It’s probably normal for people to give their pets nicknames in ways they wouldn’t think to name their friends—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 first month with us, she had become Jetty, Jettster, Jett Ski, Jettison (the Medicine), Jetty Spaghetti, and, sadly, Jettitals. Also sadly, she answered to none of her names and to no one.
After she backed out of her collar while I walked her at the park, we’d been cautious. I had a recurring dream that Jett would run out the front door and into traffic, that a neighbor refused to grab her when he could and instead reprimanded me for not having trained my dog. “She’s new! She’s new!” I’d yell to him, crying. “She’s just new!” It stressed me out to know that if she had left, she might have been gone forever, and it would be my fault.
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 them to jump 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.
But Jett’s education was 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). The biggest issue was that she 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, which made it difficult when we had somewhere to be, like work. But she learned to trust us fairly quickly.
It took longer for us. It was rare that we ever let her off leash unless she was occupied with other dogs at the park or with sticks. She was difficult to walk on-leash, too, as she pulled both left and right. My back surgery had made it difficult for me to be her walker. And she just never learned to heel, despite our best efforts.
Lady Jetterly’s Lover, as I sometimes called her in the early days, before Jetty Spaghetti had become my go-to nickname (which she still, at age nine, had never answered to) had not stolen my heart in our first few months together; it took a while to get used to Chance and Cleo, too, as they were not babies with us. But I could tell, with every full night of sleep I got and every Frisbee she caught, that she was going to be one hell of a dog.
And she was.
Jett had never liked the vet and would start shaking on the drive. She would continue to tremble during the visit, like most of my dogs, despite how much fun we tried to make it. Yea! A ride! Woo hoo! At our first vet visit, 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!
As I paid my bill on the first visit, I 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 from Cleopatra’s recent death. 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.
And so we continue on with our dogs (and, for those of us feline-inclined, our cats), rescuing new ones, investing our love in them, training them to do silly things like give us high fives, snuggling with them, and then, when it’s time, having an animal doctor inject them with two shots: one for relaxation, one for death.
We were expecting Chance, our 16.5-year-old collie-shepherd mix, to be the next dog for whom we’d make the call to our mobile vet. Instead, it was Jett, who is just nine but who, on MLK day 2020 stopped her usual walk to lie down in the grass and refuse to move. She’d been spending some time on the porch in the cold alone and had been off her food, which we’d attributed to the presence of Serena’s new dog, a small pit named Mochi. But this was wrong, and I knew it for sure at that moment.
Serena and I took Jett to Pet ER at 10:50. She did not shake, nor was she afraid. I think she was a little relieved. We got the news about three hours later that she had hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive, bleeding cancer of the spleen that had filled her torso with blood, obscuring the view of every single organ. Her white blood count was 300,000 (normal range: 1,500 to 16,000); there was a separate column added for the her off-the-chart readings, which had been taken twice for good measure. Serena and I were shocked and couldn’t stop our tears. Serena went to the car to cry, and I got into the crate with Jett before they pumped her full of fluids and gave her a shot for nausea.
Both treatments seemed to help, as she was wagging her tail and eating like there was no tomorrow, which, as it turns out, is only a slight exaggeration. It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon, when she vomited and looked lethargic again, that they seemed to wear off. Our mobile vet unavailable till Friday morning, we had to hope she wasn’t suffering.
When they say “not a dry eye in the house,” they’re referring to the theater. But the Millers’ home is a theater right now, and we’ve lost one of the headliners. Jett was such a peculiar dog—she wouldn’t ever go in the bathroom, rarely came up the stairs or slept there, had issues with the way her collar clanged on the water bowl when she drank—but there’s no denying that she was the sweetest. She licked everyone and everything. She wagged her whole body. She smiled. And she always crossed her paws like a lady.
We loved her so much. We will never forget the joy she brought us, and we are comforted by the thought that she loved us, too. She even saved us from having to make a terrible choice.
Oh my god. I can’t even believe I had to write these words again, that I’ll write them several times more until I die. It is far less worse to lose a dog than to not have one to lose.
Jett passed away in her sleep. We will imagine it was peacefully. RIP, our dear Jetty Spaghetti, November 24, 2010 – January 24, 2020.