Pete sits beside me, curled underneath the throw spread across my lap. He’s my companion while I work online. A Jack Russell, almost 10 years old, he’s settled down a lot in the past couple of years, and not a moment too soon. When he first came to us, cleverly disguised as a 40th birthday present from our daughter to Rob, he was a terror. Six weeks old and cute with disarming puppy charm, he was none the less a terror. He chewed shoes, belts, carpet, and finally attacked and destroyed an upholstered sofa when he was left alone for an hour. I came home to find a trail of white upholstery stuffing scattered from the back door to the living room. I followed the trail to discover Pete, nose down, front paws digging fiercely, destroying a large part of the living room sofa. How did he survive those early days? I wanted to find a new home for him after that, but couldn’t bring myself to take him to the pound for fear that he wouldn’t find a good next owner. At least I knew we wouldn’t be unkind to him, although we were frustrated to the point of exhaustion at times.
Then there were his escape attempts. The front range foothills of Colorado are not kind to small dogs without much fur in the cold of winter. One of his first rogue excursions was almost his last. He ran up the hill above our house through the trees. There was snow on the ground, and by the time we found him, he was shivering and limping with paws that were beginning to bleed. For years, an exterior door not fully closed was all the invitation he needed to go walkabout. Or runabout. We learned to always pull doors firmly shut behind us. Except when we didn’t. He invariably took full advantage, and although I always worried that he wouldn’t find his way home, eventually I relaxed and accepted the reality that somehow, he knew where he belonged. Our son was the only one who could ever actually outrun him, and that only happened a couple of times. Typically, Pete came back when he got tired of running up and down the street, checking out everything of interest in his path.
He was a killer too, I’m sorry to say. Following his inbred instincts, he loved to hunt mice and chipmunks. We counted five kills, and my husband christened him an ace. The most memorable occasion of his hunting prowess was the time he came upstairs from our basement with a mouse tail hanging down from his mouth. He proudly dropped the mouse to show what he had done. It was not a happy revelation.
Then we moved to Alaska, and deciding to take dogs to the Arctic was no small thing. It took a lot of planning and thought to orchestrate the move with two dogs in tow. My biggest fear was that Pete would escape in the extreme Arctic winter and die of exposure before he could make it home. I wasn’t sure he would be able to identify “home.” The first year we were in the Arctic we lived in an apartment building that housed hospital employees and a lot of dogs. I didn’t know if he could identify his own home’s smell or space or whatever element says “home” to a dog in a multi-family setting. Fortunately for Pete, he only made escape attempts in warmer weather. He was smart enough to stay inside in the bitter winter temperatures.
He and Nickie, our other dog, made the RV trip with us when we left Kotzebue, living for months in the small space of a Class C Winnebago. Through the thousands of miles we traveled, he escaped a few times, but we found him after each run.
Here in Ketchikan, he has followed a familiar pattern. He has made a few exploratory trips around the neighborhood, done a little obligatory digging, chased a cat or two, and now, over the past year, has mostly settled down to being a slug dog: which means he spends most of his time curled up asleep, only occasionally rousing for an energetic burst of barking at someone walking up the sidewalk.
Pete is a snuggler, loves to burrow down under the covers at night and frequently sleeps right next to one of us. He makes a good substitute for an electric blanket. He is also in many ways a cat, curling up on the back of the sofa or the kitchen bench to sleep in the sunshine streaming in through the window. I look at photos of him from earlier years and am surprised to see how much the brown colored fur on his face has faded to a white/gray. I realize that he’s a senior dog now, although he can still jump up on the bed in a single bound.
He and Nickie, our Shetland Sheepdog who is about a year older, have what I call a “my friend the enemy” relationship. They tolerate each other, at least most of the time. Nickie, although actually a little smaller than Pete, has a ferocious temper at any feeding time, and she knows how to protect her bowl and her personal space when food is down. Pete stays out of the way and won’t even begin eating until she is finished. He is also easily cowed if caught in the act of any bad behavior…he has a conscience, and he feels badly if he has misbehaved….but likely, he will do it again if he has an opportunity.
Although Pete responds to the mom role I play with him, at heart he is really Rob’s dog. He does flips when Rob comes in, sits with him to watch TV or waits for him beside his favorite chair. He knows who the master is.
How do these little people work their way into your life so that you are willing to spend small fortunes on their food, their care, their kenneling, their transportation? I don’t have an answer for that. But for all the headache that Pete has caused, I have to admit that he has made up for the inconvenience and the expense by becoming a fun and funny dog…always eager, always ready for a belly rub, ready to jump up and see what is happening in the world outide his windows. He has made a home for himself in our hearts, and in the process, has helped to make each house a home. I think every family needs a dog. They’re especially good for bringing up children, and they’re good to have around when the children leave the nest. They help to fill the void, and reward their owners with loyalty and devotion, in the best tradition of pets and dogs.