I had a good resistant track record: for nineteen years I had said “no” when the subject of dogs, puppies, kittens or cats came up. For nearly two decadesI had long-tried to be an enthusiastic, mentor-minded father to my two boys. I was intent on correcting a litany of inherited issues.
I went with most of my boys interests: early a.m. suburban safaris for elusive foxes, pet rabbits, even uninvited visiting dogs. Luke looked after friends’ dogs but Lawrence wanted us to own one. But I drew the line at ownership of a time-intensive puppy or dog. I realised that after initial enthusiasm had worn off, if would be down to me, in the main to daily and somewhat reluctantly walk any dog.
Neighbours had dogs that constantly yapped and regularly challenged Christian patience. Their dogs often invaded our garden in an aggressive manner. Poor neighbourly relations deteriorated even further, particularly we were expected to put up with repeated dog shit and significant, unprovoked dog bites.
I was happy enough to admire dogs from afar. It was another matter getting daily involved with canines. All the issues that came with puppy packages were unattractive to me. So, that’s settled then. No dogs….but one day all that changed…
At the time. I was working in a used bookshop that had an old fashioned print shop in the rear of the premises. I’ve worked with books for decades. I love books and bookish people, with all their nuche passions and interesting quirks. I talked to most people that came in browsing or buying books. Even the people, not intent of books in the least, who were going into the printers, were even slightly engaged in conversation in some small way.
Ali, a mid-thirties music teacher and deep animal lover, would sometimes come to the bookshop for sheet music photocopies. We got chatting about Canadian singer songwriters and music in general. Then one day Ali came in and went to the printers. Sh asked me to keep an eye on a foxy faced russet coloured terrier outside the shop dooe. He was leashed on an impossibly long piece of blue washing line twine outside. Ali had found this dog wandering amongst the traffic at a nearby seaside location. She successfully lassoed this very scared and very lost dog.
Ali had such a heart for animals that she grabbed the very scared, lost (or abandoned?) dog and took him home. So far, so good. There was only two problems to counter. One, how would an unknown terrier personality react to her beloved indoor rabbit. Terriers are known for their love of hunting rats in particular, hence many farms have at least one terrier.
The second and major problem was that Ali was due to leave for Canada in a few weeks. She wanted to re-unite this dog with his owner quickly, so she decided to print up some posters, to put up in the area where she found him. Hence the visit to the printers and my initial and unexpected introduction to this very peaceful and attractive dog. She mentioned that this dog would walk and walk and walk every day.
He didn’t bark, or whinge as he sat on the step, patiently waiting his saviour. I went out to say hello and rather abstractly pat him on the head. Little did he and I know that soon both our destinies were about to change for ever. Having dutifully petted this fine fellow I went back to work in the pretty slow used bookshop.
As Ali was departing the book shop, that I would drive her and mutt up to animal shelter, if her quest failed. Obviously, being an animal lover, she hoped that things would not come to this.
Meanwhile, I had casually mentioned to my eldest animal-centric son the meeting with this dog. As a very young child he started off being interested in spiders, then snails and finally frogs. Toads, foxes and fish were to come later. In between those two groupings were the pet rats. He was an amateur, self taught zoologist of sorts. Working with books, as I then did, I was able to feed his desire for knowledge, even if I wasn’t the most enthusiastic of animal-interest type of father.
So, back to this dog and his needs. Lawrence was interested in dogs, and my wife had had dogs in her childhood. Both of them leaned on me to introduce them to Ali and her rescued dog. The posters had been up for a while. We decided to drive down and meet this dog and his temporary minder. We were told that only one apparent-owner phoned, and unexpectedly called to Ali’s apartment, late one night. That rough man “greeted” his long-lost dog in a surprising manner:
“Come here, ya little fecker! Come here now!!” – he aggressively shouted at the dog.
The dog’s reply was a loud bark and a hasty retreat to shelter under a chair. Obviously Ali was suspicious of such a spurious ‘owner’ and commanded him to immediately leave her apartment.
It was getting very close to Ali’s departure to Canada. In our conversation Lawrence took an interest in her indoors pet rabbit, which was safely ensconced in another room, away from the terrier’s attentions. Lawrence related his interest in animals. Most likely I proudly catalogued them for Ali. After a bit of discussion, a cup of tea and some playing ball with the dog outside, there was only one more isssue to resolve.
What vets did we use with our mini-menagerie of rats and our rabbit. Why Eamon Moore, of course, our local vet? Deal done, might well have been proclaimed by Ali. Sure wasn’t he the same vet that she had used for years. In fact, Eamon had invented a mini-drip for one of Lawrence’s very ailing pet rats. We liked Eamon, he had a great sympathy for all kinds of animals, and not just the “cute” ones.
Ali proclaimed us absolutely, completely tailor-made people to adopt this ever patient waiting dog. So, we took him home along with all the doggy things that Ali had bought: food, sleeping mat. She had even had this dog micro chipped! What a kind kind minder. Maybe she had intended to keep such an agreeable roughish fellow? Now she was happy to part with him, having found his best future waiting.
All we had to do next was name him. Liz had a favourite illustrated childrens’ book that she had previously read to our boys. It was simply called Jack, depicting a winsome dog. I was happy for her to “name this child” to quote the Anglican baptism liturgy. However, being the poet that I am, I decided to add an afterword to her naming: Jack-the-Lad. It was fitting for his sunny and roughish character to have patronymic appellation. When people ask his name and I reply thus, they inevitably and generously smile at him.
Quite by accident, one day we discovered one of his hidden attributes. We were doing the usual owner-thrown-ball dog-bring-back-ball routines when Jack decided to alter the unwritten rules a little, adding his own eccentric sub clause to the typical canine routine.
We would take Jack into our long garden, along with hurley stick (used in ancient Irish sport) and a tennis ball. Our old fashioned suburban hosted, amongst many plants and roses, some apple trees, in a short row, to one side. So, ball would be whacked down the garden. Jack would chase after the ball with gleeful abandon and without care for life and limb: through bushes, over piles of rose twigs, into small pond. It just didn’t matter, that ball was not going to be ignored.
Inevitably, the ball ended up deep under some rhubarb plant growth, amongst the rough raspberry canes, or in the compost heap. The ball was quickly located by his intuitive olfactory process, tail almost smiling as it rhythmically wagged. Next ritual was not to pick up ball and return to the batter. Next was his curious habit of sniffing in a wide arc around where the ball had bounced, prior to landing. Only then, having traced its trajectory, would it be brought back.
The eccentricity didn’t stop there in many instances. Having dropped the ball near (never at) feet, Jack would then go and hide behind one of the apple trees. He would wait, as expectantly as any hide-and-seek anticipatory child. His tail would be wagging, his ears pricked up, waiting for the whack and then the chase. So often was this process executed that all our four apple trees have small chasms around their bases from this oft-repeated procedure.
Jack trashed our one-time varnished floorboards with his cartoonish scramble after ball-throws in the house. Not having any tree inside the house to hide behind, he would choose, a table or chair leg, perhaps a wall. And the same process happened, usually when dishes were being washed, or the potato crop being sorted on the kitchen floor. Visiting utility workers would find a ball dropped into their tool boxes and a nearby half-hidden dog, tail wag waiting for the game to begin.
He never learnt to socialise with other dogs. He preferred babies and small children to other dogs. This has changed a little recently. He will now approach other dogs, his question mark corkscrew tail tightly pressed, ears alert and eyes bright. We have had Jack for nine years now. He is an important member of the family and is involved with most aspects of family life bar shopping and church attendance…though, if permitted by any godly cleric, and tolerant congregation, you never know …you might just find “the Lad” smiling and sitting beside you one day in the wooden pew of a welcoming Anglican church.
So, dear reader, creator-acknowledger, potential animal lover – be careful about adopting a rescue dog. They are liable to revolutionise your life and expand your heart with previously unknown affections and cares. Like babies or adopted children, they will constantly turn your life upside down, challenge you, defy you, make you smile and smile and smile.
Jack’s happy grin, his curious gaze, those soulful imploring eyes, his foxy russet coloured rough hair, leaving hairs in all domestic crevices – all those facets will win your heart, be it feminine soft or masculine hard. Jack is a change agent, one of God’s esteemed creations, wise and wonderful. Long live Jack, on earth and when we both slip our mortal coil, in heaven also…
As a cassocked choirboy, I used to sing ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, in many, weekly, dreary Anglican church services. The sentiment still holds true for this ever-reluctant Anglican, and ever-hopeful, bible believer… but i now punk-edit the classic hymn chorus to:
all dogs bright and beautiful
all canine big and small
all rescue dogs so wonderful
the Lord God made them all
photo: Dora Kazmierak