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Jerry: A Scrappy Little Dog

In my mind’s eye, I see Jerry running along the fence line, snapping at the tolerant Malamute neighbor. An incongruous pair, Jerry is a 12-pound short-legged Jack Russell with a coat somewhere between broken and smooth. A geometric dog, his coloring is white with a big light brown circle on his back. Perky, mostly light brown ears. A two-inch tail wags in delight. A fierce yap.

Bill announced in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want “one of those short-legged Jack Russells.” A pushover, he was seduced by big brown eyes on a bouncing body asking Bill to throw a ball. He nodded his head yes - like when I asked “so, we’re adopting him?”

He came to us from the Humane Society In 2006. How old is he, I asked? “Five years,” came the reply. Disbelief on the faces of the other staffers. No doubt he was older than that, but so what? Heidi, by then a 2.5 year old Jack Russell, needed a playmate.

It was a rocky beginning. Jerry bit Bill when he tried to take away a bone. Sparks flew. He didn’t trust people. Gradually we learned not to pick him up. He was much better if we left him on the ground and lowered our creaky bones to tend his needs. When he held up a paw, we learned that he had a burr. Bill became an expert at finding and pulling them out.

Then there was the matter of rattlesnakes. Another family Jack Russell had died when a rattlesnake bit the inside of her mouth. Rattlesnake aversion training could prevent another tragedy. Jerry, Heidi, and Bill went to rattlesnake school. The trainer ignored warnings about picking up Jerry, and relying on his many years of handling dogs, thought Jerry would be no different. Result: trainer with a bloody hand.

A rough patch in life could do that to a dog. What sort of rough patch, we wondered? We filled in the few facts to tell the story: Jerry and Max (adopted the day before Jerry) lived with an old lady, who died. That much was true. Old lady’s son took over the two dogs, putting them in cages, which Jerry chewed, wearing down his teeth which were not very good anyway. Bad diet, we speculated. Home-cooked dog food couldn’t bring back the teeth but he soon had a thick, winter proof coat that thinned itself by shedding all over everything.

Old lady carried him around, perhaps in a wheelchair. I became the replacement old lady as we learned from Jerry’s tolerating my picking him up and carting him around.

He had never walked on grass. When we first walked him along the river I sensed that he was determined to imitate Heidi, gamely following her lead as we traipsed through the tall grass. If this is what we do, I’m game, he seemed to be signaling. Whatever; bring it on.

Retrieving balls remained his greatest pleasure. No matter what else life had dealt him, there was always a ball. Basketballs, slightly deflated were the best. For a while, two young boys on the corner would throw the basketball down their hill and he would push it back up, again and again. While Bill and I chatted with the parents, the boys and Jerry would play this game until Jerry was so tired that I would pick him up and carry him home. The boys grew up; Jerry grew old.

We nicknamed him “Jerry Vet Bill Radtkey” as the vet bills mounted. We could see that his teeth hurt him when he hid under Bill’s desk. His teeth needed pulling and gluing. After a couple years, his remaining teeth were the ones that were glued in.

Several years ago, he lost an eye, probably due to catching a splinter as the weed wacker sent some splinters flying. More vet bills as the vets tried to save the eye. It hurt. It had to come out. A friend called him “Pirate.” No matter.

Then we noticed that he had become deaf, likely the result of his ears catching too many burrs as he ran through the grass. He learned hand signals; we only had to remember to give them on his right side. When Heidi growled at him, so what? He was impervious to her complaints.

But then we realized his remaining eye was going blind. Cataracts. Jerry went to the Santa Rosa eye doctor, with whom he established a strong rapport, allowing both the nurse and the doctor to examine him, even on the examining table. The operation appeared successful, but an infection set in. If not for Bill’s expert administration of antibiotics and drops, Jerry would have become totally blind. For several months Jerry gamely wore a cone and for the rest of his life submitted to drops twice a day for which he was rewarded with special hotdogs. His eye sight restored, he became a trusting little dog.

He kept up. Determined to show he could do it--whatever it was--just like the bigger dogs. He would walk just as far, catch voles and gophers with ease, police the yard for intruders.

Head of household, cruise director, boss, choreographer. We did as he directed: get up, go out, come in, dole out treats, have breakfast, mete out pills, offer hotdog treats, walk in the neighborhood. Peanut butter the preferred lunch, accompanied by cherry tomatoes fresh off the vine, split to his liking.

No neighborhood dog was too big to challenge. A pit bull, no problem. Once, he dove off the back of our old Explorer to pick a fight with a Doberman. Only the quick instincts and expertise of dog trainer Sallie Palmer saved him when she reached down to retrieve him from a group of dogs assembling for a walk on the dam.

On Saturday morning walks along Robinson Creek, he couldn’t resist trying to take a bite out of a big black Lab. We worked out our walking behind, just out of reach of the lab’s hind legs.

Another Lab, Hank, and Jerry improvised a game when we walked by a stream on a cold day in Jackson State Park. Hank’s person threw a ball, Hank or Jerry would catch it, then toss it in the water for the other to retrieve. Shivering, Jerry finally had to be wrapped in a fleece vest--but only until his little body came up to temperature. Squirming out of my arms, he was back in the water.

As he declined we adjusted. Sometimes, he got Bill up in the middle of the night. Or, after going down our hill, he would realize he really wasn’t up for a walk. Standing at the gate, we would watch his little body silhouetted on the ridge as he trotted home. We propped the front door open so he could let himself in. But sometimes, he walked down to the river and back without complaining. Good days, bad days.

His siblings would steal his meals absent an eagle-eyed guard. Spoon feeding, or feeding morsels by hand, we would mostly get him to eat, then he would curl up by the fire, occasionally getting up to wander a bit before settling down again.

A series of strokes brought him down. Jerry, deaf, blind, disoriented, and whimpering, Bill conferred with Dr. Burns. I met them at the hospital. Bill, Dr. Burns and I held him, soothed him into sedation and then into oblivion. He could feel our sobbing. We lost the scrappy little dog who ran our lives for 10 years.

(r) Jerry with me as his last old lady. (l) Jerry waiting for Isaac to throw the ball.

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