Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Latchkey Dog

Fourteen years ago my life changed because I met you. I was a college student and working part-time as a rotating bank teller (meaning basically I worked for whichever branch needed me that week) and this particular week I was stationed off of Chapman Highway (in Knoxville, TN). There was a neato little pet store right across the highway, so during lunch and after work I'd stop by. There was this particular little brown and white Jack Russell Terrier who was just adorable and in a kennel right by the front door of the shop. Unfortunately he was some astronomical price for a poor college student, like $750 or something. He made me fall in love with Jack Russells, though, so I went home and (the equivalent of Googled, but I don't think Google existed yet, so I probably typed it into Yahoo or something) JRTs and read a LOT. After another week or so I looked up breeders in the area. I ended up finding a lady just a few more miles down Chapman Highway and set up an appointment to come and see her dogs. She told me over the phone that she bred rat terriers, JRTs, and min pins (glutton for punishment?) Her JRTs were $500, rat terriers were something like $200. I didn't really like the look of rat terriers, but I thought I would come and see if I fell in love with a puppy, since I couldn't afford JRTs, apparently. I went to visit the lady and she showed me a litter of rat terriers that really looked like a litter of rats. I wasn't so impressed, but oh- how I wanted to be a dog owner that day. I told her the story of the JRT at the Pet Store and how I love him, but he is so expensive. "OH!" she says, "Let me go get his brother!" Turns out it was her pup for sale at the Pet Store, though both of you had actually come from a neighbor breeder who was too old and had possibly somewhat neglected you pups.

Baby Latch 

You were the CUTEST puppy I'd ever seen. Also the least interested in having anything at all to do with me. I normally have pretty good luck with animals loving me. Not you. You were much more interested in the rat litter, the ball of string in the corner, the pool table, some random dog biscuit - you wouldn't even look at me, much less come to me. The lady told me since you were so unsocial and neglected, she would sell you for $200. My bargain basement buddy, I was determined to make you love me. I sat in the corner and looked at the time - 1:00. I decided I'd give you two hours to come to me, and if you did, we'd go home together. I tried every trick I knew - I threw balls, I offered treats, I looked at the floor, I looked at you, I sang songs, I made funny noises, I slapped my hands on the floor, I acted indifferent, I acted in love. You just didn't care. That's actually an understatement. It was more like you were completely oblivious to my presence in the room.

I was resigned to the fact that I wasn't taking home a JRT that day when the lady said "You know, I could just take this one to the pet store and bring the other one back for you? If you'd prefer?" She was worried she was losing a sale and she needed to close the deal. I looked at my watch - 2:52. Her offer seemed promising. Your brother dog loved me already and was a very happy, nice puppy. I looked at you, ignoring me still, sniffing out some treasure near one of the legs of the pool table. "Welllll....." I said. You still had a few minutes before I was giving up on you. I stood up. Stared into space. Unsure of what to do, and being super indecisive, and completely unaccustomed to animals being indifferent to me, I wanted to win. Just then, I felt something wet on my foot. I looked down, and there you were, licking my flip-flop clad foot. "Nope!" I said, "I'll take this one!" and scooped you up to take you home.

You were a hot mess from day 1. You wanted to be close to me, but not have me touching you., unless I was crying and then you'd come lay on my lap for a cuddle. You were headstrong and crazy. You'd run into traffic, pick fights with bigger dogs, swim ANYWHERE there was water (you once jumped into a cattle trough that was a good 4 feet taller than you). That first apartment we lived in, you dug up the carpet at every door whenever I was gone. you probably ate 47 pairs of my underwear over the years :-/ I'm still a little mad about the one pair that had the beautiful matching bra..

There was another renter in the apartment complex who would dump their kitty litter outside of their apartment (GROSS), and you would try to eat it EVERY time we went for a walk. You got pretty good about acting nonchalant and hanging out close to me like there wasn't kitty litter RIGHT THERE and then waiting until we were super close and DASHING off hoping you could get there before I noticed and stopped the (retractable) leash. If you ever got loose, I could just turn and walk away, you'd come running right to me. Everybody loved you! You were a very muscular little dog and you were a little bit haughty. You never had much patience for children.  Basically, you were a completely typical Jack Russell - full of energy, full of life.

Always up for a game of catch, you could snag tennis balls out of midair

I think you were happiest when we moved to the Texas Panhandle. Full of all sorts of new dangers for a little Jack Russell Terrier, you were happy to run free and get into trouble all the time. I will never forget all of our travels, or how you were my little "crime scene" investigator. I would take you out when I had mortality signals (on radio-transmittered Rio Grande wild turkeys) and say "where is it? who did it?" and you'd follow the scent trail to a kill site, or a stash, or some other incriminating evidence.

Latch and Sierra's first meeting

I will never forget the fear in my heart when, 45 minutes from the tiny town of Clarendon, deep in the back country, you found the first rattlesnake I ever heard (but certainly not the last). I didn't see it because it was late March and he wasn't all the way awake or out of his hole. But I heard it, and I saw you jump back. I searched you and found nothing. We went on about our work. Finally I noticed that you were acting funny - walking loopy and sluggish, panting, searching out shade. I searched you again and found two tiny punctures in your nose. I called my mom and said "Tell me rattlesnakes aren't lethal to dogs!!! Look it up on the internet, I'm sure I've read that they aren't lethal to dogs!!!" She said "No, I'm pretty sure they are" and wouldn't look it up for me. This was way before Smart Phones, I was stuck. If you were going to die, I wanted to just hold you and cry with you, not rush you to town (since we were 45 minutes away). I decided to go with what I remembered and raced you to the Vet. $360 later, I had a very loopy, but just fine (except for the massive neck swelling that looked like goat balls) Jack Russell Terrier. It was that day that I first thought "this dog is going to lead a very exciting life and probably a very horrific (but quick!) death". I was sure I'd never have to put you to sleep. I was sure you'd run out into traffic, or get kicked by a horse, stomped by a bull, or get in a fight you couldn't win, or find another rattlesnake that got you in a more permanent spot (the Vet said that your nose was the best location, since nothing would swell that could end up infected or closing your airways).

Latch, Sierra, mama and baby Gray

Two days ago I finally had to admit that just wasn't true. You were 14 years old and some change. I couldn't find you - normally over the last few years you spend the day sleeping in the laundry room. I found you sleeping outside and at first I thought you had passed. I hadn't seen you for many hours and that was abnormal for you. When I got close I could see you breathing, asleep. You picked your head up and perked your ears and I thought you were just tired. I've known for some time that you were getting close to your last days, and I still hoped that you would pass peacefully, on your own. You wagged your tail a bit and I said "hey Buddy" and you wagged more. I walked over to get my paintbrush (we are remodeling) and you stood up to follow. You were, unfortunately, not OK at all. You must have had some kind of stroke, or seizure. Your head was cocked to the side funny and when you walked, you flopped over sideways or got kind of tipsy, almost walking in circles. Your eyes jerked back and forth uncontrollably. I took you inside and cuddled with you. Made you a nest in the corner where you spent the night. Made you a tenderloin dinner, which you threw up, and that's when I knew for absolutely sure that I needed to let you go. You threw up water, food, anything.

Relaxing in the sun

I've cried a lot. A lot more than I expected. It's not like I didn't realize you were going to die. Sometimes I even hoped you would die, especially on your own. There were days you annoyed me to no end, like when you were incessantly barking. In these last few months, incessant barking was your MO, since you were 2/3's blind and more than 1/2 deaf - you barked when the wind blew. But we have a lot of memories together. You are the only constant in my life since my Dad died. Most of all, I just really wish I had taken you for a few last adventures in these last few months. You would've loved to go swimming at the lake, running at the Preserve, even just riding around in the truck. I let life and children get in the way of your happiness and I'm so sorry for that. I will never forget you, little buddy. I will never forget how awful I felt in those last moments, wishing I had cherished you more in these last months. You are my reminder to cherish every minute with those I love. I love you.