I wasn’t always a dog person. Sure, I wanted a puppy when I was little. Just like every other kid on the block. But we had always had cats at home, and I knew nothing about dogs. In fact, they even scared me a little, but I knew for sure I really really wanted one (kids logic at its finest). Then, as we’re all told by our parents when we’re young: “NO”. Plain and simple. End of the story. So, I didn’t get a puppy and grew up dogless.
Fast forward to age 21. I moved to the States. -North Carolina, to be precise. I didn’t know many people there, started making a few friends, but didn’t have a “best” friend. I mean, trust and friendship take time to grow. And when you’re fresh into your 20’s, you start to notice that people get more and more busy with life, and friendships become slower to evolve than when you were a child, or even a teenager. I needed a little companion. A little creature I could be completely emotionally attached to. A constant presence at home so it wouldn’t feel so empty. I just longed for it.
Initially, I figured I’d get myself a cat. I had always had cats, I understood cats, I was totally a cat person. But cats are impossible to travel with, which was a potential issue at that point in my life. Then I thought, hey, I’m an adult now, I live on my own … nothing’s holding me back anymore from getting that puppy I always wanted. A few weeks later, my phone rang like it was meant to be. A friend had just witnessed something awful: a dog had been thrown out of a car in the middle of a road. He ran to get him so he wouldn’t get run over by other cars. The dog appeared to be fine and healthy, but he couldn’t keep him because his landlord didn’t allow pets. He asked if he could bring him over. So this was a classic example of “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it”. I suddenly wasn’t so sure anymore, but agreed to check him out.
That evening, in January 2005, the cutest little brown fur ball came through my door, and peed on my kitchen floor. I was in love! He couldn’t be more than 8 weeks old. He was still very clumsy when walking, had the head shape and eyes of a tiny baby. I felt so bad for the little bugger. He was clearly too young to be without his mother. Alright, I was on a mission! I was going to raise that little pup and make sure such horrible thing would never happen to him again.
And then started the nightmare … I now had a dog. A little 6 to 8 week old puppy who was a male, and thus clingy as hell. He wouldn’t let me do anything without him. Me taking a quick pee break in the bathroom instantly turned into a crying drama behind the door. He wanted to be with me, every second, of every minute, of every day, AND NIGHT. I was exhausted. It was literally like having a newborn baby at home. The feedings, the potty training, the leash training, the attention, the cleaning of all his mess, the vet trips and pet store trips … my God. What had I gotten myself into? I was exhausted, I looked like hell and I didn’t feel like we even had a bond. He needed attention and care, but I didn’t feel like he really gave a crap about me, and I started to feel that I didn’t love him either.
I had always assumed you were supposed to have an instant connection with your dog. I mean, you hear about all those dog lovers who love and adore their dog from day 1, and have such a great bond and relationship. I rolled my eyes and wondered if I should have just gotten a cat instead. It took me weeks to find him a name. Nothing sounded right, nothing suited him. And then one day: Jack. The perfect name. It sounds the same in every language, and every hero in every movie is named Jack. It wasn’t particularly original, but it felt right :-) That puppy finally started to have an identity. I was slowly getting attached.
It took another year for him to be fully trained and for us to be on the same page. Slowly but surely, we learned each other’s body language, mimics, sounds. All the subtleties that make you understand one another. I loved my dog to pieces and we did everything together. He had so much personality, it was like watching a little person trapped into a dog’s body. Our daily walks were sacred. And despite having a big yard, I always made sure to make time for our 30 minute hike together. That’s when a whole new world opened up to me … People started approaching me and talking. In just a few months time, I knew people in my entire neighborhood. Something that had never been the case in my life before Jack. I was a shy introvert, never one to walk up to strangers. But Jack was! He loved strangers! They saw this little four legged social butterfly and were instantly drawn to him. Naturally, we started chit chatting about him, and then other random topics. Within less than a year, everybody knew us as Jack & Lisa. As years went by, I slowly opened up. I was no longer shy. I approached people, started talking to them. Dog owners on their dog walks have the perfect ice breaker; something in common to talk about. I had really underestimated the power of that.
After Jack passed away, there were no more walks. As weeks and months passed, I noticed I still talked to strangers with ease, and especially those with dogs. That’s when it finally dawned on me. Jack had changed me. He had brought me out of my shell like no human could have possibly done. I miss my little buddy and I’m so thankful for everything he’s brought into my life. All those people I got to know through the years, some of them became good friends. And I’m sure I will meet many more. I like to look at it as Jack’s legacy, which will continue to affect my life until my very last day.
No dog will ever replace Jack. He was my first, and I learned everything I know about dogs thanks to him. I still get teary eyed when I dwell on the memories. I’m definitely sure that I want a new dog in my life soon. Not as a replacement – because they’re all unique – but as a new chapter ready to be filled with new happy memories, and new human friends along the way. I’m still going to need a while for the sadness to fade a bit, but I know I’ll get there.
Dogs are such amazing creatures. I never believed it before I got a dog myself. I was like “yeah yeah, sure, whatever, other pets are just as nice”. And although in a way I don’t like to admit it, because I don’t want to make it sound like other pets such as cats or rabbits are worthless animals (they’re not!), I do have to say there’s something extra special about having a tight bond with your very own dog. It’s hard to put in words. They are so much work and such a pain when they’re young, but my God, is it worth it. After almost a decade with Jack, I can say for a fact that I’ve turned into a better version of myself. I’m more open, less judgmental of others, I talk to people easily, I’m more compassionate. The overwhelming love and loyalty he’s brought me were my strength in many dark moments. I was never alone. He guarded the house and protected me. I felt safe and loved. – After all, what more does a person need?