My Angel Baby
I remember the first time I set eyes on Jag. Jman and I had been dating for a few weeks, and he mentioned his brother’s dog had puppies. We were "just going to visit" them. After a nearly 2 hour drive (they live in the COUNTRY), we were glad to be out of the car. Eight rambunctious tan and brown pups came tumbling over each other to meet us. They were all paws and tummies and wiggly butts. One pup stood back, surveying the scene, a slight disdain registering on her face. Like her mom, she was solid black. The only one. She was smaller than her brothers and sisters, but she had wisdom they would never understand. It was love at first sight.
Although she didn’t run away from us, neither did she make herself readily available. She was always just a few steps away. When it came time for us to leave, knowing I would take her home with me, we tried everything to capture her. Coaxing with food, sneaking up from opposite sides, pretending like we didn’t care if she came near. Ultimately, Jman had to climb under his brother’s house to the den her mom had made and hand her up to me. She taught me that if there is something worth having, it’s worth working for.
For the first six months, as I waited for my current lease to expire, she was “fostered” at Jman’s mom’s house during the week, where she learned to cha-cha and appreciate good food. She taught me that you can love your caregiver, but still love your mom the most.
After I moved to a pet-friendly place, we started training in earnest. She was so smart and learned so quickly. She behaved like a dream on leash and off. We loved to walk to the dog park, where she would run around like the fastest animal on earth, and always come when I called. She loved meeting new doggies and would always be considerate of those smaller than her. We were inseparable - anywhere I could be found, she would be right there with me. I was single, living alone, and she was the best friend a girl could have. She didn’t hog the bed. And I never left her alone overnight. She taught me it was okay to be obligated to someone other than yourself.
I went on vacation and the Jman stayed with her. She was not happy with me. She managed to pull all the stuffing out of my couch cushions through the zippers she had opened. She taught me that you can be angry with someone you love, express that anger, but not let it destroy the relationship. Or the furniture.
I always wanted a LARGE dog, but everyone said she'd barely clear 40 lbs. She had been the runt of the litter and her mom wasn't more than 60. My gurl grew to be 105lbs, fighting weight. She taught me to never underestimate the runt.
I got her a cat to keep her company. She still loved me.
When the Jman and I decided (quite on a whim) to get married, she stood up for me. She was the only witness and the only one who bothered to get dressed up. She taught me that Las Vegas wasn’t ALL bad.
We moved to LA. She was the only friend I had here, and she kept me from going crazy. I started a new job in a new city with no friends, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to stay married. The next thing we knew, I was pregnant. My life was in complete and absolute turmoil. The one constant was the J-Dawg, who could be counted on to welcome me home, act as if I were the only thing in the world that mattered, and love me regardless. Long walks and trips to the dog park helped me learn the city, make some friends and clear my head. She taught me that LA wasn’t ALL bad.
As my belly expanded, she was relegated to the floor or couch. She could no longer share my bed. And when the baby came, she wasn’t even allowed in the bedroom, given my hyper paranoia about the newborn and my lack of any kind of support. She never gave me a hard time about it. She taught me that sometimes you have to let the ones you love make mistakes.
Finding housing with a dog is hard. Finding housing with a large dog in LA is extremely difficult. But it is not impossible. Three times since then we have had to move, and each time she went through it without being underfoot, insecure or clingy. I couldn’t imagine being one of those people who look to “re-home” their pets because the new place won’t take them. She taught me that commitment is permanent, not just when it’s convenient.
As we both grew older and more out-of-shape, she was content with shorter walks and less frequent visits to the dog park. She wasn’t as excited to meet new doggies, although she never got aggressive. She still would welcome me home, every day, with the helicopter tail wag (patented - it would go around in a complete circle) and a monologue of how her day went, what she and her cat did (sleep), and how much she loved me. She would do things just to amuse me, and when she knew there was little she could do, she would just be there for me. When the monkeychild got in trouble, Jaggers would slink away, to her time-out place, hoping that would satisfy me. When the Jman was being yelled at, she would do the same thing. She taught me that harsh words can hurt more than the intended recipient.
The most recent move was difficult; it was near impossible to find a place we could afford that would accept a large dog and wasn’t a complete dump. We were turned down twice (the second time *right* before we were to sign the lease), but it all turned out okay, because we found a place that had a little yard out front. Jaggers could lie in the grass and get a suntan (one of her favorite things to do). There are some privacy hedges, and a gate, so I didn’t have to be with her constantly to make sure she didn’t bother anybody, and that nobody bothered her. Yet, we did have a few good afternoons together; she would sun herself while I sat on the patio and knitted. In the heart of the ‘hood, she taught me the meaning of “idyllic”.
Although she had occasionally had a limp in the past, it usually would go away without much trouble. The vet never found anything and just attributed it to old age, and the occasional tweak of a ligament or tendon. Since I’ve suffered from similar ailments, I didn’t worry too much about it. Perhaps I should have. This time, her injury didn’t heal. And her face and head became hyper sensitive. Several trips to the vet, pain meds and anti-inflammatory meds weren’t helping. As much as she wanted to go lie in the grass, she had difficulty managing the three little steps to our house. She couldn’t even eat without crying in pain. She taught me that someone else’s pain can break your heart.
The final trip to the vet was distressing; she had lost 20 pounds in one month and could barely get up from lying down. I had always sworn I would not be “one of those people” who unnecessarily extend my life just because I could. It is my personal believe that people are living a lot longer and in much more dire circumstances that we should, and that we just aren’t designed to live that long. With the few exceptions of 100 year olds that are in perfect physical and mental health, 70 is a good age. 80 is great, if you can swing it. But I personally don’t want to be kept alive by drugs and machines. And I certainly didn't want my beautiful angel to go through that just because I couldn't bear to let her go. She taught me that sometimes, you have to act on your beliefs.
When it was time for her to go, it was just me and the vet. Jaggers was ready, and she accepted it with the grace and dignity I’ve come to expect from her. She has taught me that you can hurt more than you have ever hurt before and still continue to function.
I miss my girl. I miss her big brown eyes and her velvet ears. I miss her silly eyebrow expressions. I miss the white patch of ultra-soft fur on the back of her paw that reminds me of the filling of an oreo cookie. I miss her smell and warmth. I miss her welcoming me home and begging for treats. I can’t imagine ever not missing her, but I can imagine her teaching me that she’s chasing bunnies and dancing with Nana and nothing hurts, and that’s a good thing. But I expect it will take a while before I really believe that.