We were idling down our gravel road when we spotted a mangy dog just sitting there alongside of it, like he was taking a load off after a long walk. He was skinny, maybe twenty pounds, a Blue Healer mix, and had that nervous look of a stray in his eyes. He was black, white and brown spotted, like he’d been sitting near a puddle when a truck drove by. One of his ears was mangled and flopped over while the other stood straight up.
We already had three dogs, one of which, Casey, was a recent stray that had followed our dog Tess home from one of her walkabouts. Tess was always going on walkabout, visiting all the dogs in the neighborhood, many of which followed her home to our house in hopes of a date or a good meal. And living in the country, it’s certainly not uncommon for dogs to show up unattended. But we’d recently tried to put a stop to that.
Our other dog, Tippy (we had three at the time), had recently followed Tess on a walkabout and was hit by a car up on the main road. We were out in the yard one morning watering the garden and we spotted Tippy just sitting down in the field. We called him, but he wouldn’t come and we quickly realized he was bleeding and not able to walk. He’d broken his pelvis, but still made it a good 200 yards towards home before collapsing in exhaustion. We scooped him up and sped him to the vet where he was fixed up for a mere $2500.
We soon decided a fence around our property to keep our dogs in and other dogs out would give us some peace of mind and would be cheaper than advanced orthopedic veterinary surgery. It wasn’t long after the fence went up, a mostly woven wire and t-post construction encompassing three acres, accented with some regular wood fencing and a shiny red gate for our driveway, that we spotted that mangy dog.
We pulled up along side of him, rolled down the window of the car and told him in no uncertain terms, “Go on now, dog! Get on home!” He turned with his tail between his legs and looked back at us, head hung low, and hobbled a little further from the road. We hoped he’d go on his way, but he’d only moved a little closer to the house when we spotted him upon our return.
We made another show of ordering him away and then pulled our car into the gate and secured it. He now stood in the middle of the road, giving us his best hang-dog look. But we weren’t falling for it. We told Mary, Audrey’s mother who was visiting at the time, “Ignore that damned beast. And whatever you do, don’t feed it. Surely he’ll be gone in the morning.”
So we kept the other dogs in the house, especially Tess, so as not to encourage him. The next morning, he was still by the gate, this time wagging his tail and pacing about, like he really expected to be let in now that he showed how much persistence he had. Beside the gate, there was a small trench where he’d obviously spent most of the night digging. Here was a dog who was actually trying to dig into a fenced area. What the hell was wrong with this dog?
We couldn’t keep him out any longer. He quickly won the other dogs over with appropriate rear end greetings for all. Mary took out a full can of wet dog food and he swallowed it in two bites. Then he immediately flopped onto his back and rubbed himself all over the grass in pure joy, like an astronaut or hostage kissing the ground after returning home from a long ordeal.
So we kept him. And we called him Jack. He immediately took over the house and claimed the couch as his own. Soon it was like he was allowing us to live in our house and not the other way around. He’d herd the other dogs mercilessly, owing to the herding instincts of Blue Healers, and he growled constantly at every movement like an old man grumbling under his breath at the unruly whipper-snappers around him. He was a loveable curmudgeon.
About six months had gone by when we had an unexpected visit from the previous owner of our farm. She was in the area and just wanted to stop in to see what we’d done with the place. I was just wrapping up the full tour when she spotted Jack and stopped cold in her tracks.
“Danny, is that you?”
Jack slowly walked over with his head hung low.
“That is Danny,” she exclaimed! “He’s got that mark on his back and that ear that’s crooked! We’ thought you were dead.”
Turns out, Jack was really Danny and he’d belonged to the previous owners. It immediately dawned on us that we’d actually met Jack when looking at the place before we’d bought it. Once the previous family and Jack (then Danny) had moved away, they had lived all over the area, in three different spots. One was over thirty miles away. Recently, they had moved about ten miles away as the crow flies and Jack had soon disappeared. They assumed he’d run off, been hit by a car or shot. What had really happened is that Jack realized how close he was to his real home and he’d set out on a great adventure as our farm’s prodigal son.
Considering all the effort he’d made getting back, the woman certainly wasn’t going to force him to leave again. Later, we rummaged through some old photos of the house that were taken back when we were house shopping. Sure enough, right there in one of the photos of the front of the house was Jack, standing on the edge of the porch like he owned it and taking stock of this strange guy pointing a camera at him. Little did we both know at the time that we’d become lasting friends and would spend Jack’s retirement years together in his boyhood home.