60: Gentle Giant

60: Gentle Giant

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

Gentle Giant

I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.

~Gilda Radner

When we got to the shelter that day, my husband, son, and I split up in our quest to find the perfect dog. Eight months before we had lost our Bogey. We finally felt ready to open our hearts and home again, opting for an older pet.

I checked each cage, my heart constricting with emotion. Dog after hopeful dog approached, tail wagging, trusting eyes begging me to take it home.

As I approached the last cage, a massive dog stood up and wandered over. His sad, penetrating gaze captured mine and I couldn’t look away. I extended my hand. He leaned forward to smell it politely, his enormous tail wagging slowly. Everything about him seemed to say, “You don’t want me either, do you?”

When I read the tag hanging from his enclosure, I gasped. He’d been at the shelter for six of his eighteen months!

“This one!” I yelled out to my family, startling a young couple.

“He’s gigantic,” my husband declared.

“He must weigh a hundred pounds,” my son added.

“One-twenty,” I corrected, tapping the tag. “But I still want him.” I was surprised when they both agreed.

As we led him outside, he blinked in the bright daylight, inhaling the fresh air with inquisitive, huffing snorts. We saw that his extended confinement hampered his motor skills and development. He stared blankly at the open car door, not knowing what was expected of him. We tried to coax him to jump in, but he simply stood there, uncertain and confused. We finally had to lift him into the vehicle, where he buried his mighty head into my son’s lap, lying rigid with fear for the entire ride home.

The poor creature seemed even more mystified by the three steps leading to the house, needing encouragement, guidance, and soft tugs on his collar to climb them. Inside, he barely explored his new surroundings. Spotting the staircase balusters that led to the basement, he plopped down against them. A cage was all he’d known for half a year, and, recognizing bars, he gravitated to the familiar.

We named him Jack, and for the next eleven years, we were blessed to know this gentle giant. He eventually learned to take stairs, but not gracefully. He could descend easily, but going up was an entirely different matter. He would need to gather momentum from a running start clear across the yard. Occasionally, he miscalculated his speed or the distance between steps, but he persevered, repeating his process tirelessly until he succeeded. His determination was a reminder that nothing comes easy—that all goals have obstacles and require patience to achieve.

Despite his intimidating size, few people feared Jack. He emitted an aura of peaceful serenity. He’d give a warning “smile” and a low rumble that could shake the ground if he felt his “people” were at risk, but his motto seemed to be “Do no harm unless threatened.”

We would watch, amazed, as he lay in the back yard surrounded by birds, some pecking at the breadcrumbs we provided, others actually daring to land on his back before flying away unharmed. Squirrels scampered by without trepidation. His only reaction was to raise his colossal head and stare at them quizzically before resuming his nap. His tolerant behavior made me rethink killing bugs, if they were merely going about their insect business.

Jack expected nothing from us. He loved unconditionally and was content with any attention or food offered. He was simply grateful to be a part of our lives, and to move freely in our home and on our property. Each time we let him out, he stopped and sniffed at the air appreciatively as if he couldn’t believe that he was free.

Huge as he was in size, the biggest part of him was the heart that stored so much love, loyalty and perception. He instinctively knew when to move out of the way to avoid collision, just as he sensed the right time to lean against any of us in comfort and quiet reassurance through difficult times.

Jack was almost thirteen when his time with us began to come to an end. One morning, I found him on the kitchen floor unable to move. I’d owned enough dogs to recognize a stroke. There was little I could do except make him comfortable. Our veterinarian confirmed that.

I remained vigilant for signs of pain or discomfort, knowing Jack would tell me in that way only dogs can when it was time. For three days, I never left his side, feeding him if he wanted it, offering water as needed, and cleaning him tenderly when necessary. I would lie beside him, whispering that it was okay to leave us, yet he continued to cling to life, ever loyal, ever concerned for our sadness. On the third morning, I woke up to find him sitting up weakly, wagging his tail. Seeing I was awake, he slumped down and our eyes locked, giving me the heartbreaking message I had been waiting for.

We carefully moved him to our van for his final ride. We gave him a moment to look around his home and property for the last time before sliding the door shut. As we drove, I lifted his limp head to feel the breeze and watch the passing cars.

When we got to the vet’s, we transferred him to the waiting gurney. I tried to still my shaking body and muffle my sobs, but was unable to, not then—not during the time the attendants compassionately allowed us to say goodbye.

We surrounded him and held him as he slipped away. Jack’s last lesson to us was to accept death with courageous dignity. For a nanosecond before his beautiful eyes closed forever, I saw a glimpse of his former strength and spirit, almost as if he was anticipating this new journey with renewed youth. His tail swished one last time as he sagged into my arms, and I saturated his thick fur with my tears.

When we left him that day, there was no profound sign that he was okay. No rainbow split the sky, no sunbeams broke through clouds, but I wasn’t surprised. Jack taught me that every day of freedom to breathe fresh air and marvel at the sights around us was a gift, one he never took for granted and embraced with heartfelt gratitude and appreciation.

~Marya Morin

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