I started this More Puppy meme with, of course, Ella. She’s my “puppy.” Then I moved on to the “puppies” (mostly fully grown) of my fellow authors and valued readers. As I did, I made an observation. A few people sent tributes to late dogs, ones who were no longer with them.
That made me think about Jessie.
I got Jessie on the 16th of April, 1992. I remember the date because it was the day before my birthday. I was in my starving artist phase, and I didn’t have much money, to put it mildly. My lovely dog Jenny had passed away a few weeks earlier, but it cost $66 to adopt a dog from the pound, and I was short.
Then my father sent me $50 birthday money. So I visited the San Luis Obispo County shelter the next day. Jessie had been brought in by her owner the night before.
She was in miserable condition. It was hard to believe a dog in such bad condition hadn’t been picked up on the street. She had mange, and every square inch of her body had just a handful of hairs on it. Her skin was flaking into dandruff. She had patches of thick, roughened “elephant skin” where she’d been biting. One long strand of hair hanging from her tail, literally just one, signaled that she’d once had a long coat. She weighed about 35 pounds. Her proper weight was between 45 and 50. You could see every knob of her backbone. Across the room. Her head was down, her tail between her legs. She was too easily intimidated to be in a cage with two other big dogs.
In that lighting, I didn’t see her coat and skin very clearly. I could tell she was scruffy and in bad shape, but I didn’t quite see how bad. But I did see one thing about her I really liked. She looked up at me. And she had one blue eye. One blue, one brown. I’ve always been fascinated by that in a dog. I asked the kennel guy to take her out. He kept thinking he misunderstood me. “That one?” he said. Like there must be some kind of mistake. “Yes. That one.” I found out later that they were only going to give her two days. They were that sure no fool would adopt her. They hadn’t met this fool yet.
She put her paws up on my shoulders and snuffled my face. When I touched her, I realized she probably had mange, not just overall scruffiness. My heart sank. My mom had a dog at home, a black lab. How could I bring mange into the house? I’d be putting her at risk. I told the kennel guy, “You better put her back.” As I watched him lead her into the cage, I knew that would probably be the second last walk she’d ever take.
I drove to Woods Humane, and looked at their dogs. They had a batch of Aussie puppies with blue eyes. I held one. I remember saying to him, out loud, “I’m putting you back now, but don’t worry. You’ll get a home. Everybody wants you. I’m going back and getting that one nobody wants.”
My friends mostly thought I was nuts. One accused me of having a Florence Nightingale complex. My friend Pat was the most kind. She looked at Jessie and said, “No, she’s beautiful. She’s a real Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree of a dog.”
Jessie was a year and a half old when I adopted her, and she lived until May of 2006. She was closer to 17 than to 16 when she died, and in perfect health for all but the last month or so. She was gentle and sweet almost to a fault, wooed cats into being her friends, cared for my mom’s new puppy when she arrived, and, most amazing of all, learned to be happy. And she helped me learn to be happy, too.
And, as you can see, my Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree of a dog decorated beautifully.
So here’s your tribute, girl. Miss you.