Jak

It can be years, many years, a decade or more, and a person can still miss her dog.

My dog, Jak, my big, beautiful, thick, smiling Jak. Jak, the dog who circled his own wagons, curled up in the snow, and fell calmly asleep until the people in the house realized the next morning that he had been left outside in deep winter the entire night. He stood up and shook off the snow, wagged his tail and came to the door.

Nothing about him held resentment or memory. He was a smiling Samoyed. He just lived and smiled and sauntered along as if he was the finest creature on the planet. He believed it to be true. It never occurred to him otherwise.

I loved Jak because of his massive white fur, his black eyes and nose, and the true curl of his lips into a smile nearly all of the time. He was the only dog who was completely mine. He was a gift from my husband, a present preceded by great suspense and intrigue, my husband teasing me with hints and jokes for weeks.

We had been married two years, we already had a fine dog, we were settling in to our life, remarried me with an 11-year old daughter, him the new step-dad, the two of us wanting to have more children but not being able to, me being depressed in a bottomless way that only happens a few times in one’s life, and my husband, as always, never accepting the worst. If we could not have more children, we could have more fine dogs.

He bought Jak for me, an outrageous gift since we already had a perfectly good dog and had no money to spare. Jak was a purebred, AKC-registered Samoyed with the extraordinary name of Kipperic Union Jaksun.

He was a magical puppy.

Have you seen in your life a more perfect puppy? A better consolation prize? It was extraordinary and crazy that my husband would buy such a dog – with our finances, our worries, another dog already chewing our shoes. It was early in our marriage and before I learned that my husband understood the importance of grand gestures. Practicality gives small comfort to hurting people; grand gestures make them laugh and forget themselves. And that is what Jak’s arrival in my life did.

Jak was the only dog that was mine and mine alone. Oh, everyone in the family tolerated Jak. I loved him. Because he was mine.

As it happens, though, and as it often happens when we think we’re doing so well holding the consolation prize in our laps, life took an unexpected turn. Within months of Jak’s arrival, we agreed to adopt a 21-month old Nicaraguan boy. Jak was still toddling around the kitchen when the phone rang one July afternoon and a friend with connections in the Nicaraguan government asked us if we would consider adopting a baby with a ‘hole in his heart.’ He was very ill and needed health care unavailable in Nicaragua in the 80’s.

He needed a family in the U.S. She had heard we were interested in adoption. Would we take him?

By October, I was holding our new boy on my lap. My husband had gone to Nicaragua to bring him home. An 11-year old daughter and two dogs were plenty, life with them was rich and lovely but we wanted more. We needed the boy who needed us.

That boy is 29 years old now. I went shopping for school supplies with him and his 8-year old daughter yesterday. I watched him spread composition books of each color on the floor of the store so she could choose her favorite one. I watched that yesterday. I could have just been another older lady looking at new mops had the call not come that July and had we not answered it the way we did.

So that’s what I think of on National Dog Day. I think of the dog in my life who was the harbinger of a lot of hope, who set my family on a course of doing the impractical, the illogical, the chancy thing.

I think of Jak, my beautiful Jak.

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I just noticed that in this photo Jak is wearing the blue cast that was put on his rear leg after his big (dog) sister accidentally squashed him against a big planter in our yard. Hard to explain, you had to be there. The two dogs went on to have an extraordinarily loving and companionable relationship for fifteen years.