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Monday, March 26, 2012

3 Things I Learned From Jack

Seven months ago, after thirty seven years, I finally increased the size of my family to a number greater than one.  After completing the cognitive and academic Bataan Death March that is the Nevada Bar Exam, I decided to fulfill a life-long dream of owning a “frisbee” dog and began to search in earnest for border collies in or near Las Vegas.  After locating a rescue on the other side of town that specialized in border collies and Australian shepherds (a breed I had never heard of), I planned a Sunday trip.  The next day I was visiting a foster home and a furry-faced Australian Shepard horribly misnamed “Ziggy” by his foster family came to live with me as “Jack.”  The intervening time has been filled with as many adventures as misadventures.  I’ve laughed at his hijinks, cried when I almost lost him; I’ve been amazed at him and confounded by him, and all the while wondering why I waited so damned long.  But more surprising than anything, was that I learned more from this 50 pound bucket of fur, slobber and love than I have from most of the other people in my life.  And so, as a tribute a great first seven months, here are 3 things I learned from Jack:

1.  Time for Two.  I am a lover of great and wonderful toys.  From the first day I set eyes on a Nintendo Entertainment System, I have held a special place in my heart for the visceral joy of controlling things on a screen.  Arcades were welcoming halls of wonder, when the vagaries of normal social interaction escaped me.  And computers were a gateway to a place where all things were possible, when it seemed I lived in a world where impossible was a way of life.  But no matter the nearly unimaginable detail in modern virtual worlds, no matter the reminiscent joy of seeing my old friends Mario, Luigi and Sonic after years gone by, no matter even the fulfillment of a childhood dream to have an arcade in my own living room - there is still something lost in this type of play: playing with others.  Even the most complex and rich solo experience fails to capture the simple bliss of having a friend along.  Jack has a big back yard, more toys than he can remember to bury/dig up, and a ton of free time on his hands (paws).  But nothing makes him happier than having someone to throw things for him to chase, someone on the other end of that tug-o-war, or simply someone to pay a whole lot of slobbery attention to.  When other people are around, his natural lethargy turns to a nearly limitless energy and as long as someone is willing to throw something (no matter how tired he might be) he is willing to chase it.  Jack’s simple lesson: cherish your time with others, for it is the best you have.

2. Stranger Danger.  Thankfully, Jack is not much of a barker.  I didn’t know this when I met him, and didn’t ask the rescue staff or his foster parents about it - even though I probably should have, especially given the high regard which I hold peace and quiet in.  But as it turns out, I got lucky, and Jack likes it quiet, too.  But unlike me, speaks only when absolutely necessary - and this is when he senses danger, someone or something he doesn’t trust.  Of course, Jack’s a smart breed - a herder.  He can’t be head faked easily and you don’t want to be the person trying to keep his toy-du-jour away from him.  But he’s still a dog and it’s not like he can perceive the obvious things that we do.  That said, it turns out that he’s an excellent judge of character.  At first, if he doesn’t know you, he’ll bark if you show up anyplace but the front door.  It doesn’t matter how cute you look, or how nice you talk to him, he’s not buying any of it at first.  Once he’s decided that you mean no harm to house or family, he’s still not ready to be friends.  A good once over with the nose, and then back away again - just to give it a few minutes to see what you’re all about.  In short order, he’s made new friends (turns out that it’s damn near impossible not to love the little bastard) and all is well.  There have, however, been a few instances of people that he never took a liking to, and I really should have paid better attention to that.  Jack’s simple lesson: be wary of everyone at first, and wait a bit before letting people get close - people that can’t be trusted are usually obvious if you just sit back and watch for a minute.

3.  The Best You Can.  Since the very first time I saw one, I wanted a frisbee dog.  In college, where I learned to throw a flying disc farther and better than I ever imagined, my desire become even greater.  After all, what could be a better match than a dog that loved catching frisbee and an owner that loves throwing it?  Alas, my career and location always seemed to make the idea an impossible one - until finally, it didn’t.  I wasn’t even sure that Jack liked frisbee, and again, I didn’t ask.  I just knew he was the right breed - and I hoped against hope.  As luck would have it, Jack loves the frisbee.  On our frequent trips to the park, as soon as he spots it in my hand, he starts trying to run out in front of me and get ready for the next throw.  Like his adoptive father, he is easily distracted, but not when the frisbee is in my hand.  In that moment, he has a laser-like focus, and he tracks every move it makes.  When it flies, he hits a dead sprint, sometimes even outrunning what I had always assumed would be impossibly long throws.  I quickly learned that when you don’t have thumbs, picking a traditional disc up off the ground (i.e. with your mouth), can be a somewhat frustrating experience - so we went and got something a little more flexible, and problem solved.  The other problem with not having thumbs is that you can’t do much in the throwing-it-back department, but he doesn’t seem to mind the run.  And so we play, me throwing and him catching and retrieving - he suffers my sometimes errant throws, and I suffer him slobbering on my disc.  We have a hell of a time, and with respect to everyone I ever threw a frisbee with, the best time I ever had throwing one - despite the fact I never get a chance to catch.  Jack’s simple lesson: it’s not how you play, but that you play that counts. 

* * *

I’ve often heard that people end up with pets exactly like them, sometimes even in appearance.  I was never really sure of how this occurred, given the myriad of ways in which people come to own pets.  I’m not sure I even place much credence in the idea.  I mean, take Jack: he’s a complete spaz; he has an insatiable appetite for playing (even at odd hours of the night); he will eat to excess if you put treats in front of him and seems to particularly enjoy chicken and anything sweet; he’s cute in sort of a unique way; and stronger than he looks; he’s profoundly lovable, but can also be an insufferable pain in the ass; he’s smart, even for his breed, but also has a weakness for pretty girls, which can distract him from just about anything; he naps at odd times, speaks up when it gets too quiet and, in the end, loves as hard as he’s capable of - even though it sometimes falls short.  C’mon now - who do you even know like that?     


SavageLettuce said...

For what is a seemingly impossible task of choosing my absolute favorite piece from your arsenal of treasures, I've found it. I'm looking forward to the next installment, since I have every confidence that you have much to learn from dear Jack...and vice versa. Game on!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Jack-Jack!! Glenn, this is an endearing piece. Now, as much as you love that fluffy face and his darling company..Believe it or not? HE LOVES YOU MORE!!! If he had a voice he would tell you himself. Instead his slobber and sweet puppy kisses, his run to greet you after a long day, and sleeping at your feet, never wanting you to leave the house; is his way of showing his unconditional love. " has a weakness for pretty girls, which can distract him from just about anything; HILARIOUS! Just like his darling daddy!!!

Anonymous said...

Well I think he's exactly like his owner I should know I've know his owner for 36 yrs!!!

Anonymous said...

Only one question for ya....Can Jack dance? ;)

Sounds like all is well my old friend.

Buddy's Late Night and Jaydee Plastic Dreams for life!
Oh yea...If I had a yard I would get a dog too.

Joseph said...

Hey! I have been thinking about getting a dog myself. A border collie to be specific. As it turns out, I also live in Las Vegas. What is the name of this rescue that specialized in border collies and Australian shepherds?

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