Monday, August 6, 2012

Paws for Appreciation

The other day, a friend posted on their Facebook page the news that their canine companion of over ten years had passed away that morning.

That post reminded me once again of my canine pal Jak, who left this planet more than two years ago but still frequents my thoughts.

My dog Jak whined his way into my life in 1996 as a scrawny, insecure mongrel pup of uncertain parentage.  His appearance and behavior gave evidence that his family tree bore no shortage of branches:  he sported the coat of an Australian Cattle dog, the speed of a Greyhound, and the general build of a German Shepherd, with the traits of a few other breeds thrown in for good measure.    

Jak was never a fan of water.  He tolerated baths with rigid distaste, and his first experience with water outdoors—a step onto the rain-soaked sidewalk the day after we brought him home—resulted in a quickly-raised paw and a distressed whimper. 

Never the model of “good dog” behavior, Jak viewed commands as something to be largely ignored, or, if obeyed, casually executed after some delay.  That is, unless the prompt of a dog biscuit was offered.  This was not a sign of stubbornness, nor, I think, of lack of comprehension.  He simply couldn’t be bothered.

He never did get to be “top dog” in our little household; bullied into second and eventually third spot first by my Border Collie cross Sneeks, and then by my purebred Border Collie Emma.  Not that he seemed to mind.  He didn’t have a burning desire to be a leader.

Overshadowed by the others in most respects, and possessed of many less than desirable traits, Jak nonetheless shone in one area:  his love for his people.

While Sneeks would greet her human companions with the air of a goddess graciously stooping to acknowledge mere mortals, Jak was visibly overjoyed when he saw us after even the shortest of partings, prancing to greet us with a flailing tail and a broad, toothy grin.

And, he was unquestionably loyal.  Each day, about half an hour before my usual “home time”, Jak would make his way to the edge of the concrete parking pad in front of our house, plunk his hind end down, and patiently sit gazing down the driveway, ears alert for the crunch of tires on gravel, until my car made its nightly appearance.

Somehow the years slipped away in the all-too-quick way they do for dogs.  As Jak’s health faded, it became clear that the time for a final drive to the vet was approaching.  On a sunny May morning, I found myself on the way back from that difficult trip, marveling at how quickly time rockets through the hourglass, and how easy it is to take our blessings—including those that come to us in four-legged form—for granted.

As the car proceeded through the springtime landscape, I pondered the possibility that I might have benefited over the past fourteen years by spending a little more “canine time”.  I thought about all of the evenings Jak had waited so patiently for me to come home—sometimes, only to be brushed off impatiently if I’d had a difficult day at work or was preoccupied by other issues.

Only then did I realize that I had taken Jak’s love and loyalty more than a little for granted. 

Perhaps it’s human nature that we are most prone to under-value those who do things for us in an understated manner.  When I find myself slipping into this pattern in future, I will try to remember that grey-and-black form sitting in patient vigil at the end of the parking pad day after day.  If nothing else, the memory may prompt me to be a little more appreciative.

I think Jak would like that.

Adapted from a column by the author that appeared in the Creemore Echo, September 24, 2010.