Saturday, November 24, 2012

Remembering Jake

When I was a kid I always wanted a dog.  That just wasn't going to happen in my house though - my Mom was most definitely not a dog person.  Fortunately I had lots of friends and neighbors with dogs and got to enjoy them.  I'd have my own someday.

When we got married we talked about getting a dog.  Nat always had a dog growing up and we really both wanted one now.  Problem was, we were both working and neither of us wanted to leave a dog home alone all day.  So we'd wait.

When Jamie was born Nat quit her job to become a stay at home mom.  Now we had our chance.  But maybe not with a baby.  Finally, when Jamie was almost four we decided that the time had come.  We really wanted Jamie to grow up with a dog.

We debated breeds for a long time.  We both wanted a big dog and finally decided that it was going to be a Lab.  It was January and we figured that if we started looking now we'd be able to find a litter that would be ready in the spring - the perfect time to bring a puppy home.  We started checking around for breeders and the first one that we found was in Stonington CT.  She came highly recommended.  Her dogs lived with the family and they raised their litters in the house.  Perfect.  We gave her a call to find out if there were plans for a spring litter.  Turned out that she had a litter now that would be ready to go home in two weeks.  We hadn't been planning to do this now, but we figured we'd at least go look.  This was just the first breeder, we could always look around more in the next couple of months.

That weekend we went to see the pups.  One look and it was all over.  There were a couple each of black, chocolate and yellow.  A couple were already spoken for, but the rest were available.  There is simply no way to see a litter of Lab pups and not bring one home.  The hardest part was not bringing them all home.  We spent a long time there that day, holding all the pups and making our decision.  We finally decided on one of the yellow ones.  He was just adorable and immediately snuggled into our arms when we picked him up.  Now we just had to wait two weeks until he was ready to leave his mom.

It was early February, there was snow on the ground and it was really cold the day that Jake came home with us.  We set up the kitchen as his new space while he got housebroken.  That night we put him in his new crate with his blanket and some toys when we went up to bed.  It was a long night.  The cries that came from the kitchen were some of the most pitiful sounds I've ever heard.  I got up twice during the night to take him out to pee - in the dark and cold and snow.  What had we gotten ourselves into...

From that day on for the next 14 years Jake was a member of our family.  He was also our best friend.  He went everywhere with us.  He loved playing with Jamie and her friends and he loved being wherever we were.  He was just the happiest dog.  He loved walks, especially in the woods.  For most of his life we went for walks with him every day.  He loved the beach and anywhere else that involved going for a ride in the van.  Best of all was our annual family summer vacation with Nat's Mom and Dad.  We always rented a house on the water somewhere in Maine.  For Jake that meant a couple of long rides in the van and week or two being by the water all day long.  He was in heaven.

I don't know where the years went, but soon more than a dozen had flown by.  Jake had a lump on his haunch that was bothering him.  The vet said that this was a tumor that would have to be removed.  After the surgery we got the bad news - it was cancerous.  They thought they'd gotten in all, but this was a particularly bad kind of cancer.  Life expectancy was often just 3-4 months and 6 months tops.  We vowed to make the most of that time.

Six months came and went.  Jake was doing well - particularly for a 13 year old Lab.  He had aches and pains and it was getting harder to go up and down stairs, but he was still a happy dog.  Our daily two mile walks were no more, but he was still happy to walk around the block a couple of times a day - just very slowly.  We knew we were running on borrowed time and tried to make the most of every day.

Another year went by.  Jake had gotten another winter to see some snow.  I was really sad that we didn't have more last winter - how that dog loved the snow.  There were a few times during that year that we had some bad days.  There were a couple of times we thought we would lose him.  He always managed to bounce back somehow.  Two weeks ago it finally happened.  On a bright, sunny Sunday we enjoyed the outdoors and took three wonderful walks around the block.  All was well.  The next morning Jake wasn't himself.  He didn't want to eat and just laid quietly around the house - not wanting to move.  I think we could see the light leaving his eyes.  Two days later he was gone.  There were many tears, but we were also very grateful.  He had gone quietly and without pain.  We had also gotten more than an extra year together, something that was a pure gift.

What we have now are a million wonderful memories - the greatest gift he left us.  These are some of the best.  For those of you that knew him, I know you'll remember and smile.  For those of you that never met him, I wish you had - you would have liked him.  I know that he would have wanted to meet you - he never met a soul that he didn't love...

Now to the memories...

Somehow I never got a picture of Jake when we first brought him home (or I haven't found them in the stacks of old photos yet).  Sadly it was in the days before I had a digital camera and took constant pictures.  The first ones are a few weeks later.  The little ball of fuzz that initially arrived was already growing up - seemingly every time we blinked.

His favorite thing to do as a puppy (other than sleep and snuggle on our laps) was to play with Jamie and her friends.

And a long day of playing makes for a tired little puppy

Over the next couple of months he grew up really fast.  He soon started to look like a regular big-ol' Lab.  But there was still a long way to go.

 Our first time at the beach was at Goddard Park.  Of how he loved it!

Starting to look all grown up...

But he could still make that puppy face when he wanted to

Labs love to have jobs.  The first one that Jake learned was getting the paper.  It the beginning it was almost as big as he was

He never gave up that job from the first day he had it.  He was our paperboy every day for the next 13 years

It was particularly handy on rainy or snowy days.  Just open the door, let the paperboy out and a few minutes later he'd be back with the paper

Labs are supposed to be retrievers.  He certainly did it with the paper.  He'd sometimes do it with other things as well, but he usually wouldn't give them to us

He sure loved to play hard too!  Oh how he loved his boomer ball

And he also loved to play the tough dog.  Look out - he's a killer!!!

OK, so maybe not exactly a killer.  He loved other animals as much as he loved people.  This was his his best friend Toby.  Must have been a tough day of playing

This went not just for other dogs, but cats too.  All of our kitties were his bet buddies.

He was even willing to share his bed with them

And sometimes when the kitties weren't looking he'd use theirs

The one he most liked to snuggle in bed with was Ralphie.  Ralph was Jamie's when she was little, but Jake loved him and used to steal him all the time.  Jamie finally gave up and let Jake have him

He loved the little kids too.  He always knew how small they were and was extra gentle.  Even with babies

He was more than happy to just let them use him as a pillow

And he kind of liked using us as pillows too

And he never got too big to stop thinking he was a lap dog

And he was always happy just to snuggle

Sometimes he even insisted on it

He would do anything for Jamie - even subject himself to being decorated or dressed up

And he was fun to take trick-or-treating

My Dad hadn't had a dog since he was a kid either, and oh how he loved Jake.  Jake was very happy whenever my Dad came to visit - he got lots of extra attention

Nat's Mom and Dad were his best buddies too

Labradors are supposed to love water.  For the first couple of years he really did, but somehow he lost interest and for the rest of his life he was known as the Lab that didn't swim.  Looking at the old pictures reminded us of how much he used to love it.

He never did like baths though

Except for the drying off part

Even after he lost interest in swimming he still loved to go to the beach or the lake

Whenever we got in the car to head there he seemed to know.  He could definitely smell it before we arrived

What's not to like about hanging out at the beach?

One of his favorite things was going on vacation with us every summer.  We'd rent a house on the water in Maine somewhere with Nat's Mom and Dad and he'd get to spend the whole time hanging out with the family and playing by the shore.

You didn't have to always play around and explore on vacation either, sometimes it was good just to nap

Naps of course are not limited to vacation.  Play hard and nap hard was Jake's motto

The long rides to Maine were never a problem for Jake - he loved to ride in the van.  He'd either sit in the back with his head between the front seats so he could watch where we were going or snooze in his bed.  Whenever we put his bed in the van he knew we were leaving for vacation.  One year we put the bed in the night before.  He figured this meant we were leaving then.  It was tough getting him out.

Jake's favorite season was definitely winter.  He might have lost his interest for being in water in other forms, but he never stopped loving playing in the snow!

For him it was pure joy!

There are many things that are built in to Labs, but probably the #1 is the love of food.  There was virtually nothing that dog wouldn't eat (including many things that weren't really food).

Sometimes you get something that doesn't taste good

Not easy to eat corn on the cob with those big teeth!

Sometimes you can get away with eating things you're not supposed to, but sometimes you get caught

There was never a time Jake wasn't ready to go for a walk.  It didn't matter if it was a few miles or just around the block - walking was always good.

And walking in the woods was the best!

He was always happy to tell you when he was ready to go

And he was even happy to walk himself

And tell you when he wasn't ready to be done

Rides in the car were usually good though

There are people who debate whether dogs can actually smile.  Clearly none of those people ever met Jake.

Most of all, he was just our big old handsome boy

So now you've seen the many sides of Jake and shared some of our memories.  We have a million more that can't be put into pictures or words.  He's left us for now, but those memories will be in our hearts forever.  And I know that someday I'm going to see that smiling face again, waiting at the Rainbow Bridge.