Last week I had to make a phone call that I knew was inevitable, but one I desperately wanted to avoid.
Jackie was a mutt from the shelter. Dog Snobs might call her a “mixed breed,” but she was A Mutt. A bit of pointer, lab, some kind of terrier, maybe cocker spaniel, who the hell knows. No clue how old she was either, but we brought her home from the shelter in June 1998. I’d never had a dog before, and we didn’t have kids yet, so she was my first pet and my first baby.
We named her Jackie after baseball hero Jackie Robinson. “Dizzy,” for Cardinals pitcher/announcer Dizzy Dean, was a close second — and probably would have been a better choice, because Jackie the Mutt was a lot more cute than smart. We flunked two obedience courses because she never quite mastered the “don’t pull on the leash” thing. So I just kept buying every possible kind of collar and harness and leash until I finally resigned myself to being dragged around the neighborhood by my 25-pound dog.
Jackie adored kids, laid claim to all the blankets in the house, and could hear a cheese wrapper from approximately three miles away.
She rarely barked, but possessed a remarkable ability to induce neighbors’ dogs into frenzies of growling and howling by simply ignoring them. We like to think she was gloating about her fabulous humans.
She traveled a circuit around the perimeter of the backyard to avoid the angry squirrels who threw things at her from the ginormous maple tree in the middle.
Humans putting on shoes were GOOD because it meant either A Walk or A Treat, but a Human with a Suitcase was BAD. And she hated – HATED WITH A PASSION – pedicures. When I eventually gave up on trimming her Killer Claws myself, she would attempt to fling herself into traffic every time we walked up the sidewalk to the groomer and the Industrial-Strength Nail Clippers of Doom.
But, weirdly enough, Jackie never, ever — not even once — hung her head out the car window, so we still have doubts as to whether she was actually a real dog or not.
[This was going to be a paragraph about how Jackie became more than just a pet during my divorce, but I just can’t go there yet.]
ANYWAY…Over the past few days, I’ve been listening to, and telling my kids, and telling myself, all the usual stuff like “It was the right thing to do,” and “She’s no longer in pain.” But dammitall, my dog was DIFFERENT and all those generic platitudes JUST AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH.
So I bought a book.
My kids are too old for picture books, but no reader is EVER too old for a picture book like this. I put this on hold at Barnes & Noble after making The Call and picked it up on my way home from work. As soon as they saw the cover and title, both kids knew that it was time for The Talk About Jackie.
My 12-year-old daughter (aka Thing1), glanced through it, and then said, “I know what happens, Mom, I’ve seen Marley & Me,” in her snotty tween-age voice before erupting into ugly tears and wiping her snotty nose on my sweater. But she clutched the book in her arms as we had The Talk, and she read it to her little brother before bed that night.
The nine-year-old little brother (Thing2), however, is A Questioner. Sweet Mother Of All That Is Holy, the QUESTIONS. And he never accepts “I. Don’t. Know.” as an answer — he’ll just keep asking the same question again in a dozen different ways. Uff da. I clearly did not not inherit whatever brilliant skill my dad had for Making Up Shit On The Fly That Trusting Children Believe Until They Graduate From College.
I answered Thing2’s eighty bajillion questions, most of which I’d answered 70 bajillion times before, as honestly as I could. The only questions that stumped me were the ones about cremation (managed to avoid direct answers on those), and of course, “But why does it have to be NOW? Why does it have to be TODAY?” Gah.
Dog Heaven prompted even more questions, and it couldn’t help me answer the unanswerable questions, but this book did lead us to doing to some Canine World-Building of our own.
In Jackie’s Dog Heaven, there are no suitcases or nail clippers, and the Mean Squirrels will cower in her presence. There will be garbage cans full of Happy Meal remains for her to nose through and nobody will care if she makes a mess of it all over the kitchen. Grandpa Phil will take her for walks and give her pieces of cheese whenever she wants and they will watch all the March Madness basketball games together. She will have a whole couch to herself and she will sleep on ALL THE BLANKIES and never have to sigh over humans warming their toes under her tummy.