Yesterday marked the 14th birthday of our Jack Russell, Petie.
Fourteen is pretty old for a Jack, and Petie is showing his age. Those formerly fiercely brilliant brain cells, which once allowed him the wherewithal to actually climb a chicken-wire fence to obtain the delicious decomposing deer leg on the other side (but not, unfortunately, to climb back and therefore Not Get Caught), have been all but extinguished.
His eyes are empty. When you look into them, you can almost hear the static. He is also deaf. And his stiff movements confirm joint pain that baby aspirin and a soft dog bed cannot seem to assuage.
Petie was one of a litter of six puppies we bred out of Jane Russell, our beautiful bitch, and Jackson, a Sag Harbor gadabout who was once profiled in Dan’s Papers as a village favorite.
Petie was the last puppy out. Like Lucky in “101 Dalmatians,” I needed to assist with the birth; Jane was tired and done pushing. The little bag over his head had to be pinched with fingernails, but still there was no breath, no body movement. Only vigorous rubbing — which I learned from repeated viewings of that Disney movie — finally brought a little yawn to that tiny mouth and a brief mewing noise that let us know he was going to stick around for a while.
We named him Petie for the brown circle around one eye, like the dog in “The Little Rascals,” a circle that has gone gray with age in the last few years. We needed to put down his mother four years ago, and it seems like that was when Petie grew up, and then very quickly, grew old.
There are some things about Petie that haven’t changed.
He will eat anything that falls on the ground. This includes all manner of food, except blueberries, which confound him for some reason. It also includes money, earrings, small bits of paper, and recently-swatted flies.
He continues to hate the black Pug, snarling whenever Tobias G. Willikers gets within Petie’s personal bubble. They have been companions for over four years — and, in fact, share yesterday as a birthday (but the Pug isn’t very interesting to write about since he was obviously bred for beauty and not brains. In fact, it may be difficult to tell when he enters his own stage of doggie dementia).
Petie still shows extreme patience when my children color him. Yes, the white dog gets markered up on appropriate holidays — black and orange for Halloween, red, white, and blue for Independence Day, and no doubt a deep Kelly green this weekend.
Petie has always had the shakes. A lot of Jack Russells do. My husband, the beautiful Eric Johnson, calls it “Barkinson’s disease.” Lately, the shaking is almost constant. And he can’t quite make it through a night now without scratching at our bedroom door to go out. At least he still remembers to do that . . . most of the time.
After those 4 a.m. moonlight rambles, when he sometimes can’t find his way back to the porch unless I flick the light on and off, I let him in and lift him gently up onto our bed, mindful of his arthritis. Being on the bed has been a no-no since he was little. But I want him to be comfortable. He has trouble breathing sometimes, and I stroke his head, mumbling, “Good dog, good dog,” under my breath.
And I think of all the times in the past 14 years that he has been there for me, without complaint: acting as a sentry for my babies as they slept, always available for cuddles during scary movies and gratefully sharing popcorn, alerting me without fail to the appearance of mailmen and friends, keeping my kitchen floor spotless and my yard squirrel-free.
And I look into those empty eyes, and whisper loving words to him that he can no longer hear. He gazes at something just beyond my shoulder, smiles, and weakly thumps his tail.
I hope he sees his mother, Jane, standing next to a ripe and tasty deer leg, with no more fences to climb and no more black pugs to annoy.
And, for his sake, I secretly hope he’ll get there soon.
Bridget LeRoy is a reporter at The Star.