12/13/1992 – 04/03/2010
1992 was a good year for dogs. December 13th, 1992 was the best day of that year. Twenty years ago today.
That was the day I reached into a pile of not-quite-day-old Border Collie puppies, one of which would be mine. The first one I pulled out had cute white boots, but lacked the classic white blaze. Nope, I was sure it wouldn’t be that one. I set him aside. I sorted through all six, taking the choosing very seriously. One was brown. Interesting, but I wanted the classic black and white.
My then-husband (TH) and I came back weekly (or more) and visited them. I played with them and watched them play with each other. I weighed the pros and cons of color and markings and sex and puppy behavior. It was agony.
We had temporary nicknames for them, just to know who we were talking about. That first fellow with the boots was Little Zack because he looked just like his father, Zack. The gorgeous female with a wide white blaze and a collar to match I called Cora. I was pretty sure I wanted her. But, two look-alikes with thinner white blazes – called the twins – were friendlier than she was. Another small pup seemed too shy- the quiet one. “The brown” was cute. What was I going to do?
Throughout all this hemming and hawing, Little Zack kept prancing into the picture. He was bold and curious and funny and very, very sweet. He had a look of pure joy on his face. I started to consult him on which of his siblings I should take, holding him in my lap while I watched the others.
In January, the day after my birthday, they were ready to go to new homes. I showed up at the farm still not 100% sure who was coming home with me. I picked up Cora. And put her down. Little Zack climbed in my lap while I considered the twins. Would two be too much? Maybe brown would be sort of unique. Nope. I decided on Cora, I should stick with her. I was at the door when I realized Zack was the one I couldn’t leave behind.
It was a frigid Minnesota night when I tucked him in my coat and walked about the door. We drove home through the snow with the one I was sure I didn’t want. Zackary Hobbin. Named for his father and maternal grandfather. It was the start of a 17 year love affair.
This was the first dog of my adult life, the first one I had chosen myself. To say I got attached to him is a lot more than an understatement.
I don’t like it when people call their pets “kids”. I really don’t. “Fur kids” rubs me especially wrong.
I developed a fierce love, an almost maternal (obsessive?) devotion to this puppy.
But, I didn’t baby talk to him.
Sure, if he coughed, I worried. If he sighed in his sleep, I worried. C’mon I worked in doggie ICU at the time. I knew what could happen. Conversely, if he peed outside, I cheered. When he learned to sit, I thought he was a rocket scientist. And, he was pretty damn smart.
Except for the sheep thing. His mother and father were real working dogs. And very good at their jobs. Little Zack never followed in their footsteps. Sure, the sheep were fun to watch. For awhile. But then he’d get distracted by the wind blowing through his fur and wander off. Sometimes to eat some sheep poop. Lot’s of times to find his mommy. Ahem. Human companion.
Ok I admit to that. The mom thing. It’s just so much easier to say than “owner” or “companion human”. It’s just a title, it doesn’t count as baby talk.
Despite his disinterest in sheep, he was a good dog. I don’t think he ever did anything wrong. Except eat TH’s glasses. But, what do you expect? He was a puppy left alone in an office. And there was that shoe that got chewed while my uncle Jerry babysat him, but I think he just missed me. Once a lamb shoulder went missing from the kitchen counter. Most of the meat had been removed already anyway. I found it behind a chair in the living room with a very quiet, very satisfied Border Collie puppy. But, c’mon, we wanted him to be a sheep dog, didn’t we? How can we be mad when he likes lamb?
Ok. I might have baby talked with him. A little. I don’t remember doing it, but I just checked with the TH. He says I did.
He (TH) didn’t like that sort of thing. I think he might have even considered me overly attached. Maybe I was. Zack had hip dysplasia surgery when he was a year old. “ Please, please, please just get him through this” I prayed to whoever was listening.
Later, I added to the prayer. “Just give me till he’s 10.” That’s a nice old dog age. If only he could make it until 10, it would almost seem like a miracle. Then, “How about 11?” I got much better than that.
TH used to say he hoped he would be gone a few hours before Zack (died.) He left when Zack was 11. He had six years to spare.
Eventually, I remarried. Zackary was the best man at the wedding. Rollo called Zack “Captain Handsome”. Baby talk was ok. I was momma. He was papa. (Yes, it’s hard to admit. Yes, it sort of makes me sick too.) Zack had two “retirement” winters in Florida.
When he was gone, Rollo and I brought his ashes home from Florida. I planned to scatter them someplace I love –Lake Superior. I stalled all summer. We finally went up on fall weekend It was windy. Really windy. Zack would have loved it. I walked on the beach and sat and looked for the perfect spot. I found a perfect tear shaped piece of sea glass, mermaid’s tears some call it. I collect sea glass, so you might think I took that as a sign that this was the spot. But, I couldn’t do it. I kept him with me, where he had always wanted to be. Now when the wind blows hard, I feel him there with me, smiling.
You might wonder if I could love another dog after he was gone. You have probably asked yourself the same question if you’ve said goodbye to one. Yes, I do. And, yes, he helped pick her.
I could tell you all sorts of cute thing he did – Zack, not either husband-and the reasons I loved him.
The way he banged his paws on an old horse feed tub like it was a drum.
His crazy plume of white-tipped tail.
The way his eyes crossed when he tasted something really good.
How he once snuck up on a bear. A stuffed bear.
How sharp he could poke you with his nose when he wanted your attention. Your full attention.
The way he rolled in warm grass, over and around and wiggling.
How much he loved wind. The way he looked when he tipped his nose up and let it blow back his mane – with that look of pure joy I first feel in love with.
The way he ran in ecstatic circles when he saw me after we’d been apart. Even for a little while.
Most of these things might not be cute to you. They wouldn’t make you love him. You probably wouldn’t recognize them as anything special.
Except for that look of pure joy. You would know that, you would recognize it if you have ever loved a dog. For them, maybe it was brought on by chasing a ball or a bird or swimming or running or rolling in things they shouldn’t.
I love seeing that JOY! and I remember him every time I see it in a puppy’s face. But I can’t quite get the pure joy feeling myself. I’m not sure any of us can. We might get close, but then we remember our dogs don’t stay long enough.