Jethro’s World

Jethro’s World

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Jethro’s World

My dog, Jethro—a Rottweiler/German shepherd mix— was always low-key, gentle and well mannered. From the moment we met at the animal shelter when he was just nine months old, to the day he died, two things were clear: Jethro and I had a special bond, and he had a soul of exceptional kindness and compassion.

Jethro never chased animals. He just loved to hang out and watch the world around him. He was a perfect field assistant for me as I studied the various birds, including Western evening grosbeaks and Steller’s jays, living near my house in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies.

One day while I was sitting inside, I heard Jethro come to the front door. Instead of whining as he usually did when he wanted to come in, he just sat there. I looked out at him and noticed a small furry object in his mouth. My first reaction was, Oh, no, he killed a bird. However when I opened the door, Jethro proceeded to drop at my feet a very young bunny, drenched in his saliva and very much alive. I could not see any injuries, only a small bundle of fur that needed warmth, food and love. I guessed that the bunny’s mother had most likely fallen prey to a coyote, red fox or the occasional mountain lion around my house.

Jethro looked up at me, wide-eyed, as if he wanted me to praise him. I did. He seemed so proud of himself. But when I picked up the bunny, Jethro’s pride turned to concern. He tried to snatch her from my hands, but failed. Whining, he followed me around as I gathered a box, a blanket, some water and food. I gently placed the baby rabbit in the box, named her Bunny and wrapped her in the blanket. I put some finely chopped carrots, celery and lettuce near her, and she tried to eat. I also made sure that she knew where the water was.

The whole time, Jethro was standing behind me, panting, dripping saliva on my shoulder, watching my every move. I thought he might go for Bunny or the food, but he simply stood there, fascinated by the little ball of fur slowly moving about in her new home.

When I turned to leave the box, I called Jethro but he didn’t move. He usually came to me immediately, especially when I offered him a bone, but that day he remained steadfastly near the box. Hours passed and nothing could entice him away from his spot near Bunny.

Eventually, I had to drag Jethro out for his nightly walk. When we returned, he made a beeline for the box, where he slept through the night. I tried to get Jethro to go to his usual sleeping spot but he refused. His intention was clear: “No way. I’m staying here.”

I trusted Jethro not to harm Bunny, and during the two weeks that I nursed her back to health, he didn’t do anything to even scare her. Jethro had adopted Bunny; he would make sure that no one harmed her.

Finally, the day came when I introduced Bunny to the outdoors. Jethro and I walked to the east side of my house and I released her from her box. We watched her slowly make her way into a woodpile. She was cautious, her senses overwhelmed by the new stimuli—sights, sounds, odors—to which she was now exposed. Bunny remained in the woodpile for about an hour until she boldly stepped out to begin life as a full-fledged wild rabbit. Jethro remained in the same spot as he watched the scene. He never took his eyes off Bunny and never tried to approach her.

Bunny hung around for a few months. Every time I let Jethro out of the house, he immediately ran to the place where she had been released. When he arrived there, he would cock his head and move it from side to side, looking for Bunny. This lasted for about six months. If I said “Bunny” in a high-pitched voice, Jethro would whine and go look for her. He loved Bunny and was hoping to see her once again.

I am not sure what happened to Bunny. Most likely she simply lived out her life in the area around my home. Since then, other bunnies and adult rabbits have come and gone, and I’ve observed that Jethro never chases them. Instead, he tries to get as close as he can and looks at each of them, perhaps wondering if they are Bunny.

A few summers ago, many years after he met Bunny and treated her with such delicate compassion, Jethro came running up to me with a wet animal in his mouth. Hmm, I wondered, another bunny? I asked him to drop it. This time it was a young bird that had flown into a window. It was stunned and just needed to regain its senses.

I held it in my hands for a few minutes. Jethro, in true Jethro fashion, never took his eyes off the bird. He watched my every move. When I thought the bird was ready to fly, I placed it on the railing of my porch. Jethro approached it, sniffed it, stepped back and watched it fly away. When it was out of sight, he turned to me and seemed to give the canine equivalent of a shrug. Then together we took a long meandering stroll down the road leading away from my house. All was well in Jethro’s world once more.

Marc Bekoff

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