In a lifetime, every man is entitled to a few things. The rest is earned. On the short list of entitlements comes a sharp knife, a fast horse, and a great dog. I’ve had and lost more than one sharp knife. Misplaced may be a better word. And as for a fast horse, my green garden tractor is going to have to suffice since our allotment parcels are too small for a horse whether it’s fast or slow.
So let’s talk dog.
I’ve had a bunch of dogs in the last seven decades, mostly hunters, and mostly pretty good at their craft, but mostly hardly remarkable. Except for three that will live forever in my memory; an unforgettable gold metal beagle named Max, a black Lab named Dutchess that raised our kids, and Jake, another Lab that was more loyal, more patient, more fun, more teachable, and more a buddy than a pet.
We just did the hardest thing a family has to do to a valued four-legged member of the family and in the few days since his final nap, Jake has been dearly missed.
Jake came to be in the early 2000s when one of our daughters called to say their lab had just delivered a litter of nine, one yellow and the rest black as deep-mined coal and that I could have first choice if I was ready to have another fur-covered hunting buddy.
The pups were just a couple days old when I saw them and one just stood out. He was the largest and sported an already identifiable blocky head, and wide shoulders, physical traits that Jake grew into as the months turned to years.
Easy to train
Jake was the easiest dog to train in the world. Tell him what you wanted, show him how you wanted it done, and he would do it exactly how you wanted it done — if he liked the job.
Otherwise, he would handle the task in his own way. I always thought he would develop into a hard-charging retriever, but he had other ideas.
If he was sent on a water retrieve, he would race to the shoreline, slam on the brakes, then pussyfoot into the water as if he was a timid swimmer testing the water temperature.
Eventually he would swim to the duck and bring it in, but he soon made it known that jumping recklessly into cold water was not his idea of fun.
Jake was the most patient traveller one could ask for. In the truck he could find a way of crunching his 80+ plus pounds into any spot available.
His favorite trip was our annual outing to Temagami, Ontario, a 12-hour jaunt that required a minimum of stops as far as Jake was concerned. At the wilderness launch ramp, he was always first in the boat, and on the island he ruled.
At night in camp, Jake always slept near my bed, snoring as loud as anybody and occasionally whimpering though a dream. He used to sit on the dock while huge Canadian horse flies zoomed around his head. He would zero in on a single, annoying fly and snap it out of the air like a hungry snake until all or most of the flies had either been swallowed or moved on to easier prey.
During his first few years, Jake earned his keep as a hunter and he was affective as a flusher of birds and a finder of downed pheasants during trips to South Dakota. Then he hurt his back while trying to get under a fence and from then on, decided that pheasant hunting was a waste of time.
But I didn’t care, he was still a good buddy, and when it’s all said and done, ought to be good enough.
Jake being Jake, could rock the house and wake the dead with his tail, a constantly wagging, destructive machine. He wagged that wild thing all the time. Dianne would flee when he greeted us, just to avoid Jake’s tail. He could clean a table with one wag and knock a light fixture over with another.
Jake was an outdoor fixture at our house, sitting for hours like a statue in the driveway waiting for me to return from wherever.
Of course, he had made friends with the mail lady who graciously tossed him a biscuit or two every day. He could recognize the rumble of her truck when she started up our street and he would race to the front around the house to wait for his tasty delivery. As he slowed drastically in the last year or two, he would often get there after she moved on to other mailboxes.
On those days, Jake, a normally silent dog, would bark at her as she worked her way down the street and she would often turn around or run back to answer his request.
But time has no favorites and as Jake’s chin turned to gray and the shine in his eyes faded, it became evident that it was time.
I sometimes wonder if Jake even knew he was a dog. I doubt that he did but I do know that Jake was a buddy that I was entitled to.
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