Lots of people have dogs. Some people treat them like their children, some people use them as working animals, and some people treat them as pets.
I have a dog. My dog is one of my best friends.
As a kid, I wanted a dog desperately. My dad had a dog when I was very little, but she died when I was six, so I don’t remember much about her. Beside, she was my dad’s dog, not mine. I asked for a dog fairly often after that. But my mom is not a dog person; she prefers cats. She was far from enthusiastic about having another hairy, smelly dog in the house.
In December of 2003, I was at a family Christmas party. At eleven years old, I was too young to hang out with the adults, but I was starting to feel too grownup for the kids’ group. I saw my aunt pull my mom aside, a picture in hand, but I had no idea that picture would change my life.
After the Christmas party, my parents loaded my siblings and me back in the car, but I realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going home.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
Mom said, “Your aunt and uncle have puppies at home. We’re going to see them.”
Puppies! I hadn’t seen very many puppies, but that sounded great to me. I wondered wistfully how much the puppies cost, but I didn’t have high hopes. My aunt and uncle bred English Springer Spaniels, and the puppies probably cost a lot of money.
We pulled up the long drive to my aunt and uncle’s house in the country. It was late, so we were all pretty tired, but puppies were waiting. We tumbled out of the van, and as soon as we stepped in the house, we could hear puppy noises. Mama dog and her babies were closed off in the mud room with a gate, and we crowded around to see.
My aunt scooped up a puppy and dropped it in my arms.
“This one’s yours,” she said.
This one was mine to hold, cool.
“No, this one is yours,” she said.
I looked at my siblings. Then we all looked at our parents. They smiled and nodded.
I looked at the puppy. She was tiny, with silky dark brown fur and a white spot on her head. White paws, a white neck and chest, and she was ours. As it sank in, my siblings started clamoring to hold her.
As we passed her around, the first thing on our minds was her name. I don’t remember who suggested it, but it didn’t take us long to agree on Dusty. My mom later vetoed that name, saying she had spent years with a female dog named Tank and this female dog needed a name that sounded like a girl’s name. We eventually settled on Jessie.
My parents weren’t expecting to come home with a dog that night, so Jessie spent her first few months sleeping in a cat carrier. It was a scramble to put gates up that confined her to the kitchen, so that any accidents before she was potty trained happened on a tile floor.
I don’t know how I slept that night. I went into the kitchen the next morning expecting it to have been a dream, but there she was. My aunt and uncle had sent some dog food and a couple toys home with us, so she had familiar scents with her in her new home.
My poor mom bore the burden of nightly puppy howls while Jessie was homesick and before she was potty trained. It didn’t take too long for her to settle in, though, and she learned to go outside quickly. We tried to get her to ring a bell when she wanted to go out, but she never caught on. To this day she still sits by the door waiting for someone to notice her, and if she thinks she’s been waiting to long, she barks.
Within the first few months, though, my dad noticed that she didn’t have very good vision. I didn’t want to hear that my puppy was less than perfect, but I soon had to admit that he was right. She could see a little bit, but we were never sure how much, and before she was a year old, she was completely blind. We later found out that at least one other puppy from the litter also had vision problems.
It didn’t matter to me or my siblings, though. We figured out ways to work around her blindness. Instead of just calling her when food falls on the floor, we tap the floor next to the food so she can find it. “Jessie, careful!” is used more often than “Sit”, because when she hears it, she knows there’s something in front of her or coming at her. Furniture rearrangements confuse her, and it takes time for her to relearn how to get around the house. When we moved, it took several months for her to learn the layout of our new house.
The first summer we had Jessie, she accidentally ran away several times. She just didn’t know where our yard ended and then didn’t know how to get back to it. Sometimes neighbors brought her back, sometimes we went running after her. If we were riding bikes or scooters up and down the sidewalk, she would get worried and chase us, not understanding that we were coming back.
We play fetch with her just like anyone else does with their dog. We throw the toy extra hard so that it makes an audible noise when it lands, and we say, “Jessie, go get it!” so she knows we’ve thrown it. She runs around searching for it, and there’s a certain noise we make when she’s right on top of the toy, so she knows she’s close.
Jessie doesn’t care about being blind. She’s always been that way, so she lives her life as fully as any other dog. Swimming is her favorite activity ever. She’s taken herself swimming without someone with her while we were camping, because she decided she had gone too long in between swims. My best friend loves to tell the story of Jessie taking herself swimming one time, and my friend found her running around on the beach, soaking wet, her fur filled with sand. She looks pretty skinny and ragged when she’s wet, and as my friend grabbed her collar to take her back to the campsite, a man passing by said, “Look at that gorgeous dog! She’s beautiful!” We still laugh about that.
But because Jessie is blind, she doesn’t like meeting new people. She’s comfortable with people she’s known all her life, but new people make her nervous. There are only a couple dogs she’s ever liked, and she is easily intimidated by new dogs. She’ll bark at them, but hide behind my legs as she does.
She loves shredding wrapping paper, loves chasing and fetching rocks (sticks are okay too), and was patient with all the shenanigans a bunch of kids pulled while growing up with her. We’ve given her all kinds of crazy nicknames, like Snuffleufagus, Jayness, Munifel, Skunk, Lorrible, and Walrus Breath (that’s from my dad). Her registered name is Lady Jessica Brooke, but no one calls her that, although she does answer to Jessie Brooke.
Jessie likes to dig, but usually when she thinks she’s chasing something. She can get pretty crazy when she’s playing hard. Although she’s not a biter now, when she was young, she bit us almost as much as she bit the toys sometimes. I’ve never been sure if she just got caught up in the game or since she couldn’t see the toy, just started biting anything in reach. Always in play, never in aggression, though.
The only time she ever seriously bit someone and drew blood was when she was about three years old. For a while, Jessie hadn’t been herself. She lay around a lot more, didn’t play much, seemed less cheerful. Her right eye seemed bigger, weirdly colored. She’s always had cloudy eyes, but this one was getting worse. My little sister, born after we got Jessie, was about a year old.
She was petting Jessie and accidentally jabbed her right eye. Jessie yelped and snapped at her. After my poor sister was bandaged up (don’t worry, it wasn’t a serious bite!), we knew Jessie needed to see the vet.
The vet tested the pressure in her eye, studied it carefully, and announced that she had a tumor in her eye, and it was growing. She was in a lot of pain, and her eye needed to be removed.
This was horrifying news to me and my siblings, but since she didn’t see out of the eye anyway, my parents decided to go ahead with the surgery. I was on a canoe trip the weekend she was at the vet clinic, and I came home to find her eye socket stitched closed, a drainage tube sticking out of it, and a milk jug on her head. Instead of a fancy E-collar, my dad cut out
the top and bottom of a milk jug and slid in over her head, so that she couldn’t rub her incision. It took about a month and lots of antibiotics and pain medication, but Jessie was soon back to her normal self.Because her downhill slide with her bad eye had been so gradual, we hadn’t realized just how abnormal she had been acting. It was a relief to get our happy, crazy dog back. She wore the milk jug until the incision was completely healed, but happily chased rocks and toys and basketballs around the yard without a care.
When my sister got a rabbit, Jessie obsessed over smelling and licking the bunny, who was more annoyed by the attention than afraid. Jessie got along very well with my brother’s parakeet, though. Jessie would lay on the floor and Kirby the parakeet would stand by her head and whistle and chirp at her. She never tried to eat or chase him.
Jessie loves being around her family, whether playing or just snoozing in the same room. She hangs out under the table while we eat dinner, and it’s not uncommon for four or five different pairs of feet to be resting on or next to her. She will gladly snuggle in bed with us, but only on her schedule. When she’s ready to leave, you can’t stop her. Bare legs are just asking to be licked, and she’ll scrub you clean if you don’t stop her. If legs aren’t available, she licks her own paws obsessively.
When Jessie outgrew the cat carrier, a new kennel was a necessary purchase. We tried to leave her uncaged while no one was at home, or during the night, but she’s too sneaky. She’s emptied trashcans, devoured Christmas cookies and Hershey kisses, licked the butter, and has a history of snatching food off unattended plates on the table. When she was a puppy, she destroyed more than one of my dad’s shoes and ate my sister’s orthodontic retainers on several occasions.
She’s a healthy dog, and we are convinced it’s partly because of all the fruits and vegetables she’s eaten over the years. If anyone is eating a banana, orange, or baby carrot, she will come from anywhere in the house to sit at their feet and beg, nose pointing straight up, a whine in her throat. Jessie hates celery and lettuce leaves but loves lettuce stalks. We’ve celebrated her birthday more than once with a “cake” made out of peanut butter, dog food, carrots, and apples, which she inhales.
Jessie was seven when my mom’s wish came true and we got a cat. She was almost as thrilled about the cat as she had been about the rabbit, but the cat was more willing to snuggle with her. That didn’t last long as the cat grew up, but they have a congenial relationship now, broken by the occasional scuffle and chase. More than once, the cat has sat on the back of a recliner, looking down on Jessie as she searches frantically for the vanished feline.
Although Jessie loves to swim, she thinks baths are terrible, terrible things. If we try to brush her teeth, she growls and chews on the toothbrush, so we gave up on that years ago. She will come to my room and scratch politely at the door when she wants something, but if I ignore her, the scratching becomes more impatient. We take her on almost all our vacations, and she is so excited when she realizes we’re packing. She’ll hang out in the van until it is time to leave, and then she sprawls out on the seats with us. Going to the vet makes her very nervous, and although she normally loves car rides, she knows something is up when she gets in the car to go to the vet. She hates going to the groomer to get shaved just as much, but when she comes home, she’s ecstatic that all her fur is gone and rolls in the grass for minutes on end.
If she’s laying down and you pet her, she instantly rolls over for belly rubs. We only allow her on one couch, but that is her couch. It’s next to the window, where the sun streams in, so she’ll sleep the day away basking in the sunshine.
Two summers ago, she ate rat poison, and my mom happened to find her right afterward. I had just gotten home from work, and my sister came running to tell me.
I worked at a vet office then, so I knew what to do. Hydrogen peroxide, to make her vomit. I sat in the grass with her for at least an hour, putting peroxide down her throat with a syringe, and after she vomited three or four times, finally let her go sleep in her kennel. That was a very scary night.
But she made it through and continues to steal cookies and eat cakes put in the garage to cool. More than one birthday has had half a cake because the dog ate the other half. I know dogs are allergic to chocolate, but this one seems to be immune. She’s eaten a dozen Hershey kisses and we didn’t even know until we found the wrappers under a bed days later.
Jessie is eleven now, white hairs decorating her muzzle where there were none before. Her hearing is going, her sense of direction almost vanished, and she sleeps more than ever before. But come summer, she’ll be in the middle of things, barking at rocks and playing in the hose.
She still tries to convince us she hasn’t been fed breakfast or dinner that day, and we still fall for it, later discovering that she’s had at least two dinners and maybe three. Although an elderly dog, she still has lots of energy and love left to share.
Jessie has been around for half my life, and I can’t imagine life without her. I wanted a dog so badly, but I didn’t know how much I would love Jessie. People find it fascinating or creepy that she only has one eye and is blind, but to me she’s perfect just the way she is. Those moments when we’re sprawled together on the floor or playing tug of war with a toy are some of the best moments in my life.
Lots of people have dogs. I have a dog.
But my dog also has me.