|| Yesterday we had to say goodbye to Zack, our awesome little puppy-dog. Much like Satia, though, he wasn’t really little at 60 lbs, and at 14 he was more “Old Man” than “Puppy,” but he was most definitely awesome, and wonderful, and truly a Dog’s Dog.
He came to us, as the best dogs tend to do, from the Humane Society. He was 2 years old, with thick black fur, and a mastery of the “Sad Lab” look. Unfortunately, he’d learned it from having already been in a couple shelters, four or five foster homes, and two homes that had adopted him only to them return him. It was those returns that kept him from being adopted again, as the form said he was aggressive towards children and highly destructive of property.
Then we read the form. The “aggressive towards children” came from Zack chasing kids on skateboards and nipping at their ankles. Zack was a lab/ border collie mix, and at this time would have been around a year old… Of course he was chasing kids on skateboards! It’s what they do! It’s how they herd!
Then we read about the destruction and found the family interacted with him for an hour, maybe two a day and kept him locked up the rest of the time. (Grrr.) So yeah, a year and half old dog, a lab/border collie mix no less, with no stimulus and no exercise chewed a lot. (Sometimes there’s neither enough face, nor palm, in this world.) We knew then he that he wasn’t just ours, but one of us: a little bit broken from the world, but with an indomitable spirit. After getting him home I gave him some scritches and promised him that he was going to be part of our family forever.
A lot of life happened in the next 12 years, but Zack was a constant throughout. We laugh now, but just the first week with him told us all we needed to know. The very first day we had him he escaped from the back yard and followed me down to the street while taking the garbage out. I heard running, looked up, and there he was headed for me at a full sprint. Since my back was to a fairly busy road I tried to intercept him, but he was too fast and already had too much momentum to stop. He blew past me trying to slow down and ended halfway into the street. A car saw him in time to stop, but Zack didn’t show the slightest inclination of how close it had been. This would be the first of at least a couple dozen breakouts!
He really was far too smart for his own good, and while we marveled at his breakouts, what he truly excelled at was “Counter Surfing.” He was the master. He would wait until we were distracted elsewhere before circling back to the kitchen, grabbing something off the counter, and then finding a quiet hiding place to enjoy his plunder. We’d wander back into the kitchen to get seconds of roast, or steak, or pasta, or pretty much anything, only to find it gone. We would instantly know who the culprit was, and we’d find him soon enough in one of the bedrooms, looking incredibly happy, right next to a nice fresh mess. Once he even managed to snag a freshly baked loaf of French bread with 7 people in the house! That one I found half eaten, on the far side of the lawn. If I had thought at the time to rename him, it definitely would have been Ninja!
Zack’s true love though, was running. He wasn’t just fast either, his stamina didn’t really start slowing until he hit double digits! The first weekend we had him, we took a trip to Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast. For those who have never been, it’s a wide, sandy beach, that extends for what feels like miles. It was night when we finally made it down and I took him off his leash so he could run after our long drive. Which he did. At full speed. Into the fog. It was a literally a matter of seconds before he had completely disappeared into the misty darkness. All I could think was that it was going to be a long night on the beach looking for him. We kept walking but gave up shouting fairly quickly as the wind was strong and blowing towards us. Several long minutes later he emerged from the fog trotting back to us. At first all we could see was his long, pink tongue already lolling, followed shortly by the happiest smile a dog could have. “I got to run!” it said, “Now what? Do you have a stick!?” (And yes, of course we had a stick!)
That same trip I got another taste of his cleverness when I took him outside the next night to pee before bed. It turns out that most of the walks the dogs get at the shelter are for potty breaks, so as soon as the dog goes, they head back. Zack, cunning dog that he was, had learned to extend the walks simply by holding it in for as long as he could. A lesson he taught me that night as we walked all around the motel and surrounding streets for the next hour!
While he loved going for walks, or rides, he loved running even more. We were at the dog park once when there was a Jack Russell terrier barking and zipping back and forth as fast as he could. Needless to say he drew a crowd, and soon enough a pack of dogs was chasing him all over the park. As I watched them all run, Zack broke from the pack and started closing the gap. He got to within just a couple yards when the Jack Russell made a hard right turn. Zack turned too, but instead of going right his momentum kept him going forward, tumbling him ass over teakettle across the grass. I couldn’t even finish flinching before he had already popped back up, ears perked, watching the chase continue. He was panting hard, with one of the longest tongues I’ve ever seen on a dog, as he trotted over to me, happy and ready for more.
About the only happier times he had at the Dog Park were when there were mud puddles. Especially the stinky ones, when he’d come back with a coat that was no longer black, but a slimy, wet grey. He loved it so much I’d plan his bathes around it, letting him run himself to giddy exhaustion while splashing through the puddles and rolling in the mud. When he was finally wiped out, I’d wrap him in a towel or three for the short hop to his groomer’s. He’d return to us soft and fluffy, but you could tell he really missed the stink.
When Satia came we took both of them to the Dog Park. Since Satia was still a puppy we dropped her into the Little Dog section and Zack into the Big Dog section. Instead of playing though, they both just walked along the fence separating the two sides, breaking everyone’s hearts who watched. So we quickly gave it up and let Satia romp through the Big Dog part. They played together for awhile and then Zack got caught up in another chase leaving Satia by herself. She hadn’t been there long before another dog came up and started bonking her. She was too small do to anything about it, and the dog kept at it even as she tried to walk away. I was headed over to separate them when a black streak came out of nowhere, knocking the dog away from Satia. Zack had come from the other side of the park to “rescue” his sister! He wrestled with the other dog for a bit until it finally took off, leaving just Zack and Satia to play together.
And play they did, all the time. Chasing through the house, or on the lawn, or in the grass Across the Street (a little business park that was emptied on the weekends and after 5). Zack taught Satia how to fetch, but she was never as talented at as he was. She enjoyed the pursuit, but would walk the ball back as slow as possible, or just flop down with it where she was, while Zack would quick trot back, always ready for the next throw. About the only way you could really wear him out was throwing the ball back and forth between us as he chased. He was so good though that if you missed the catch you only got one bounce to recover. If you didn’t have it by then, it was Zack’s and he would flash through to grab it– happy and proud at his victory.
It took some time, a ton of exercise, and a lot of patience from us, but eventually Zack managed to relax from most of the anxieties he’d carried with him from those rough, first couple years. Although he was more gentle and patient than Satia, he loved people and attention every bit as much as she did. While she had no problem going up to anyone, if not just plopping into their lap, he would hang back, clearly wanting attention but being a bit unsure how to go about getting it (just like his Dad…). Eventually he overcame his shyness, becoming a sweet love to us, guests, and everyone he met on our walks.
Zack also epitomised what one Vet referred to as, “that great lab spirit.” Even when he had health problems, nothing got him down. He blew out his ankle when he was about 6 and he had to have it reconstructed. Even though it was a long rehab, he stayed cheery throughout, and always ready to do that much more the next day. Eventually he fully recovered, and you’d never know how bad he’d had been hurt. He had a few more health issues later in life, including having to amputate most of his tail from cancer, but it never diminished his zeal, joy, or vigor.
The only thing that ever did really get him down was having to say goodbye to his sister. She fought cancer longer than anyone thought she could, and it hit him hard when we had to let her go. As it is I think a lot of his spirit kept her going, giving her more time than medicine could alone. Although he was down for awhile after her loss, the rest of his time with us was almost always full of spirit and life. I really think he did the same thing for us that he did for Satia, and I will never underestimate the healing power of a warm, fuzzy ball of happiness.
He didn’t start really slowing down until a year or so ago. He’d had spinal spondylosis for years, so the nerve signals to his hindquarters were passed along slower than they should have been. While it didn’t cause him any pain or discomfort, it eventually threw off his coordination to where he couldn’t run– so he’d trot instead. He never did show the sense of loss for running that I felt for him, and once again I know it was his spirit.
With his slowing down though, some of his anxieties returned. Occasionally this made him afraid of going outside at night, even when he needed to. He’d hide in the room and look at me when I called him, but just wouldn’t budge. Eventually we built our own little system of trust, and I’d sit on the floor so he know it was safe to come to me. He’d finally come to me lay down. I’d give him scritches for a little bit, then I’d move closer to the door and sit again, repeating the pattern. After two or three of these little interludes he’d finally relax and go outside with me.
Even when his health started failing he stayed in good spirits. He slept a little more, and we couldn’t walk as far, but other than that he was the same happy ball of fur (although it was more grizzled than black now). His time came sooner than we had expected, and hit much faster, but it also meant that he didn’t have to suffer. So he had the best life possible, a lot of love, and a lot of joy. All of which he shared with us too. What I remember most of Zack, simply put, was that he was always there.
He’d greet me when I came home, and would lay on my bed while I changed after work. In the morning he’d check in with me when I got up (or wake me up if I slept in too long!). He’d follow us throughout the house, wherever we were, just to be close and hang out. His spirit and joy were always a quiet comfort, and however bad your day was, or you felt life was, there was Zack to support you, and to share his sweet spirit with you. More than anything it’s this, his constant, unwavering love, that I will miss more than anything else.
It may sound silly, if not eye-rollingly clichéd, but I take solace knowing that Zack and Satia are together again. I can see her waiting for him, madly wagging her tail as Zack comes sprinting down the Rainbow Bridge. I smile knowing that they aren’t just playing together again, but Zack is running again, for as long as he wants.