This is my dog “Happy Jack.” I didn’t name him. Look at that face for a moment. You can see the irony of his name written all over his sad chops. When calling my dog, my son -also called Jack- (and co incidentally also very happy) would often come running too, so one of them had to be renamed. We chose the dog, as we felt changing our offspring’s name would involve too much paperwork. So, now, “Happy” the dog, (who is not at all Happy) has become the most ill named creature in the universe.
I met happy whilst volunteering to dog walk at an animal shelter. He had been unceremoniously dumped at the gates, on a piece of string. He was not pretty. He looked like a poorly made coffee table, bulky, badly painted, rock solid with a leg on each corner. His appearance was not improved by the large grapefruit sized tumours hanging from his elbows and belly and the weird purple knobbly warts sprouting from his legs. He had a mangy tail and hardly any fluff on his balding chest. “So, I adopted him that day and he found his furever home”. NO. That did not happen, not that day.
Apart from being possibly the ugliest dog I had ever seen, he looked, well… fierce. In fact, I refused to take my middle child with me when I walked ‘Happy Jack’ because I was sorely afraid he might eat said child. He was an unknown quantity. He had history. History I knew nothing about, that I could only guess at. When I gazed into those big brown eyes I wondered, ‘what did you do to end up here?’ It bothered me. ‘How could anyone watch your tumours grow till you could hardly walk? What size of heart could tie you to a fence in the dark and drive away?’ Every time I walked ‘Happy Jack’ a long line of unanswered questions trailed behind us, dogging our footsteps. How much baggage could one dog have.
As It turned out, quite a lot. After his first surgeries to remove some of the tumours, he could waddle faster, and we could venture further than the perimeter fence. I soon discovered his pathological hatred of horses, garbage bins, carrier bags and the natural enemy of the dog…the bicycle. Now while I’m not particularly a fan of the bicycle, (I might turn off the Tour de France on the TV,) this dog hated the bicycle with as much passion as he loved his blue shell paddling pool and afternoon naps.
After a few weeks, he would be waiting for me at the chain link fence each time I came. I began to realize I was falling in pupper love. One day I piled him into the car to take him somewhere other than the sandy, rubbish filled, track that ran by the shelter. This would have been nice if he hadn’t had a panic attack in the moving vehicle, jumped the seats and thrown up on my kid’s coat. The hurdle of taking him out in the car, was soon overtaken by the heart wrenching task of delivering him back to the animal shelter afterwards. There is surely no pain worse for a dog who has been abandoned, to be left behind daily, never knowing if you’re coming back for them ever again, or at least I thought so.
Mr ND had no desire for a dog. We did, he reasoned, have a perfectly serviceable cat. A cat he observed that might be eaten by this massive, thug life, ‘bull terrier looking’ creature. A dog who was head strong, in the habit of bounding up to Utes, whenever he saw a high Vis vest, frantically searching the occupants. “Was he looking for his last owner?” I didn’t know, in the same way I was unsure if the cat would be swallowed. I weighed it up. I was willing to risk it (the cat was a complete bitch anyway, she would probably eat him.) Happy came home for a weekend trial.
He stuffed it up of course. In an admirably epic fashion. Not only did he attempt to eat the cat, he was terrified of the squeaky toy provided for his amusement, the small noisy child, balloons, and bizarrely, singing. He was also reactive to dogs, but only certain types of dogs, dictated to him, in his head,that changed on a daily basis that followed no rational pattern. He was miserable all weekend then sadly went back to the shelter. As I stood and explained to the lady why he might not well suited for our family, he sat with his tail between his legs and sighed. She commiserated and reassured me someone would give him a forever home soon.
They didn’t. He remained at the shelter whilst his kennel mates got adopted one by one. When I could take no more, I decided we should have another go. I didn’t even consult Mr ND, but I did discuss the matter with ‘Happy Jack,’ over schmakos, one afternoon. I sat on the riverbank and explained to him, that I didn’t know where he had come from and I was sorry. Sorry that somebody had abandoned him, that they had broken his heart and had caused him pain. I told him I understood how that made trust so hard to find. I told him he was a good boy and he deserved someone to love him despite his failings. I am sure he didn’t understand a word of it, but I think I needed to hear it for myself,out loud. I need to acknowledge it and place it in the forefront of my mind. Then something wonderful happened he came for the weekend… and didn’t eat the cat.
So, I adopted him that day and he found his furever home. Yes. Yes I did. Sometimes we have to acknowledge and consciously make a little space in our minds for someone elses baggage. Ours might even get pushed aside in the process to make room, and that might not be a bad thing, and that baggage, It might not take up as much space as we thought it would, and in that process we might find something we thought we had lost, because sometimes the love you get in return is more than the sacrifices you make.
(and Mr ND if your reading this..Happy peed in the girls room this morning..but look at his little face.)