91: Jake’s Last Gift

91: Jake’s Last Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Jake’s Last Gift

I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent, devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.

~Doris Day

When I was a young woman, my best friend by far was my Border Collie, Jake. He joined my family when I was fourteen years old and he was fourteen weeks, so the two of us grew up side by side. We hit our awkward adolescent phase at the same time, and while Jake naturally grew out of his much faster than I did, he never held it against me. The two of us were inseparable until he passed away from cancer at the ripe old age of thirteen.

The day we had to say goodbye was a very difficult one for me. On the one hand, I was grateful that Jake had lived such a good long life, and I didn’t want to sully that gratitude with too much sorrow. But at the same time, my house suddenly felt very empty, my kitchen too quiet, and my back yard much, much too big. I managed to stand the silence for several hours. Then I got in my car and drove to Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne, Oregon.

Smith Rock State Park is one of those stunning natural places that is hard to describe with mere words. Although the beautiful stone cliffs there are beloved by competitive rock climbers worldwide, one doesn’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy them. The park also has several wonderful pet-friendly hiking trails for those of us whose athletic abilities are more, shall we say, down-to-earth. Jake and I had spent many happy hours exploring them together, and walking beneath the ancient rocks had never failed to fill me with a deep sense of peace.

That day was no exception. I spent maybe half an hour hiking up one of the easier trails, and while I missed my beautiful dog fiercely with every step, just being alone in nature helped to ease my heart. I was just wondering if it was time to turn back and head home when a little ball of black-and-white fur suddenly came streaking up the trail. It was dragging a nylon leash behind it.

The blur was moving so quickly that I didn’t really get a look at it, but some dog-person instincts never fade. I knew instantly that the blur was a dog that had somehow tugged its leash out of its owner’s hand, and I quickly moved to intervene. I stepped on the leash, halting the little runaway in mid-flight. And when I looked down to see what I’d caught, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

It was a little black-and-white Border Collie puppy — one that could have been the twin of my Jake when we first met.

I didn’t have much time to stare. A few seconds later, the puppy’s human mom, red-faced and sweating, came sprinting around the bend in the trail. “Oh, thank you so much!” she said when she saw that I had caught her furry fugitive. “I don’t know why Jake took off like that except that he’s been cooped up in the car all day. I guess he just decided he really needed a good run.”

“Jake?” I repeated. “This puppy is named Jake?” And then I burst into tears.

Looking back on it, I’m a little amazed that the woman didn’t snatch up her puppy and run. Having a total stranger suddenly fall apart on you in the middle of a wilderness trail is hardly likely to inspire much confidence. But true dog people are a rare breed. The woman took one look at me, then gently took Jake’s leash from my hand and guided me to a nearby picnic table. She urged me to sit down. Then she lifted the puppy onto the table and asked me to tell her what was wrong.

By the time I’d finished stuttering out my story, she was looking very thoughtful. “You know,” she said, “my husband and I are driving home to Seattle — we’ve been visiting our daughter down in California. Normally, we wouldn’t have stopped for a break until we reached Madras. But when I saw the sign for Smith Rock, something told me we needed to stop.” She smiled at Jake and me, who had crossed the table and put his tiny paws on my shoulders, trying frantically to lick my face. “I think I know why now. I think your Jake is using our Jake to say goodbye.”

My hands froze in Jake’s soft baby fur. It couldn’t be possible. Or could it? But before I could voice my doubts, the woman smiled again, laughing a little as Jake’s still insistently licking tongue went up my nose. “Are you going to get another dog?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I could never,” I said. “My Jake was far too special for me to ever want to replace him.”

“Not replace, no,” the woman said. “That would be impossible. But I still think you’ll have another dog in your life one day, when the time is right.” She cocked her head thoughtfully to one side. “I think perhaps your Jake will see to it that you find the right one.”

“I could never,” I repeated — and at that moment, I honestly believed it was true. To her credit, the woman didn’t try to push. She just walked me back to the parking lot, where we spent a few minutes talking about inconsequential things with her husband before they all got back in their truck and resumed their trip home to Seattle. I never even learned her name.

But her words stuck with me anyway, as did the incredible coincidence of running into Jake at Smith Rock that day. What, after all, were the odds of meeting a puppy of the same breed, the same coloring, and even the same name as my Jake only a few hours after he passed away? In many ways, the chance encounter really did feel like my dog’s final gift to me, his way of assuring me that he’d never leave me entirely. And that thought comforted me greatly during all the days and weeks ahead.

But the story doesn’t end there. About a year later, I received a surprise phone call from my vet. “I don’t know if you’re interested,” she said. “But one of my other clients just had a litter of Border Collie pups, and they’re all lovely young dogs. The second that Brittney said she was looking for good homes for them, I thought of you. You might want to drive out and have a look.”

“Well…” I said hesitantly. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to visit. Where does Brittney live?”

“She has a small ranch in Terrebonne, right next to Smith Rock State Park,” my vet said. “The pups were born right in the shadow of the cliffs.”

~Kerrie R. Barney

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