The last time I developed a deep emotional connection with a dog had to be around my ninth birthday in 1973. The dog was a thoroughly mixed breed puppy that my siblings and I named “Barney” after Fred Flintstones’ short but far funnier best friend and neighbor. If I remember correctly our previous dog had passed away of some illness and probably to placate his anxious children our father grabbed the first puppy he happened to run across to shut us up. Back in those days very few people thought to spay or neuter their pets and there was always someone trying to find homes for the latest litter of pups the family dog had produced. This might sound cruel but most unwanted puppies and kittens back then were comparable to Christmas fruitcakes, something very common but often disposed of as quickly as possible by the easiest means available.
Barney’s fate, at first, was far better than the most likely outcome his littermates endured. He was the very embodiment of the stories of how common mutts are the most loyal, loving, and patient of dogs. All important traits because my siblings and I were not the most well behaved or calm children.
My parents’ marriage was always a disaster waiting to happen and sometime around 1975 when it finally melted down it was Chernobyl-like in magnitude. In the aftermath while our father largely drifted off the stage of our lives my two younger brothers, baby sister, and I were forced to follow our mother as she began an inglorious series of journeys crisscrossing the southern portion of the country. The exact details are excruciatingly complex but our mother would travel bounce around chasing a semi-derelict boyfriend one month then for reasons that were often nebulous at best load us up again the next and drive all the way back to our father for a temporary and half-assed reconciliation.
Somewhere in all this Barney disappeared in the midst of all this adult relationship realpolitik. Whether he was “taken off” by my father who had long since developed his own unique and separate interests or by my mother’s boyfriend who found him inconvenient is a question that will never be answered.
After a couple of years of the best trailer trash drama I eventually had to separated myself from my mother and her boyfriend who still had control of my siblings and went to live with my maternal grandparents. After that, various circumstances never allowed me a chance to bond with a dog the same way I had with Barney. Even after my lovely spouse, Dragonwife, and I were married in 1993 I never got close to the three dogs we both owned at various times. I was fond of them and treated each with the kindness and respect every living creature deserves but they were totally devoted to my wife. For the longest time I just assumed I was not the type of person who could get emotionally involved with an animal. That changed about ten months ago when little Jaxx entered my life.
Generally speaking it’s never a good idea to wake me during the day when I am trying to sleep; working night shift is a pain all by itself without having to constantly answer ridiculous phone calls. However, I take my parental duties seriously and stand ready to do what is necessary if one of the kids’ schools call. Needless to say I was ready to say some rather terse words to my wife when she called and began explaining how I needed to load her dog Sparky into the car and bring him down to a local pet shelter to see how he got along with a dog she wanted to adopt.
After I did my standard fifteen-minutes of husbandly protesting I began my usual wheeling and dealing seeking an angle to this situation that would be to my benefit. Truth be told I am a bit of a sucker when it comes to hard luck cases, as my wife explained was the case with this new dog she was interested in, and pretty much go with the philosophy that there are room to spare here at the house and more than enough to eat for everyone. We already had adopted Sparky the Dog and Spock the Cat in the past couple of years and frankly I did not want to deal with cleaning up another mess. My children are Jedi Masters in creating residential disorganization chaos by themselves and I selfishly felt another dog would only add to the overall work load. All that changed when I arrived at the pet shelter.
Pets Inc. is an independent animal rescue agency located in the Columbia, South Carolina area that has taken upon the Herculean task of caring for and finding homes for abandoned dogs and cats. While it was a foregone conclusion that since my wife wanted to adopt another dog it would happen but the second I spotted that forlorn seven pound very dirty fuzz ball all unspoken opposition evaporated. Jaxx’s sad story only made sure I would welcome him as part of the family. However like Sparky the Dog and Spock the Cat I figured his attachment would be with my wife.
Pets Inc supplies a brief biography of each animal it sponsors which mentions how the dog or cat relates to adults, children, and other pets. For Jaxx it was painfully brief. The staff at Pets Inc figured Jaxx had been a stray for an extended period of time. Even worse he had never been spayed suggesting several possibilities, none of them good. And they based their opinion on how Jaxx interacted with people and other animals from their observations since he came into their custody. They considered him rather docile and non-threatening. Oh boy, were they off on that one.
Jaxx’s adoption was far from a simple, happy ending. When we brought him home he immediately staked out an isolated spot in the living room and began growling fiercely whenever anyone came near. While he went along with having a collar put around his neck to approach him with a leash would cause him to nearly attack the person holding it. House training was a whole other world of poop.
Jaxx had the very strange, at least for my family and me, habit of backing up to a wall to poop. We never actually caught him doing this behavior but the smelly evidence was overwhelming. And of course the adage about small dogs having even tinier bladders proved very true, Jaxx, at first, always seemed able to make a puddle someplace in the house, as the months passed though we developed something of a rhythm that mostly solved that issue.
Because of the aggression issue it fell to me to attach Jaxx’s leash and often times walk him. Yes, it was often a battle of wills but eventually Jaxx began accepting the leash, but only when I was the one holding it. This began the general practice of having me put the leash on Jaxx while my wife or one of the kids walked him. Funny thing, as soon as they came back in Jaxx would run to my location and want me to pick him up. So the habit of him either laying on my lap if I was sitting in the easy chair or spread out next my head if I was sleeping on the couch began. Not long after that Jaxx was always sleeping with me when I went to bed, he would make sort of a bed out of the other pillow. It was a total reverse of the same practice my wife and Sparky the Dog have established since I work third-shift, in fact on the weekends when I can sleep like a normal person on Friday and Saturday nights Sparky seems put off whenever I steal his usual spot next my wife.
Long story short, Jaxx and I developed a deep attachment to the point there were many times I caught myself thinking about how happy I would be to see him running around my feet when I made it home. Several times My wife laughed at the sight of me, a six-foot, five inch guy who weighs, unfortunately, two-hundred and seventy pounds fussing over an energetic ball of fur that was never over ten pounds. What can I say, Jaxx was my little buddy and I took great pride that he trusted me so much.
This all ended while my wife, daughter, and I were on vacation just two weeks ago. On the Wednesday afternoon of that week my nearly eighteen year-old son, who we had left at the house to watch over everything, called to tell us Jaxx was dead. I will not repeat how he said Jaxx died because it was a lie. For it to be true Jaxx would have had to behave in a way I know he never would, I told my son as much over the phone. He still keeps to his utterly impossible story.
Needless to say I weep like a baby down in Florida after hearing this news. After I recovered enough to be coherent we all had a very short discussion and canceled the rest of the vacation. We left Orlando around eight o’clock and arrived home around three o’clock Thursday morning the entire drive was very quiet. This has been very tough for me, I never could have imagined the huge hole I feel in soul from Jaxx’s death.
I have my theory as to what actually happened to Jaxx and it involved one of my son’s friends who I find obnoxious in many ways and who did not like Jaxx in the least because my dog would go into fits of barking when he came into the house and make every effort to bite him. My attorney wife has advised me to avoid all speculation about what I think happened since I have no real evidence but the one thing that keeps bothering me is how that particular friend of my son has not come over since our return. This is a teenager who my wife has joked we could declare as a dependent because of number of times he has slept over and the large amount of food he has consumed in our house over the years.
There is no simple ending here, for reasons that should be apparent my son, Darth Spoilboy, now has to deal with all the yard work and home improvement projects my wife had assigned for me. I assured my son he will receive no compensation for his efforts and in fact will pay my wife and I back the money we lost in having to cancel the rest of the vacation. More to the point I told him that until I learn the truth his summer is over and that I should not get any hint that he is bored because I will find something for him to do. Curiously enough he seems resigned to this, a confusing attitude since he considers Jaxx’s death an accident.