October 16, 2017

Lisa Dye: Jack

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A few weeks ago in August, my husband and I moved our youngest daughter and a truck full of too much stuff into a tiny dorm room at a large state university 90 minutes away. It was the culmination of 32 years of uninterrupted child rearing. When we got home that night, we shut the third and last of our children’s bedroom doors and cried. We were officially empty nesters.

The next day, with the dawning of our newfound freedom and all its potentialities, we did what millions of other parents in our situation do … a little happy dance. Of course, out of kindness, none of us let our kids see actually see that dance and that poses a big problem. They start to feel sorry for us in all our loneliness. They picture us rattling around in a big empty house … a house that isn’t actually too big. They begin trying to come up with a solution to our very bad situation … a situation that isn’t actually very bad. They decide to do something about it. They give us a puppy.

Seriously, they gave us a puppy.

IMG_1501Actually, they gave my husband a puppy for his birthday. I had let my wishes to not have another dog be known in the spring shortly after our sweet, but exceedingly hyper yellow Labrador, Sue, succumbed at age 8 to an aggressive cancer. Don’t get me wrong; I love pets, especially dogs. I have raised my share from pups and lived with adult adoptee dogs foisted upon me with all their improper formations and bad habits. I understand the commitment, which is something akin to raising a child, minus the expense for college education … though if you count replacing drywall that was eaten down to bare studs on more than one occasion, you might be getting close in approximation.

The point is, I knew what it would be like, and I was right, but have I mentioned that no one listens to me?

My husband pondered in advance of picking his pup from the litter what name would be most appropriate. He settled on Jack. It was his father’s name. I loved my father-in-law dearly, but he was ornery, to say the least. As I believe names are prophetic, the thought seriously worried me. But the day we brought Jack home, was the 24th anniversary of my father-in-law’s passing. It somehow seemed right.

Jack is the latest in a long line of Labrador Retrievers that have been a part of our family. I learned a long time ago that the first two years of a Labrador’s life are crucial. Those are the two years when you have restrain yourself from sending them to their Maker. Labradors have an oral fixation that will wear out a small fortune in American rawhide, destroy blouses hanging in the laundry room, leave newel posts gnawed nearly in half and, as aforementioned, strip wallboard off the studs with the same fervor as a hoard of hungry beavers. Labs are also unconvinced they are canine. They truly believe they are human and thus entitled and invited to every family outing and privilege. These are the reasons they always end up coming to work with me. (Fortunately, my husband and I are self-employed.) Otherwise, the unforgiving and hurt looks I get after arriving home from a day at the office are too much to bear.

Truth be told, I had suppressed the utter frustration that comes from job-sharing with a puppy. I forgot the incredible inconvenience of loading the car each morning with backpack, lunch cooler, dog bed, crate, training treats, toys … oh, and dog … sometimes a wet and dirty dog because he was busily excavating a mud hole in the backyard just prior to leaving for work. Honestly, I feel like I am going on safari every day. Without my husband doing the early morning duties and taking over at night, I would have moved to my own apartment by now.

Once in the parking lot, I leave the car hatch open for future unloading and give the pup a 15-minute potty opportunity. If that is successful, we walk the 100 yards to the dumpster to make his deposit and back to begin the unloading process, which is at least three trips in and out of the building. God forbid there is rain and an umbrella to open and shut each time.

Words can’t adequately convey what happens the next 45 minutes in my office, though “Tazmanian” and “devilry” come to mind. Jack is not happy that my attentions are not on him. He barks piercingly and repeatedly to remind me he is there. When that fails, he stands in front of me with his paws on my knees imploring me to pleeeeease play with him. [Insert photo.] After that, anything within 6 inches of the edge of my desk gets raked to the floor and ransacked. Finally, he pounces on his squeaky rubber turkey in frenzied play, accompanying the turkey noises with his own yapping, groaning and crying … for that is the effect the turkey noises have on him. I have taken videos to try to convey my unprofessional work situation to my kids. They think it’s very funny.

ico_videoVideo: Office Frenzy

When my baby finally drops off to sleep, I can make phone calls and minor progress. Jack likes to sleep with his chin resting comfortably, comfortably for him, that is, on my feet. This is very confining. Filing and papers I need to distribute in various places around the office go in a pile on the edge of my desk. I swivel my chair gingerly to reach my computer keyboard and try not to roll the wheels on tender, floppy ears. If I am desperate, I move Jack to his bed, but he sleep-crawls, army-style, back to my feet. An hour later, when he is in his deepest, most relaxed phase of sleep, I can at last move him out of the way and he will stay.

IMG_1281I confess, I checked into daycare the other day. Happy Dog Hotel and Spa is right on my way to work. If Jack plays nicely, it will cost me $12 a half-day to let other dogs and handlers wear him out while I work. It wasn’t really in the budget, but I can give up something … maybe my book vice or the extra wine I have been drinking at night. And Jack will forego the special Muttini’s (Kong balls filled with peanut butter), Pet-i-cures and bubble baths. He can take a regular stand-up shower at home, like all his predecessors.

By late afternoon, I get a little giddy. It’s time for Jack’s nap, and time for me to be at home writing. It’s a reward for the craziness of the day and a garrisoning of strength (his and mine) for his dinnertime shenanigans, which involve cats.

I can hear some of you now. “Cats! I thought she was a dog person. Who likes cats?” Mine is a diverse and equal opportunity animal house, though it wasn’t always that way.  I used to be solely a dog person, until one cat we acquired from a neighbor’s barn to be a mouser in ours turned out to be deadbeat. At first I thought she was just a princess, unwilling to work for a living, since she refused to leave the house. The only times she’s ever gone out are for vet appointments, but as time has worn on I believe she is somewhat of an agoraphobe. I say that with sympathy as I have dealt with the same fear from time to time. Stella is 13 and lives in my laundry room. Although she is free to roam the house, she does not. She fears the great outdoors, is highly suspicious of humans, has a strange affinity for dogs (she is happy to have Jack as a bunk mate after Sue’s passing) and detests other cats.

Speaking of other cats, we have two of them, Charlie and Izzy, white Himalayan-mix hairballs. They were once my daughter’s cats and now mine since I acquired them while she traveled the world for two years in her job. Charlie, in particular, is the source of all the dinnertime shenanigans. I’m still trying to psych him out. I haven’t yet learned if he is just lonely from a day away from me, drawn by the alluring smells of my cooking, giving into his obsession with water running from the kitchen faucet, nurturing private hopes of befriending Jack or only wants to annoy the you-know-what out of him. For whatever reason, Charlie taunts Jack by his feline presence knowing he is able to leap baby gates and countertops with a single bound and stay just clear of getting killed. The effort of such mad chases throws Charlie into paroxysms. He has exercise-induced asthma, so he’s usually coughing by mid-leap. Yet, he keeps coming back and doing it over and over. Dinner preparation at my house is a rowdy and raucous affair.

ico_videoVideo: Cat Standoff

Desperate for any kind of help for all this rowdiness, we took Jack to an animal blessing ceremony at our local Catholic church on the Feast of St. Francis. We are not Catholic, but dear friends who are let us know about the blessing and thought Jack might benefit. Our college-daughter was home for the weekend, so we loaded ourselves in the car and headed that way. Jack was on his best behavior. It was a cold, windy day and he huddled in my husband’s arms peering curiously and a bit fearfully at all the big dogs and mewing cats in carriers. We sang a few songs accompanied by guitar and a chorus of howls. There was a prayer and then the priest came around with the holy water sprinkling each animal, including a few unseen critters proffered in shoeboxes by small children. When the priest got to Jack, my husband told him he might need the whole bucket.

Jack was very sedate on the drive home. Our daughter was sure of an immediate effect, but in case it didn’t work she assured him, “Now, even if you are naughty, Jack, you will still go to heaven.” It wasn’t exactly a baptism, but I didn’t have the heart to disabuse her of that thought.

The next day, Jack was back to his usual mischief, blessed but backslidden. Like I said, I am not Catholic, but just this morning as I drove to work crying, I called on St. Francis for his wisdom and intercessions. After all, he tamed a marauding wolf. I have also consulted the expertise of some Byzantine Rite monks, voraciously reading their books, How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend and The Art of Raising a Puppy. These monks of New Skete in upstate New York support themselves breeding and expertly training canines. Their dogs actually sleep in their bedroom area because, according to them, separation for a pack animal is too much isolation. Also, their whole passel of dogs quietly down-stay around the table through their entire dinner hour. These monks are an inspiration … maybe too lofty for me … but an inspiration, nevertheless. By 10:00 at night, Jack is in his crate (thank you, Jesus) until the next morning and his down-stay lasts exactly 7 seconds. I did find out the monks will take your dog for 2.5 weeks for in-residence training and return them to you minus the ankle biting and leash lunging. They also have a retreat facility for anyone who wants to come … say the owner of an ankle biter or leash lunger. I don’t mind telling you, I’ve mentally plotted such a trip for Jack and myself with every ounce of creativity I’ve got. The problem is, I have a job and that little 2.5-week retreat plus private dog tutoring would be very expensive. But I confess a fascination with monastic living and this whole puppy situation has greatly exacerbated it. I feel a need for divine help and a good long rest.

So what does it all mean? I’ve asked myself this question over and over. Should I have put my foot down and insisted on my nest remaining empty? Maybe. I know I’m way too passive, but I tend to get life lessons and spiritual metaphors from strange sources. So I’ll just let it go at that. Maybe all of this is God acting something out for me the way Jesus acted out parables for his disciples. For example, Jack, as in control of my life as he tries to be, is completely dependent on me. He looks to me to provide his food, put out his water, correct him over and over, patiently lead him on 57 trips per day to a grassy area and just as patiently clean up and dispose of his you-know-what so it doesn’t dirty his life or anyone else’s. He reminds me so much of myself. I try just as hard to tell the Father what I want (yap), want (yap), want (yap) right now, but am dependent on him to know what’s best for me. No doubt, I have tested his patience unceasingly and the messes I have made at times are beyond my ability to clean up. But just as I do it for Jack, thankfully God does it for me.

Jack’s birth family was a litter of other animals, but now he has been adopted into mine. He has a whole new culture, manners, ways and habits to learn … sort of like me trying to acclimate to God’s kingdom life. It’s foreign and unfamiliar. Jack is immature and wild, but in time he will be the beloved member of our family I envision. Similarly, God has adopted me and made me his child. I have all the privileges of his family, but I behave otherwise out of habit much of the time. By his grace and loving kindness, I will begin to manifest the image of Jesus, his own Son, in my manners, ways and life. Eventually, I will be in my actions, just as I am in position … a daughter of the Most High.

Beyond my own relationship with Jack, the thing I most want for him is a fellowship that includes others. I envision my home to be a place where dog differences and cat differences and human differences, while recognized and appreciated, are unified into a peaceable kingdom of mutual trust and cooperation. It’s a long process and a lot to hope for, but then I consider what God was up against with me. And yet, in Christ, he has done it. He is doing it. When all seems chaos, I can rest in the fact that he will never stop working his whole blessed business of Communion.

Here’s one last video . . . er, audio of Jack.

Comments

  1. Some frequent commenters here on this blog claim that I don’t know jack.

    Now, I feel as though I do.

  2. Got an early morning chuckle out of that one. Well done!

  3. Your puppy sounds adorable!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Just the pic at top with the “Hi! I’m a baby dog!” expression and the goofbeam eyes.

  4. Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

    That was AWESOME!

  5. Christiane says:

    Jack needs a companion puppy to play with. 🙂
    ‘Cute’ doesn’t do him justice: your Jack is georgeous!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Jack needs a companion puppy to play with.

      Or three, or four. Make it a real party!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Will you be paying for Lisa’s therapy?
        With three or four Lab puppies underfoot, she’s going to need it.

        • Amen, HUG.

        • Christiane says:

          Puppies ARE therapy.

          (Unfair of me to state this unless I explain that our little dog was trained by my son to three levels and has the ‘Good Citizens Award’ from a Petsmart puppy training facility . . . we care for said miracle dog since my son went to sea duty, and the little one is an absolute joy for us)

          • Not unfair at all, Christiane. They truly are therapy One Lab I had was more help to me during a serious depression than any human. Praying for your son away at sea. I’m sure he is so relieved to have you looking after his dog with so much care and affection.

  6. And everyone knows, Dog spelled backwards is God. 😉

  7. Faulty O-Ring says:

    New Skete was founded in 1966 as a Byzantine Rite Franciscan monstery, but joined the Orthodox Church in America in 1979. So, Orthodox.

    • Yes, you are correct. It should have been, “I have also consulted the expertise of some Byzantine Rite monks turned Orthodox,” but I missed it in my editing. Thank you, FOR!

  8. (Jack) reminds me so much of myself. I try just as hard to tell the Father what I want (yap), want (yap), want (yap) right now, but am dependent on him to know what’s best for me. No doubt, I have tested his patience unceasingly and the messes I have made at times are beyond my ability to clean up. But just as I do it for Jack, thankfully God does it for me.

    It is far better to be a dog-person (“Look at all my Master does for me – He must be God!”) than a cat-person (“Look at all my ‘master’ does for me – *I* must be God!”). 😉

    • That Other Jean says:

      Eh. Cats were regarded as representatives of the goddess Bastet in ancient Egypt. They have not forgotten, and expect their due.

    • OldProphet says:

      Cats rule!!!!!!! Dogs drool. Love cats. I like that they are independent, self reliant, use a box not my yard, don’t need someone to clean up their stuff, aloof…..just like me.Errrrr, maybe that’s not a good thing?Oh well, LOL

  9. On the eighth day God created Labs. They are a handful but great.

  10. Your Jack makes our perpetual-motion cocker spaniel puppy look like the reposing Buddha. Thank you for the perspective! It’s always great to read your writing, Lisa. This is a delightful article.

  11. Thank you, Damaris. I grew up with a Cocker Spaniel and love them too … very sweet. Yes, those Buddha moments are so few and far between with puppies, but we appreciate them so much when they happen:)

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Here’s one last video . . . er, audio of Jack.

    Big snore for such a little pooch.

    • He is much bigger now at 36 pounds. He was only 12 pounds when we brought him home 7 weeks ago.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        So he’s now a “dog little kid” instead of a “dog toddler”.

        Could be worse than a Lab, though. I know a guy who had a Malamute — not only are those repurposed sled dogs highly-active and need a LOT of exercise, they’re also the champion food-scarfers of the canid world. (You have to guard ANYTHING edible anywhere near them or it’s CHOMP CHOMP BURP! instead of the usual SNIFF SNIFF SLURP!)

  13. Beautiful piece of writing, Lisa. Jack’s puppy days are only temporary – the beehive-shaped Kong we got for our last dog saved our furniture 🙂

    We are currently pet-less, for the first time since we were married. It will only be temporary, until after we do some traveling; we have committed to visiting our daughter stationed in Hawaii, and we want to take a trip to Britain so my husband can see where his family came from. After that, we will have pets again. It’s very hard to wait. I understand that some people aren’t “pet people.” That’s okay… and I think somehow they are at least… unaware of something. I still miss my cat when I find her hairs on my sweaters, months after she met her demise at nearly 20 years of age.

    I do believe that in the New Creation, God will give us our pets again. Paradise would not be Paradise without them, and many other animals as well. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly – Ps 84.11.

    Dana

    • Dana, on Jack’s good days, I remember my past Labs and their very gentle ways as they aged. One of them helped me through a pretty bad depression. I know these times are temporary. I see a little light at the end of the puppy tunnel. Enjoy your travel. That sounds like so much fun!

  14. Final Anonymous says:

    Oh, dear Lisa, my sincerest sympathies. We are living parallel lives, as I am gritting my teeth through the first two years (16 months left, yes I am counting) with our new standard poodle puppy, just as our nest has almost emptied.

    What were we thinking???

    I’ve only had small dogs before, so this is my first time through the drywall chewing quirk. And the books that said she would need at least 2 hours a day of vigorous activity were, well, generously conservative.

    But I have thought many times, as you did, about the lessons this dog at this time is teaching me. A big one for me is a bit of a chance for redemption. My early parenting years were well-intentioned but frazzled, filled with on-the-job training, certainly a growth experience, but I’ve sometimes wished I could go back and use the knowledge I’ve gained. With the puppy, I have the opportunity to see a little of how God has changed me through the years. Which almost makes up for the lack of peace and quiet.

    Thanks for a wonderful piece, and best of luck with Jack.

    • F.A. I have been counting months too! But I met with a trainer today … a true dog whisperer. I feel hopeful tonight.

      As an encouragement to you, my sister has a standard poodle who has become a true companion and is very smart and sweet. Hang in there!

      Yes, there is something about little situations in puppy rearing and child rearing that reveal our true interior state. We can be deceived into thinking we are so patient and wise when we are not being tested. God must know when we need a little revelation about ourselves and brings us puppies.

  15. David Cornwell says:

    Thanks Lisa for a very enjoyable piece. Several years ago our grandson left a dog at our house for us to keep for “a couple of weeks” until he get’s settled in a new place and finds a new job. Athena, a lab-pit mix is still with us. She is very loud when someone comes, but once in the house, she loves them. She is gentle, sometimes playful, and smart. She is totally non-destructive. We swore we would never allow a dog to share our bed. Gradually, as she has gotten older, we have relaxed that rule, and on cold nights she jumps in at the bottom of the bed.

    She still is very fond of Lance when he visits. I think she knows that he is the one that rescued her, and is still grateful.

    Now we can’t imagine being without her. She knows she’s part of the family. We know it also. I won’t be surprised to see dogs in the New Creation. There’s something about these creatures that can bring out the best in us.

    As a footnote: once when I was away, some Jehovah’s Witnesses came to the door and one managed to get his foot in the door. Athena let him know with an unusual growl that he was not welcome.

  16. “I won’t be surprised to see dogs in the New Creation.” David, I won’t be surprised at this either as Genesis tells us animals are made from the same dust as us and also have God’s breath in them, though formed in a different image. I always figure if there is a failure at communication with one of my animal friends it is my failure … something I lost in the fall. Our pets teach us as much as we teach them, maybe more.

    • Christiane says:

      For LISA and DAVID, I found this:

      “”A man and his dog were walking along a road when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.
      He remembered that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years.

      After a while, they came to a street of pure gold. As he got closer, he saw a man at a desk. He called out, “Excuse me, where are we?”

      “This is Heaven,” the man answered.

      “Wow! Would you happen to have some water?”

      “Of course. Come right in, and I’ll have some ice water brought up.”

      “Great! Can my dog come in, too?” the traveler asked.

      “I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t accept pets.”

      The man thought a moment and then turned back down the road. “Never mind,” he said.

      After another long walk, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate. As he approached, he saw a man leaning against a tree. “Excuse me!” he called. “I’m very thirsty. Do you have any water?”

      “Yes, sure, come on in.”

      “How about my friend here?” the traveler gestured to the dog.

      The man said, “There is a special bowl for dogs by the pump.”

      The traveler took a long drink and filled the water bowl for his dog. “What do you call this place?” the traveler asked.

      “This is Heaven.”

      “Well, that’s confusing,” the traveler said. “The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.”

      “Oh, you mean the place with the gold street? No. That’s hell.”

      “Doesn’t it make you mad that they use your name like that?”

      “No, they’re doing us a favor. They screen out unsuitable candidates — the folks who would leave their dog behind.”

  17. Love this.

  18. Lisa, this was absolutely delightful. I hope Jack will be, too–eventually. 🙂 I think I’d melt every time I saw the whites of those eyes…Enjoy your beautiful baby!

  19. Wonderful piece. I am one of those non-pet people because I am physically unable to exercise a dog and would probably end up tea kettled. However, the rapport people have with their dogs (once past puppy-hood) is very appealing to me. Consider this time as just more character development!