The Magazine

A Dog in Full

Aug 31, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 46 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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I didn't realize before I married Jill that our union meant we'd always own a dog or two.

Our first was Max, a mutt we rescued from the streets of D.C. Max lived with us 16 years and was the dog our daughter Katherine grew up with. So when Max died, the precedent of our being a dog's home was well established. The only question was the kind of dog we'd have next. Jill and Katherine, I think because they had watched Wishbone too much, decided Max's successor should be a Jack Russell Terrier.

Daisy we named her, and she came from a farm in Loudoun County. Nine weeks old, she was full of energy, more than we'd expected, and we'd expected a lot. Unlike Max, Daisy wore us out, and Jill began lobbying for a second Jack: Better to have two wear each other out than to have the one exhaust us all.

Within a few months we found our second Jack, a male ten weeks old. Like Daisy, he was long-legged and smooth-haired. But where she was black and white, he was brown, really burnt orange, and white. He was from the city, and his parents' owners already had named him. They had followed the alphabet in choosing names, and because our boy was the third in the litter, his name had to start with "C." The owners had settled on "Claude."

From the start there was something unusual about Claude, besides his name. He was large, and I could see why he got stuck in his mother's birth canal. As a young adult, he weighed 30 pounds. Some fat he carried, but he was mostly muscle, a linebacker of a dog. He was the biggest Jack I'd ever seen.

Claude was more relaxed than Daisy and far more content, a gentle little giant. And he made us laugh.

Jacks are known for their long, looping, and decidedly crazed runs. Daisy, a step faster than Claude, sprinted round our yard, a veritable blur. But it was Claude who caught your eye, bounding as he did in Daisy's wake. Sometimes he seemed airborne, his four legs stretched so as to carry him aloft. A flying Jack he was!

Like Daisy, Claude loved to play with plastic balls the size of basketballs. You could actually play catch with Daisy, who, like a seal, used her nose to punch the ball back to you. Claude, though, never could get his nose positioned quite right; his punches were pitifully feeble. He preferred to chase the ball as though it were a rabbit, pouncing on it and holding it with a front paw while he went in for the kill. Then he stood over the deflated ball, in deep thought, or so it seemed, as to why it no longer held his interest.

Claude liked to eat, and he ate from all the food groups, even fruits and vegetables. I've had for years a raised garden out back, and green beans always do well there. Claude liked to hop up in the garden and look for what I suppose were for him the tastiest-looking beans. He'd pull one off a plant, taking care not to hurt the stems or leaves, and then chomp on it, as if it were a strip of meat.

Claude slept a lot, and he had a lot of sleeping spots, inside the house as well as out in the backyard. He often climbed into a chair at the kitchen table and sat there calmly, as though awaiting a meal, before he nodded off.

Claude liked to go on walks, but he was never the long walker that Max was and Daisy still is. While Daisy strained to go another block, Claude would tell you when it was time to go back simply by refusing to go forward. And once you turned around, he suddenly picked up the pace.

He knew we were going home. And he really liked being home, the place of food and rest and fun that it was. That also explained why, unlike the adventurous Daisy, he never particularly liked car rides. I'd really rather be home, his dark brown, expressive eyes would say, and he meant it.

Not long ago, Claude began to cut his walks even shorter, and he lost several pounds. But the vet, having done the blood work, saw no problems. So when the liver cancer presented itself, all of a sudden in July, we were shocked. Only nine years old, Claude died within a week.

The rationale for getting Claude never held up--no one can wear out Daisy. But what we learned was that Claude was quite a dog in his own right, as fine a companion as anyone could ever want. Katherine had the perfect name for him: Mr. Pleasant. And did I tell you he could fly?


TERRY EASTLAND