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Jerry
There have been times this past week when I almost called his name, expecting to find him scratching at the back door. Or sitting by my feet on the kitchen floor, waiting for a crumb to fall.
I wanted to hear his tail thumping against the bead board and barking at everything in the alley.
Our dog, Jerry, went to heaven Sunday morning and left a hole in our hearts the size of the big pillow where he slept in the butler’s pantry.

We miss him. So does our other little dog, Harper, who roams from room to room, wondering why she no longer has to compete for attention.

Dogs probably have no concept of time, or understand death, but I am convinced they grieve and experience the emotions of loss.

They are also like our children. We always think they are the cutest and the brightest. We brag and pull pictures from our wallets. (Or scroll through the camera rolls on our cellphones.)

Jerry was not a perfect dog, but that’s OK. We are not a perfect family. He was not the first pet we have had to bury in the backyard, our tears falling on the dirt where he used to play.

That doesn’t make it easier, though. Jerry was the first stray we brought home. Rescue dogs love you unconditionally. It’s as if they realize you have saved them from an uncertain fate.

He wandered onto the playground at Carter Elementary School in 2003. His fur was as black as chimney soot. He did not have a collar and was obviously lost or abandoned. Jake was in the third grade and, after considerable pleading, puppy noises were soon coming from our garage.

The boys named him Jerry, after either Jerry Garcia or Jerry Seinfeld. He was an Australian blue heeler cattle dog, smothered with Heinz 57.

In spring 2005, I published a collection of columns called “Smack Dab in Dog Crossing.” D.C. was a real place, a tiny crossroads between Thomaston and Barnesville, not far from The Rock. The two dozen or so folks who lived there put up a city limits sign after I had poked fun of Dog Crossing for being so small it probably didn’t have one.

The book cover begged for a photograph of me with a dog. Jerry was the chosen one. Son Ed took his camera, and Jake tagged along for “dog control.” After a few posed shots of me and Jerry in front of the sign, I stood and leaned against the post, pretending to read the newspaper.

Jake started tossing dog treats to Jerry, who was running in the field behind me. Ed snapped a one-in-a-million shot of Jerry leaping through the air, and Jerry became a cover boy.

Later, Jake created a PowerPoint presentation he called “A Day in the Life of Jerry.” It was a documentary of Jerry eating, napping and living large. It captured first place in the Bibb County schools system’s technology fair.
So Jerry had his 15 minutes of fame, and them some.

In my eulogy, I would not call him an extraordinary dog. He was loyal and loving within our family circle, but he wasn’t particularly friendly. He was extremely protective, a fierce watchdog who growled and barked at anything that moved. We used to joke that our mail carrier learned to slip the mail quickly through the slot, lest he run the risk of missing a few fingers.

Jerry had his quirks. The boys even called him “psycho dog.” He did not appreciate taking a bath. He would pull paper scraps from the trash can and chew on them. (We suspected he might be part goat.) He never would cross the threshold of the den because he loathed the tile floor. When dark clouds rolled in, and the wind started to blow, he would tremble. He was terrified of thunderstorms.

His final days were sad and painful to watch. The leaping little dog on the cover of the book got to where he could not walk. His passing, in one sense, was a blessing.

I used to lean over, scratch behind his ear and wonder what he might be thinking.

I will never know.

But I do know he left this world knowing he was loved.

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