Sunday, May 11, 2008

Fare Thee Well, Dear Friend Jack

It was a balmy day in May 1995 when I took a long ride on the Underground to somewhere, I don't even remember where, on the south bank of the Thames to a nondescript house in a nondescript street to find Jack.

He was only six weeks old, and certainly had no clue his name was Jack. Perhaps, at that point, it still wasn't. But I bought him from the very dubious woman who had bred him, and arranged for her son-in-law to drive the two of us back to my home in the north of London in his minicab.

The trip was unforgettable, with Jack sitting (most of the time) on my lap. As I say, he spent most of the trip on my lap, and when we got to my house the poor cabbie had to take the back seat out of his car and hose it down. That's all you need to know.

Jack the Dalmatian was a present for my daughter, Andrea, who was celebrating her sixth birthday and had wanted a puppy for the longest of times. How ironic it is, that today Andrea celebrated her 19th birthday, and our dear friend Jack has only a few more hours to live.

Age has taken its toll. He has cataracts in both eyes, and I'm not sure what he sees anymore. He is almost totally deaf, and has a horrible case of arthritis in his haunches. (It is agony to watch him each time he sits down, sometimes taking what seems like an entire minute to do so). He has become incontinent, and fouls his own bed nearly every night.

But then, I take him out to the park across from my house in the mornings, and he is like a puppy. Almost, but not quite. I let him off his leash, and leave him to his own devices. Tail wagging non-stop, he makes his way along our fairly set route, stopping regularly to sniff at heaven knows what, and heaven only knows what he is actually able to smell any more.

I have to keep an eye on him, as I walk ahead, because otherwise he will wander off in another direction and get lost. He can only see me at certain distances, can't hear me and, amazingly, I don't think can even follow my scent. But somehow, we make it through our 20-minute walk, refreshed and renewed, sort of.

Tomorrow, will be Jack's last. We will take him to the vet in the afternoon and he will be put to sleep. The vet is a very kind man, who has a horse farm, and who will see to it that Jack is buried there.

I did not want to do this, but my family have convinced me that it is the best for him, and I will take him. I think Andrea will come, as will Winslow.

It is taking me a long time to write this, because tears keep welling up in my eyes as I write, and I have to stop.

There are so many stories I could tell about Jack, but they can all be summed up in a few short words -- he loves his family unconditionally, far more than we have ever deserved.

Fare thee well, my friend. And forgive me.

May your life and your love be a lesson to me.


Kurt Messick+ said...

A wonderful tribute. The love of Jack and of you are both very apparent here.

Anonymous said...

Reader Albion,

You have my prayers and deep sympathy at this time. When I was a seminarian I once drove four hours each way to and back from my parents' home in the same night just so I could say goodbye to Precious, a cocker spaniel I recieved as a gift in the sixth grade and who saw me through the divorce of my parents and the subsequent death of my father. You are spot on in writing of unconditional love. If only we could love one another as our pets love us.

God be with you and yours as you say goodbye.


Fr Ronald Drummond+

Desert Brother said...

Here is a song which may help your grief. I dread the day myself. That's not me singing. But that is my boxer.

poetreader said...

Jack's Testament

You can't teach old dogs new tricks.
At least that's what they all say.
And maybe that's true most times,
but old dogs get old and time wears thin,
and the old tricks get old and fade away,
and old dogs wear down and tire out,
and weariness makes them want to learn
the last trick, the good trick, the end of pain,
to lie down with those they love,
and with warm and doggy heart to rest,
to merge with peace into the night,
and to be remembered.

------ed pacht

Anonymous said...

This brings tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. I already dread the same hour for my brown-coated friend Molly, now about seven or eight years old, who sits at my feet and climbs into my lap as I fulminate on the fine points of soteriology. I suspect Molly, being sinless and not under Adam's curse, knows more of God's love than I do. God bless you, Albion, in a painful time. We are all better people for the animals in our lives, past and present.
Laurence K. Wells

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Amen to what Fr Wells said. And everybody else.

I really think that C.S. Lewis' theological speculation on the eternal fate of humanly loved animals has a lot going for it. I hope so.

James said...

My sympathies. I once lost a cat very dear not only to me, but the whole family, to an illness. That was over ten years ago now, but we all still miss him.

Peace to you and your family.

Albion Land said...

Jack is gone, having left us peacefully and without pain.

Thank you all for your kind words.

Cbsuesguy said...

My prayers with you and your family, Albion. A few years ago we had to have two precious cats put to sleep in the space of a year, both over 20 years old. I am not an emotional man,m but I cried like a baby.
We were able to bury them beneath a statue if St. Francis in the garden of a friend of ours.
God bless and comfort you.......

John A. Hollister said...

As a tribute to the memory of Jack, and in hopes they will contribute to the wellbeing of other much-loved four-footed friends, I quote the the following prayers. They were composed by Fr. Donald Rice and are used during the St. Francis' Day blessing of the animals at Christ Anglican Church, New Orleans:

"The Blessing of an Animal
"N., be thou blessed in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and may the God who created thee grant thee and thy people a joyful life together. Amen.

"For a Sick Animal
"O HEAVENLY Father, who hast created all things for thy glory and hast made us stewards of this thy creature, N.; If it be thy will, restore [it, him, her] to health and strength, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

"The Blessing of an Animal
"N., be thou blessed in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and may the God who created thee grant thee and thy people a joyful life together. Amen.

"For a Sick Animal
"O HEAVENLY Father, who hast created all things for thy glory and hast made us stewards of this thy creature, N.; If it be thy will, restore [it, him, her] to health and strength, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

John A. Hollister+

Sandra McColl said...

Alas, poor Jack. If only he'd submitted to papal authority, this never would have happened.

Albion Land said...

My cousin Charlie Kennedy forwarded this to me, and I though I would share it with you all:

A Dog's Purpose
From a 6-year-old

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.'

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'

Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

+ When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
+ Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
+ Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
+ Take naps.
+ Stretch before rising.
+ Run, romp, and play daily.
+ Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
+ Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
+ On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
+ On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
+ When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
+ Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
+ Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. Stop when you have had enough.
+ Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you're not.
+ If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
+ When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.
+ Being always grateful for each new day and for the blessing of you.