The following is a post I released back in August of 2015, but many of you are new readers, and may have missed it. Since it’s a slow and rainy Sunday morning where we are, I thought I’d re-share, because I think it’s some good reading. I’ve recently revamped this piece, and sent it to a really exciting publishing opportunity. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.
In the meantime, grab some coffee, and maybe some tissues, and pat any furry creature you have nearby. The unconditional love of a pet is unlike any other.
Happy Sunday, Friends.
A Gentle Re-Share. Or–‘He Was Her Big Brother’.
I was a single parent for many years. For over a decade, really–and yes, it was harder than you can imagine.
I have one child, so it was just the two of us for all of those years.
Except–we had Jerry.
Jerry was our dog. We rescued him from we really don’t know what, but he never seemed to forget the favor. He was a soft, gentle, unconditionally loving ball of comfort. Jerry was small, weighing less than twenty pounds. What he lacked in size though, he made up in spirit. Jerry took the job of protecting his two girls very seriously, and asked for nothing in return. He just loved us.
We lived in a small house on a big lot, and it was near a river. An enormous oak tree in the back yard shaded our house, as did the pines in the front. It was simple, it was safe, and it was ours. Jerry regularly patrolled the back yard, and would startle me by leaving critters on the porch that he had taken down as part of his guard duties. I was always shocked that this little dog could take down an opossum, but there it would be. I would nervously decide which neighbor I could beg for help in disposing of this thing, while Jerry would sit on his haunches, panting and looking for praise. He had gotten rid of the monster, after all. Good boy.
We lived near the beach, but he didn’t like the water. The walks along the shoreline would frustrate him, because there was nothing to mark. Just endless miles of sand with no trees, no bushes–nothing really, for him to spray. ‘What’s the point of this?’ his look seemed to say. So I didn’t take him there much, we just walked throughout our neighborhood or the nearby park. Jerry would quietly march on the outside of me, to protect against threats, but he would stay even with the baby’s stroller, to keep an eye on her, too. Didn’t matter if a big Rottweiler or German Shepherd came by–little Jerry was on the case, and we were fine.
Jerry never wanted to sleep in my bedroom. Instead, he wanted to sleep on the couch in our front room, to better guard the front door throughout the night. As she grew, he allowed my daughter to push, pull, tug and twist the various parts of him while she played. He was her only companion, since she is an only child, and he never seemed to mind the play. Over the years, he wore baby bonnets, Barbie dolls astride his back, hair bows and various other indignities that only a child can think up. He did it all with grace, he did it with love, and he did it with joy, because we were his family.
Sometimes my daughter would feel a little unlike her peers, because our home was designed so differently than many others she saw. She had no siblings or father regularly in her life–she just had a mom and a dog. The mom and the dog were unusually devoted to her though, so as a result, she started calling Jerry her big brother. Not in a weird, unhealthy way. Just a way that acknowledged our family was shaped differently than others, but it was no less valid than anyone else’s. Anytime my child spent the night out at a friend’s, Jerry would keep me company, and prevent me from being lonely. I would stretch out with a book, or maybe a movie, and he would snuggle beside me, perfectly content to just spend time together.
His favorite treat in the world was that plastic cheese. You know the kind I mean. It comes in a flat square, individually wrapped in cellophane, in a stack of twenty or more slices. He adored that stuff, and I confess I’d buy a pack just for him. It would hide his heart worm medicine sometimes, but mostly it was a reward for being the best dog on the planet. To this day, we call that stuff “Jerry Cheese”.
One day, a very sad day, he was outside with my daughter. Another dog, meaner, tried to get at my child while they were on their walk. Jerry got in the way, and blocked that dog from reaching her. So the other dog grabbed him, and thrashed him onto the ground. I heard my daughter shrieking, and raced outside. I scooped Jerry up, and was relieved to see there were no bite marks, no blood–no outward signs of damage. Trembling, I rushed the three of us inside, and just held everyone. It was awhile before my shaking and crying stopped.
At the time this happened, Jerry was at least twelve years old. That’s how long I’d had him, but we never knew how old he was when I rescued him. Pretty old for a dog.
Tragically, he never really recovered from that attack.
The vet checked him out that day, but didn’t find anything wrong. No broken bones, no punctured lungs, nothing that we could really define.
But he was now slower.
A couple of days after the attack, it was time for my daughter to go to summer camp. She reluctantly left with friends, after hearing my many assurances that I would take good care of her ‘big brother’.
Doing so was harder than I wanted it to be. His appetite started waning. He didn’t want to walk anymore. He didn’t want even want to play. He simply wanted to be next to me on the sofa, and quietly rest side by side.
I took him back and forth to the vet, but there was nothing they could pinpoint. No specific injury to treat, no exact cause for the malaise. My constant concern was his pain level, because I didn’t want him to suffer. The vet assured me that there was no indication that he was in physical pain, so he didn’t see a need to put him down.
I gasped when he said that–putting Jerry to sleep was the absolute last thing on my mind.
So–I nursed him. I loved him. I held him, and told him that I would take care of him, just as he had taken care of us for so many years. I tempted him with canned food, hand fed him his “Jerry Cheese”, and made sure he had soft blankets and cuddly toys. His velvet brown eyes would engage with me, and he would gently lick my hand in thanks.
I knew he was declining.
It shook me to my core.
Jerry had been my constant companion over the course of my single parenthood, and the thought of losing him, in addition to everything else I had lost over those hard years, caused me profound pain. He was my one source of unconditional love, support, protection and friendship throughout those difficult years. I’d had to manage the unmanageable all by myself, but he was always there for me. He had never judged. He had never corrected. He had never criticized.
He had just loved.
One morning, I set him up in a cozy nest of blankets. Before leaving for work, I made sure that he had everything he needed, and would be safe and warm during the day. I got up very close to him, and gently placed a hand on either side of his face. We locked eyes. I whispered this: “Jerry–thank you. You have been the best dog in the entire world. I cannot thank you enough for the love, and the friendship, and the protection, and everything else you have given me over the years. I confess I may not have been the best mom to you sometimes, but you have never failed me. Thank you. Thank you, Jerry. I want you to know that we’ll be okay. I promise–the two of us will be okay. You have taken wonderful care of us over the years–I couldn’t have asked for a better dog. But it’s okay. If you need to go, it’s okay. I don’t want you to go, but I understand if you have to. We love you, Jerry–we will always love you”.
I let go of his face, and he gently licked my hand. He settled into his blankets, and I made sure he was comfortable.
Then I cried all the way to work.
When I got home, I unlocked the door.
He was in the front room, facing the door, waiting for me. Loyal to the end.
Jerry had died.
The rest doesn’t matter. The sorrow, the loss, the heartbreak–you know it was all there. Jerry was an extraordinary dog, and I was blessed beyond measure to have him. I’m not sure I deserved him and his goodness, but I am grateful beyond words that he helped me on my life’s path.
The lesson here is this: shelter dogs, quite simply, are the best.
They love you in a way that can’t be matched, because they know you’ve stepped out in faith for them. They know, somehow, that you have saved them from a fate they may not understand, but can surely sense.
I encourage you to find your own Jerry. I encourage you to add a dog or a cat to your home that will enrich your life, and fill your home with a love that has no expectations, no conditions and no regulations. Just….love…pure and sincere. For every day that they live.
Don’t believe me? Here–take a look….
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**Chanler Jeffers is a woman who has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent, was a single parent for many years, has survived cancer and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.