When I was 16 years old, I was headed back to our barn, on a warm summer afternoon, after a long horse ride. The horse was having a much needed drink of water and while I was putting the saddle away, this straggly looking German Shepard mix dog came slinking up to the barn. He was brown, tan and black like any other German Shepard but there was something not quite right with his ears. They looked like they belonged on another dog. Kind of upright with the top third of them flopping forward and about two-thirds the size they should have been. He was very timid and looked like he hadn’t eaten in awhile. He reminded me of a dog from down the road named Jake. I told him “Go home Jake!” He looked up at me as if to say, “I am home dummy!” “You just don’t know it yet”. The dog I called “Jake” wouldn’t leave. I figured out that he was not going to leave on his own so I gave him some food and showed him the bucket of water in the barn. He ate that food so fast; you would have thought he was having filet mignon, although it was just the kibbles we fed our other dog. I did not give him much more though that night. I figured he would just wander the mile or so back to his own house.
The next day, I went to the barn to feed the horses and there was “Jake”. He had slept in the hay on the floor in the barn outside the stalls. I told him “Well, Jake, I suppose we better take you home.” After I did my chores Jake and I jumped into my old orange 1974 Chevy truck. We used the Chevy around the farm to haul hay, wood and I used it to get to and from school. He just jumped in the back just like he’d been doing it his whole life. I settled into the driver’s seat and we headed down the road. When I pulled up to the house, I noticed that “Jake” (the one I thought this dog was) was in his kennel along side the garage like I had seen every other time I passed by this house. I backed out and headed back home to try and figure out the mystery of this dog “Jake”. Where did Jake come from? Who’s dog was he? Was he just dumped off and and found our barn a nice barn to hang out in? What was his story?
After a couple of weeks searching and asking around, I found out, from some neighbors, that Mr. Johnson, a crotchety old man that lived in a trailer down by the lake, had a dog that looked just like Jake. They suggested I go see him. I decided I would go on the horse to Mr. Johnson’s place and give him his dog back. I found out later that “Jake” was originally named “Tamarak”. He was to be the replacement guard dog for Mr. Johnson.
With Jake running along side, we arrived at the house trailer at the end of a long dirt driveway. I knocked on the door. Old man Johnson answered it, looked out and saw the dog. He griped “I wondered what happened to that good for nothing piece of crap dog!” The old man came outside, grabbed the dog by the collar and proceeded to drag him over to the garage. He hooked a chain to the very scared looking dog and told me thank you for bringing Tamarak home. As I rode up the driveway, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the dog. He didn’t seem very happy about being tied up. I could hear him barking and making other disturbing noises as I went up the driveway towards the road.
I then heard the dog yipe followed by old man Johnson yelling, “keep the son-of-a-bitch”. Dragging half the chain, Jake caught up to me and I jumped off the horse, unhooked it and yelled back “Thanks! I will!” We took the long way home though Spencer’s Woods on the old hunting trail that had long since given way to the brush and through open farmer’s fields behind our place. I knew right then, that Jake was going to be our dog. More specifically, he was going be my dog.
Dogs, like humans, come with all different kinds of personalities, different dispositions. Jake had a definite perseverance to his personality. We spent a lot of time together. He would sleep in my room on my bed and grumble a little bit when I wanted to take my half. He was the best friend a guy could want. His favorite activity was taking a ride in the truck. If you asked him, “want to go for a TRUCK RIDE?” you would think it was the best news he’s heard in a year and would enthusiastically run back and forth and bounce around until you opened the door to let him out of the house. He was quite skillful in getting his spot in the truck. If the camper top was off of the truck, he would jump in the bed without anyone having to put the tailgate down. If topper was on the truck and the windows in the cab were open, he would fly through the window like he had wings and would be sitting there ready to go by the time I was in the drivers seat. On the off chance the topper was on and the windows were up, he would leap on the hood of the old Chevy, just to make sure the pickup wasn’t going anywhere without him.
On hot days, Jake liked to dig in the field beside the house. He would dig great big holes that I would have to fill in later. One day while I was doing chores, I looked over and all I saw 4 big paws sticking out a particularly big hole. Jake had out-done himself. The hole he dug was so big that he flipped over while getting it just a bit deeper and was stuck. It was the funniest thing I had seen in a while and all the time I spent walking up to “save” my buddy was spent laughing so hard I could barley breath.
Jake stayed with me though the rest of my high school years. When I left for the Air Force, although I missed my parents and sister quite a bit, Jake was what I thought about when I thought of home. While I was gone, Jake and my dad became best friends. Dad would take him for rides and walks regularly and he settled in to a very comfortable life. As Jake was getting older, he could no longer get in the back of the truck easily. Dad would back up to the hill along the house and put the tailgate down. Jake would hear his favorite words “Get in the truck” and could run right up into it without the pain and embarrassment of his limited mobility.
Saving a dog from a life with someone who didn’t appreciate them makes me feel as if I have done a good thing for the dog and the dog repaid me many times over. At the time, Jake was just a cool dog had shown up; one that my folks (and his previous owner) let me keep. Now I look back and realize that it was the first of three similar cases where I have taken in a dog that would have otherwise met a much worse fate. All of the dogs have turned out much better then I would have expected when I gave them my home. Dogs, just like people, can be much more then you first realize. They may look down and out, they may be a little rough around the edges, but if given a chance, they will prove to you they are much more then they first look like and are worth keeping around. This dog, and every other dog we have taken in, have been a great source of entertainment, companionship and love. Without Jake in my life back then, I wouldn’t be as able to see the good in everyone (or every dog), no matter what they look like or what their past may have been.
***update: On June 4th, 2016 Banjo passed away from a spinal cord injury doing what he loved the most. Chasing the orange ball. RIP Banjo!