We lost Jack on Tuesday. He was my first dog and my best buddy. A week after we adopted him, we learned that he had a grade IV heart murmur and was only expected to live for a few years. Almost exactly 11 years later, we bid our persistent, unwavering boy farewell.
Jack was the most special boy. From the moment you met him for the first time, he was going to make an impression on you. He absolutely refused to be ignored. The day we met him at Chicago Animal Care and Control (the city pound), he made it clear that he had decided that he was our dog. We met half a dozen dogs before him, but we couldn’t leave without at least giving a 6-month-old sad eyed puppy named ‘Jimbo’ a chance before we left for the day. The second we brought him out of his cage, he claimed us as his own by plopping down onto my lap and refusing to move. We knew his name wasn’t right for him, so we changed it to Jack right there on the spot. That was Jack’s way. He got what he wanted, and he wanted us to take him home. So we did.
Before Jack, we had known a few Pit Bull-type dogs. But, perhaps naively, we didn’t realize how maligned the breed was at the time. Jack helped to change us and the way we thought about dogs. Before Jack inserted himself into our lives, we didn’t realize that dogs that looked like him couldn’t even live in some cities. We didn’t know that parents of dogs that looked like Jack could legally be denied housing in many places. We couldn’t comprehend how a dog could be labeled ‘dangerous’ just because it had a muscular body, a blocky head and perky ears. But all of those things were, and in many cases still are, a reality for dogs that look like Jack. Because of him, we did what we could to make things better for dogs that happened to look like him.
Jack showed us that a scrawny puppy from the city pound could shift the way we thought about the world. Because of him, when Kim started The Pet Shop almost a decade ago (in which she painted portraits of your pets!), we decided to donate a healthy percentage of our profits to animal rescue and welfare organizations that were saving dogs and fighting against breed discrimination. During The Pet Shop’s run, we (and in turn, you!) donated tens of thousands of dollars to organizations that helped to connect dogs like Jack with families like ours. Like I said, he was persistent. He made an impression on people.
In addition to changing the way we thought about pitties, Jack also persuaded us to adopt another pittie. One of the major reasons we chose our current home was the fully fenced-in yard since we were ready for a second dog. We took Jack to meet another half dozen dogs that he simply showed no interest in… that is, until we met CC.
Love at first sight doesn’t begin to describe the instant bond that these two Chicago Brown Dogs shared. They furiously licked tongues and chased each other around the room. (You’re welcome for that visual.) It was obvious very quickly that Jack had chosen our new dog for us, and that sweet Chocolate Chunk quickly became a part of our family. Again, our boy got exactly what he wanted.
When we were expecting Lucy, we hired a training specialist to make sure he was ready for our new addition. With our persistence, Jack took to the training well and soaked it in. When it came time to bring Lucy home, Jack ultimately became the sweet, gentle, protective older brother that we knew he could be. Watching him bond with Lucy was one of the greatest joys of our lives. Lucy was his puppy.
On more than one occasion, he tattled on Lucy with a quick bark before she could get herself into trouble. Lucy took to calling him ‘Handsome Jack’ as soon as she was able to talk. She couldn’t wait to hug and kiss him every day when she arrived home from our nanny’s house. On Wednesday morning, completely unprompted, she said ‘Jack is sleeping with Libby’. She was right. It was simultaneously the sweetest and saddest thing we’d ever heard her say.
Like a lot of pitties, Jack was loyal, gentle, kind and stubborn. He was able to match his goofy play style to that of the tiniest of puppies or the biggest adult dogs at the dog park. Jack was simply not capable of the harm that many though was inherent in him. Although once – and only once, thank goodness! – he showed us that he was very capable of a convincing bluff. Many years ago, Kim called me in a panic as I was on my way home from work. She had stepped out onto the common back porch of our former condo and found two young men trying to open the doors and windows of our neighbors in the building.
I was only a few blocks from home, and as I ran in the door, I leashed up Jack and we stepped out onto the porch. We heard low conversation coming from the deck above ours. Jack immediately went into alert mode when he knew that something was off. He perked his ears, puffed up his chest and led me to the voices that we both heard. When we found the same strangers Kim had described attempting to lift open a neighbor’s window, Jack walked to the end of his leash and let out a low, rumbling growl that that I will never forget. The attempted burglars froze, backed away from him and did everything I ordered them to do as we followed them off our property and called the police on speakerphone. He had never made that low Jurassic Park T-Rex rumble-roar sound before that day and he never made it again. But we always knew that Jack would do anything for us, even if it meant putting himself into harm’s way.
When we first learned of his heart murmur while he was a 6-month-old puppy, the specialist predicted a 2-3 year lifespan. We cried; we said we would just have to love him extra hard. But Jack leap-frogged more times than we could count, and here we were, 11 years later, and he just kept on being Jack and doing Jack things. He was always under foot. We were forced to alter our the rhythm of our steps in the kitchen because Jack attempted to occupy the exact same space in which we were standing. And while he never stopped being that same Jack we knew and loved, his age had started to show in the last handful of years. His muzzle and face were getting whiter by the day and his once strongly-outlined chest markings had faded to blend in with the rest of his silvering fur.
Jack’s heart murmur had begun to catch up with him as well. When friends arrived to our home, he simply couldn’t handle the excitement and would sometimes gently topple over to lay down and catch his breath. He was so stubborn though, that he tried to do everything in his power to keep us from remembering that he was almost twelve years old.
On Tuesday, a dear friend of ours had offered to spend the day with Lucy while our nanny needed to take a personal day. Kim and I headed off to the Two Flat to meet with contractors and knock out some projects. We got a call a couple hours later that Jack was acting sluggish, so I headed home to check on him. We called our trusted vet for advice, and they urged us to get him to the emergency vet as quickly as we could. Jack was listless as I carried him to the car and life had escaped him before we could make it to the vet. It all happened so quickly that we didn’t have time to process it until we realized that Jack had left our world on his own terms. He didn’t allow us to make any tough decisions. He didn’t allow us to let him go when the time was right for us. Jack went when he was damn well ready. Because that’s the dog he was.
To say that we will love you and miss you forever is an understatement, buddy boy. You changed us and everyone you met.