went to bed, we locked the bedroom door. Jake would sleep against the door to make sure no one went in or came out without his knowing.

Oh, I forgot to mention his family friend for eleven years. It was our cat named Mikey. Jake and Mikey hit it off right away and were together for the entire time. Jake loved Mikey and would put up with anything Mikey would do to him. Most times I would come out in the mornings and Mikey would be on Jake's bed. I guess he figured if Jake wasn't using it, it was fair game.

So the two of them grew up together and were the best of friends.(Actually I think Jake just put up with Mikey because he felt he was supposed to.) He was right. He was supposed to.

We always wondered how Jake would take riding in the car. The only time he was in the car was when we took him to the vet. He was always ready and willing to be helped into the car at these times and he was always almost giddy to get to go somewhere even if it was the vet's. The reason he was "helped" into the car was that Jake never got the hang of jumping. I always thought that was a plus because he never jumped on anyone at anytime. Good dog, Jake!

Jake was a very frisky dog. That is to say he always acted like a puppy. Always jumping around when we had guests and always wanted to be in the center of attention. Helen asked the vet if he would ever slow down and be just a "lay around" type dog? The vet said, yes, when he gets to be about five, he will start to slow down.

WRONG!! Up until he was getting sick, he didn't know what slow down meant. We loved him for it.

One of his habits was to come up behind you and put his head between your legs. I was probably responsible for that, because that was one of the ways we played. Now we didn't mind that because we knew it was playful. Everyone who knew Jake knew that and just ignored him. That is...all but the church ladies. They were not too used to that kind of behavior and the unexpected approach from the rear gave them kind of a shock. They would feign a laugh though and thank goodness it didn't happen often.

As was our custom or habit, Jake and I would go outside and throw the ball. He got pretty good at catching the ball and the ones that I threw for him to fetch were greeted with a flurry and a dash to find the ball and bring it back. This went on for many years. As I look back in time I should have been aware of the change in Jake. I don't know now whether it was age or whether something was bothering him inside. When I threw the ball for him to catch he gave it a half-hearted try. And when I
would throw the ball a good distance for him to fetch he would trot slowly to the ball and then ignore it to look around the yard. A different behavior for him and there again I wrote it off as aging. He began to lie around more than usual and although his appetite was good, he was constantly thirsty and drank large amounts of water. We also noticed that he was developing a larger stomach area and while we were concerned by the weight gain, we attempted to slow it down with less food. This did not have much effect on the bloated stomach area, and when his slow movement was even more evident we called the vet and made an appointment to take Jake in.

On initial examination we were told that he was not certain what it was and that an x-ray might be needed to isolate the problem. We readilly agreed to this. The x-ray showed a mass in the stomach area but the picture was not clear enough so the vet suggested an MRI for a sharper image of the mass. The MRI was taken and read and diagnosed as a tumor on the liver. The doctor advised us that an operationwas not in the best interest of Jake and we were told to take him home, that there was nothing they could do for him.

At home there was little or no movement from Jake. We called the vet to ask him how long Jake had and he said anytime now. With his life ebbing away Jake wanted to crawl into his hideaway under
the coffee table and we knew the end was near. I asked Helen to call the vet and have someone come out and euthanize Jake. I sat down in the floor next to Jake and held his head in my lap. I could tell he had only minutes to live and he took his last breath and with a big sigh, he died. I had just finished telling him what a good dog he was, just as I told him every night on my way to bed.

We had Jake cremated and after several days they brought his ashes in a pretty box. Helen did not want to take part in it, but we decided not to keep the ashes but to spread them on the back yard where Jake had played and run and rolled in the grass for all his life. As I walked the yard, spreading his ashes I tried to keep a dry eye but the tears came readilly so that it was hard to see where I was going. I kept thinking of all the afternoons we would come out in the back and we would play.

Jake has been gone now since March first of 2010. We still feel his presence here in the house. He was everywhere. Even now when I go out in back in the afternoon, I can almost see him running and playing and sometimes the tears come again in my rememberence. I believe that Jake will always be here. It was his whole life for eleven years. Helen and me and Jake and Mikey together for eleven years. Jake will be sorely missed, but in the words of an old song; "If dogs have a heaven, there's one thing I know, old Jake has a wonderful Home."


Robert Ridings was born and raised in the Deep South. He is a devout Southerner and author of published nonfiction stories about the South.

© Robert Ridings

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2010