It’s probably normal for people to give their pets nicknames in ways they wouldn’t think to name their friends1—unless they’re the guy making the copies. Marty’s and my first dog, Beowulf King o’ the Geats Miller, became The Wulfman; Wulf McMannus, Attorney at Dog; Woof; and Dogfaceboy. Cleopatra was Queen of Denial, Cleo-yo, Cleedle Dee, and Ledo, after Serena’s baby name for her. Their baby, Buddha, was Boo-Boo and Boo Didley. And Chance has a few of his own: Chancey Gardener, Chancery Cursive, and, especially at Christmas, Chancer Dancer Prancer Vixen. (Yes, he answers to each of them, and so did our other dogs.)
Enter Jett. In her month with us, she’s become Jetty, Jettster, Jett Ski, Jettison (the Medicine), and, sadly, Jettitals. And, sadly, she answers to none of her names and to no one.
After she backed out of her collar at the park two weeks ago, I’ve been cautious on our walks. I’ve had a recurring dream that Jett runs out the front door and into traffic, that a neighbor refuses to grab her when he can and instead reprimands me for not having trained my dog. “She’s new! She’s new!” I yell to him, crying. “She’s just new!” It stresses me out to know that if she leaves, she might be gone forever.
I’ve always been a conscientious pet owner, especially when it comes to training. I don’t like my dogs to bark outside, so I make them stop after they’ve gotten me the message that the neighbor is tending her garden. I don’t allow jumping on people, so I make them stop a little louder. We’re all consistent—and on the same page in the dog-training manual. We don’t hit, we sometimes treat, and we use the dog’s name for commands but not for reprimands.
Jett’s education has been slow. She came to us from three months in a crate and had the kind of energy that said she worried she’d be put back in one at any moment. She was trained to do nothing (except pee and poop outside—an important thing, yes). Within a week of my care, she could sit and give a paw (even give the “other paw” when asked). Last week, she still wouldn’t come inside when we opened the door and would often run away when we reached for her. It sometimes took twenty minutes to catch her! But she’s learning to trust us, so she comes in half the time.
Lady Jetterly’s Lover, as I sometimes call her, has not yet stolen my heart; it took awhile to get used to Chance and Cleo, too, as they were not babies with us. I can tell, with every full night of sleep and every Frisbee she catches, that she’s going to be one hell of a dog.
This morning, the vet gave Jett two thumbs up and a Lyme disease shot. He was much happier to see her than she was to see him. She started shaking on the drive over and continued to shiver during the visit, like most of my dogs, despite how much fun we try to make it. Yea! A ride! Woo hoo! While we were in the office, she refused to exhibit any kind of wild behavior. So of course the vet was incredulous when I told him of her mad romping in pine tar and mud and dirt, her noisy play growling and mouthiness, the maniacal facial expressions when taunting us with our own shoes and socks, the nipping and yipping and jumping. When they commended me on how well I’d trained her, I was incredulous!
I paid my bill (a whopping forty dollars) and overheard an older woman who had come in. She told the receptionist that she was bringing a dog to be put to sleep and wanted to pay in advance. My heart sank. It was like someone was picking at the fresh scab of grief. I took Jett to the car and opened the hatch. A man my age was in the parking lot waiting, near the grass, for his dog; that’s the usual pre-visit pit stop area. We stepped back, and Jett took a running leap into the truck, where I gave her a kiss and closed the door.
I looked back and saw the man’s beautiful big dog on a leash. I am the dog yeller, so I called, “Hi, pretty doggy! What a sweetie pie!” and then I saw the woman from inside. They were together. She took the leash from the man and walked the dog slowly toward the door. “She’s old,” the lady said. “I know,” I replied. And then I was full-on sobbing. “I’m sorry,” I said to her, choking on tears. She thanked me, and it was ten minutes before I could see clearly enough to drive away.
It never gets easier to lose a loved one. In spite of that, it never gets any harder to love.
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1With one exception: I have ten friends named Kim on my Facebook. I see or speak with five of them several times a week and have taken to combining their first name and last syllable. E.G. Kim Carlin is Kimlin; Kim Stanbro is Kimbro; Kim Webster is Kimster; Kim Hosey is Kimsey; and Kim Myslinski is Kimski.