By D. Allan Kerr
Jesse was an eight-week-old Jack Russell Terrier when my wife Nicole first saw her in 1999. By all accounts there was an instant bond from their first meeting.
So from the time I came into the picture a few years later, Jesse (she was named for the “root’nest, toot’nest cowgirl” from the Toy Story movies) and I were both playmates and nemeses.
I can say for a fact I have never seen an animal more devoted than this little dog was to Nic. She followed her into every room, and whenever she settled down it was always within close proximity.
When Nic and I wrassled, or I launched a tickle assault, Jesse would nip at my arms or legs. Like, breaking skin at times. If I tried to “make a move” – even after years of marriage – I would have to contend with my wife’s dauntless protector.
She slept in our bed at night (usually right between us), and when Nic left the house Jesse would go look after her thru the window. She ran with her, hiked with her, even rode on the paddleboard when Nic took it out on the water.
When Nic was sick or blue, Jesse instinctively knew to snuggle close and provide comfort only a dog can offer (sorry cat-lovers.)
Sometimes, a lot of times, Jesse sensed something was amiss before I did.
When our daughter Layla was born a little more than nine years ago, Jesse became her protector as well. And when Layla was old enough, they all squeezed onto that paddleboard on the water together.
Even among Jack Russells, Jesse was a high-energy pooch. She dashed madly all over the yard, loved to swim laps in the pool. In her younger days, we would see Jesse’s little head pop up and back again thru the window when we returned home, springy legs bouncing her like one of those old rubber super balls.
She was an amazing watch dog. If anyone contemplated setting foot on our property she would start barking to alert us of the intruder – and then continue for several minutes even as the visitor stood talking with us inside the house. Like many small dogs, she considered herself a Saint Bernard in stature and so feared no man nor beast.
She just loved life.
Over time, of course, the bouncing slowed. The hearing went, the vision blurred. A stranger could stand in the middle of the room and she wouldn’t notice for several minutes.
Nic and I discussed what steps we should take, hoping Jesse would relieve us of a tough decision by going on her own terms, but her will to live was too strong. Just when we thought she was winding down, she’d suddenly explode with puppyish vigor again and we’d say, “Guess there’s some life in the old girl yet.”
But in the last couple of weeks she had a hard time just balancing to stand. She lost her appetite and we found her staring blankly at walls or objects just an inch or two from her nose. She mainly just lied on the couch, often with Layla cuddling next to her. Once we finalized the decision, her hind legs pretty much stopped working overnight.
The end came last Tuesday. It was, fittingly, gorgeous and brilliant blue outside. We took the day off, brought Jesse to Ogunquit Beach one last time, wrapped in a blanket, then brought her home and sat with her in the back yard. Our vet Kat Brandt, who makes house calls, was on hand along with Michele Lowry, an animal shaman lady, and they both helped ease the transition.
Nic held Jesse in her lap. They had been together 17-and-a-half years. We all said our good-byes, Michelle assured us Jesse was ready to go, and the vet put her to sleep. It was an afternoon of sunshine and tears.
I suppose there are more important things I could write about this week – terrorism, bombs, the stock market, rogue airlines, health care, a commander-in-chief who seems to realize only now that reality is not a TV show – but at the end of the day, what’s more important than family?
I think some of us take for granted – until it’s no longer there – the reassurance we get from the constant presence of our animal family members. They are always there for us, always reliable. From the day we brought Layla home, Jesse was part of her life. Our son Zach now has a daughter of his own, but Jesse was part of his life for 17-and-a-half of his 21 years.
We walk thru the door now and the house is empty. It’s hardest for Nic, who knew Jesse the longest and is always the first one home in the evening.
I never could have imagined such a tiny dog leaving such a huge void. Even when she was too old to do the dance of joy she performed in her younger days, we came home knowing she was lying on the couch awaiting us.
This is why too many dog movies have sad endings – it’s not unusual now to have people live into their 80s and 90s, but a pet who makes it to 15 is said to have had a good run. Jesse would have been 18 years old this August.
We know we were lucky to have her so long, but in the end it just feels like another sad dog movie.
D. Allan Kerr has been forced to watch “Marley & Me” more times than he can count.
(April 19, 2017)