He was my Christmas present in 1999 . . . or at least "permission to get a dog" was my Christmas present. In early 2000, I started looking in the local animal shelters for a dog. Not just any dog, mind you. I was looking for just the right dog. I found him at the Baldwin County Animal Shelter just off of Hwy 32 in Summerdale. I unlatched the gate on the run he was in, stepped inside and sat down on the floor. This year-old, long-legged, rough-coat Parson Jack Russell Terrier got up from his bed at the end of the run, ambled over to me, climbed up in my lap and lay down. Done deal.
Maybe it wasn't exactly a done deal at that point. He had just come into the shelter after having been picked-up running down a busy highway. There was a 10 day waiting period before he could be adopted out so that his rightful owner would have an opportunity to claim him. I gave them my name and waited the obligatory 10 days, hoping every day that he had escaped from some retired RVers just passing through on their way to Florida for the winter and unlikely to even know where to look to claim him. On that 10th day, I called to confirm that he had not been claimed and promptly went to pick him up. Thus began our 11 year friendship.
I invested heavily in Rags from the start. Of course, he got the customary veterinary care but I also found a dog trainer that gave us private lessons. I was determined that this dog was going to be a well-behaved member of the family. He had probably already been house-broken because that came easily to him so we scaled that first hurdle with ease. It was no time before he learned to sit and down but he balked at following the stay command. He just never was interested in staying in one place when there was so much around him to do. When the trainer told me that his prey instinct was so strong that I would never be able to walk him off-lead, we called it quits with the formal training.
Rags went to work with me every day at a bookstore that I owned in town. I put him on a leash at the check-out counter and he would sleep much of the day and stand to greet customers as they came to make their purchases. He had a staff profile on our store website and even his own e-mail address, although his mail forwarded to me. I guess I was his corresponding secretary and lucky for me, he didn't get much mail. Customers loved Rags every bit as much as I did. He was quiet but friendly and enjoyed a good rub on the head as much as any dog ever had. His career in the bookstore career ended on the day that he barked at a customer. It wasn't a mean bark but a bark none-the-less. In the first year that we had him, we had never heard him bark and didn't even know if he could. Barking in a bookstore is bad manners and can scare customers so Rags retired to spend the rest of his time at home.
He spent a lot of him time at home, both inside and out, but he loved to go for a ride in the car, too. He'd stand with his hind legs behind the front seat and his fore legs on the armrest between Julia and me just gazing out the front windshield, taking in the sights. Every once in while he'd reach over and lick one of us in the ear as if to say, "I love this . . . thanks for taking me for a ride!" He loved to go the veterinarian's office, too. You'd have thought it was his equivalent of Disney World. With only rare exceptions, it seemed that every dog that he met was his new best friend.
I've reminisced about him this weekend when I noticed a chair rung that he chewed and the patch on the carpet in the den that he chewed when he was still just a pup. Puppies do that and they eventually outgrow it but that's a small price to pay for all the years of companionship that they provide us. I've never been motivated to remove all vestiges of those days with him before and don't suppose that I will even now. What's a few teeth marks on your chair between friends, right?
As I write this, I'm sitting on the sofa in our den. Rags used to sit with me here, sometimes beside me with his head resting in my lap, other times he'd climb up on the back of the sofa and rest his head on my shoulder. I miss the warmth of his body next to mine the most. His passing was peaceful, quick and painless. The ride home from the vet's office on Thursday was hard. I cradled his still-warm body in a blanket in my lap knowing that would be the last time I would get to do that. It's been a sad weekend for us but we are thankful to have had Rags for the years that we did.
Rest in peace, little buddy. You were a good dog.