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Jake’s Last Dance April 8, 2013

Posted by dczarum in Uncategorized.

Jake 2


This is an updated draft of a previous story, updated on Feb.15 2016. 

We never knew the animals’ backstories. We never knew what brought them to the shelter in Moncton before finding their way to our foster home near the marsh in Sackville, New Brunswick. They always checked in to our place baggage-free. Jake had been at the shelter for a few weeks before he stepped through the doors of our home, a converted carriage house on the Mount Allison University lot.


He was a black lab (though I’m pretty sure there was some Shepherd in him too), with the torso of a bulldog, a massive head like a battering ram, and fur so shiny you could practically see your reflection in his coat. I immediately noticed his weathered grey goatee, and his tail, moving like a metronome set to ‘Megadeath’ as his nervous and needy face eyed his new surroundings. We eventually came to figure that his owner probably croaked, maybe some elderly man who cared for him but couldn’t walk him much- that would at least explain Jake’s pudgy belly- and whose family didn’t want to take on the old man’s dog. But that was just a wild (and wildly optimistic) guess. I have as little a clue to his past today as I did that day seven years ago. At the time, none of that really mattered. He was home, for now.


We showed him the fenced-in tennis court in the backyard (which soon became the Fetch Arena as the snow fell) and let him get comfortable around the house. He was starting to settle down, and so I took off to class. I found out later that that afternoon Jake dashed through the front door a few minutes after I had left and took off down York Street toward the Chapel in the middle of campus, three of my roommates chasing after him (later, as I got to know Jake, I felt happy for him, for his little early adventure across the quad). But I wasn’t necessarily surprised he had darted; Earlier that day he was a spaz when my roommates tried walking him, constantly tugging at the leash, anxiously rushing off to nothing in particular. All of that free space, I guess.


The SPCA had been very clear that, like all the dogs they brought to us to help socialize to make them more adoptable, they wanted Jake crated. We decided to begrudgingly try, at least for the first day, and it wasn’t too hard to get him to oblige; . But that night, about 1:30 am, I could hear him from my room down the hall, scratching at the metal bars in his cage like it was Shawshank. Poor guy. Who knows how many boxes he’d been put in and out of over the last few weeks. I let him out. I grabbed his tattered maroon leash, and the two of us went outside for a smoke. We ended up walking across town, to Lorne St., past the cemetery, and back. The whole time his leash, tight as mandolin string with my roomates earlier that day, dragged on the ground with plenty of slack to spare. When we got back I filled up his water bowl,  forgot to put him back in the cage, and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, I awoke to the sound of heavy snoring. It was Jake, lying sprawled out on the empty bed across from mine in my room. I woke up again that morning to the scent of smelly lab, only to realize that at some point while I was asleep Jake had commandeered my own bed, covers and all, and sandwiched himself between me and the wall, as if I somehow wouldn’t notice. He never slept in that crate again.


Jake adjusted to his new home quickly, transforming into a perfectly obedient, trusting, and well-adjusted dog. Actually, transform is the wrong word. Jake was always a good dog, I’m sure, he just got dealt a shitty hand. But he was happy in his time with us, even if he would always freak a little at the sound of a siren (which always took my mind to dark places about his past life). And he was smart, very wise and intuitive. Before long, I was taking him with me to friends’ houses, and to the Dunn building across the street when I needed a quiet place to study. I began forgoing morning classes to take him for long treks all over Sackville. Soon I found myself walking him off-leash throughout Waterfowl Park, taking Jake deep into the marshlands where he could sprint around like an idiot. He fucking loved it. Then every night, like clockwork, he’d jump up on the end of my bed and curl up until the morning.


We were buds, a man and his dog and all that—only Jake never belonged to me. The goal of our ‘Animal House’ was always to help transition animals from the shelter to a family’s home, and we were successful at that. So it was bittersweet when, just a few days before the Christmas break, we received word that someone had seen Jake’s picture on the MSPCA website and wanted to come see him in the flesh. That’s how I got to meet Chris Bell. Her dog had recently passed after a nice life on her farm in Sussex, NB where Chris and her husband Wayne lived on a large property with two horses, and she was back in the market. You could tell right off the bat that she was a dog lover and that, like most everybody, she liked Jake from the moment they met. They really hit it off. She was going to talk it over with her Wayne, and despite how great the situation looked on paper- Jake potentially going to a loving home- I was worried. Maybe I spoiled Jake too much. Maybe I didn’t prepare for a ‘normal’ family life at all. Maybe I made it worse by going on two-hour walks and letting him sleep on the bed. Secretly, I hoped Chris would flake out, that Jake would stay at our house and I would eventually take him back to my home in Toronto at the end of the school year.


But, thankfully, she didn’t.


I was on a plane heading back home on the day Jake got adopted, just a few days before Christmas. It killed me not to be there to see him off, and when I left for the airport early that morning I felt horrible for leaving him behind. I was a mess that entire day, wondering aloud to anyone who would listen whether or not Jake was getting on well at his new home. Do you think they walked him this morning? Does he have his tennis ball? Where did he sleep last night?  The following morning, I opened up my email and there was a message from Chris:

Merry Christmas Dave,
Just wanted to let you know that Jake is a great dog and I loved him at first sight.  He slept with us in the bed last night.
He is watching the hockey game with my husband, and cheering for Toronto.  

Jake was a little nervous at first, when I took him for a walk last night man did he pull, same thing this morning,  Pulling hard all the way,  I just let him go,  I know that he has had a very stressful week watching everyone leave for the holidays.  So I figured, just let him go. 

We went out this afternoon and Jake helped pick out the Christmas tree.

We went to my Sisters and met her 2 dogs,  Kenny and Murdock,  they got along just fine, took all
 3 of them for a walk,  Jake loved it,  Dawn has 200 acres and it is all woods,  so lots of smells. 
Just came in from our last walk of the day, Jake was excellent, he didn’t pull at all,  I let him have the long lead and there was always slack in the leash.

My husband calls him the Professor, because Jake has been to university.  Wayne is quite taken with him. Jake will have the full run of the backyard.  Lots of Blue Jays and Mourning Doves to chase.
 Dave, we can’t thank you enough for taking such good care of Jake,  you are always welcome to visit Jake anytime.  We have a spare room and would love for you to come and stay for a visit.   

-Chris and Wayne


I never saw Jake, or Chris, again. I think it’s for the better. I continued to get emails with updates of Jakes new adventures: How they had gone to obedience class and Jake graduated to the advanced level. And how much he loved snowshoeing with her and Wayne in the woods, and that he would fall asleep with his head on the consol in the car on the ride home. How his grey beard is almost all-white nowadays. One correspondence read:


Jake is the best dog I’ve ever had. We LOVE him to bits.  He has his own cat, Sydney, whom we found 2 years ago this summer on the side of the highway.  I think Sydney thinks Jake
found him and not me.  Jake is so good to him, its truly amazing, they sleep
together eat together and even play.

We built Jake a dog run, it is pretty much 1/2 of the back lawn.  This way we
open the door and he can run and play, and we don’t have to worry about him
leaving the property.  He never stays out alone, even when he has to go to
the bathroom we go with him.  Who is crazier us or him.


Jake had entered a new chapter in his life, after a brief tangential paragraph with me in Sackville. He found his “forever home”, and while I always hated that term,  that was really was it.


I left the carriage house after that year, I just couldn’t imagine going through something like that again with the next dog that walked in the door. I get too attached, I guess. But the project kept on rolling, and I stayed in touch with the folks from the shelter and ended up adopting from there in my third year (Eddie, who is at my feet with me now as I write this).


A few days ago at a family dinner, out-of-the-blue my stepdad asked, “How’s Jake?” I told him that I hadn’t heard anything in a couple of years, that I’m sure he had settled into old age nicely on the farm. And then today I received another note from Chris:

Jake passed at this morning @ 8:10.

He was the best friend and dog I ever had. I know you loved him too. Thank you for being his friend so many years ago.
It was a very brief illness and he didn’t suffer. 

The more I think about it the more I just realize how lucky Jake was. I have no idea how his story began but I know it had the happiest ending you could ask for. Now more than ever I think about how many good dogs out there deserve that for themselves. In animal shelters around the world there’s another Jake, sitting anxiously in his cage, Jake 1waiting to be let out.

– D.C.Z



1. Catherine in Chester (@ChesterHrt) - April 10, 2013

Thank you for this. This was a lovely insight into your time with what sure sounds like a very good dog. Carriage house sure sounds like it was and could have continued to be, a great place to live.

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