Jessie came in to our lives for a reason. If I’m totally honest, it was a selfish reason, but one that was justified by the fact that in exchange, we would love her with all our hearts.
You see, ten years ago we had just one dog, Chase, who had just been diagnosed with a plethora of mental health issues (anxiety, fear aggression, noise phobia…those were the big ones – yup, they exist in dogs) and we were at a loss as to what we should do. We knew that we had a responsibility to care for her and we were not willing to give up on her without trying to help her overcome these issues. But…we also knew that we couldn’t live with a dog that had put more than one hole in Dennis’ arm, couldn’t be petted and wouldn’t go out the front door of our house except to drive to the park (which was only a block away) because a trolley or bus or something else big and loud might drive by.
We noticed that while we were at the park with Chase, she’d study other dogs and model their actions – the most obvious were her Pointer friends, Harold & Maude. While they waited for the ball they’d pull up their front paw in a typical Pointer fashion and Chase would stand next to them, watch what they did, and pull her paw up too. So…we thought if she is smart enough to model other behaviors maybe, just maybe, if we found the world’s most patient, peaceful, loving, non-anxious Border Collie then maybe Chase would have a fighting chance.
Two days after Christmas in 2005 Dennis, Chase and I drove up to Glen Highland Farm, a Border Collie Rescue, in Morris, NY. We spent a cold and snowy day meeting dog after dog trying to find the right fit and while there were a few that might have worked out, there wasn’t one that just clicked. That evening we went back to the B&B where we were staying (they just so happened to have five BC’s) and noticed that Chase would only interact with their female. SO the next day we went back to the farm, explained that Chase had a great night playing with the three-legged female that lived at the B&B and scrapped all of the remaining plans to meet more boys (apparently in the history of the rescue, with HUNDREDS of adoptions, they had only ever placed two girls together six times) and ended up being the lucky number seven.
When Jessie walked in, the gentle peaceful soul that she’s always been, everyone in the room just knew that she was the one. She was a recent arrival to the farm. She had spent her first three years very loved and well cared for on a military base in Oklahoma. Life circumstances took the owner to the Jersey Shore where Jessie was relegated to a concrete slab in the back yard and her selfless owners knew that the most unselfish and kind thing they could do was give her up. So, two weeks after arriving at the rescue 3 ½ year old Jessie hopped up into the back of our VW with Chase and headed to her new home in Philly.
The last 10 ½ years have been playing in a continuous loop in my head for the past few days. There are millions of stories I could tell but here’s a highlight reel:
Jessie is featured on a Mural Arts Program mural in Philly crouched down in her trademark, butt-in-the-air, herding pose that has made so many people giggle over the years. Jessie tried herding a few times but when it spilled over to city living - and she started grabbing strangers by the pant leg as they walked by (to walk in the direction that she wanted them to walk in) - we decided that perhaps herding wasn’t her calling.
Jessie is a certified therapy dog – she would softly walk the halls of the hospice where my Gran was staying, bringing smiles to the faces of everyone who saw her and giving people something to think & talk about that wasn’t related to death and loss. She’s the one that we introduce to little kids who are petrified of dogs that, usually within minutes, would end up on the floor with her giving her pets and hugs while being covered in sloppy kisses.
So we learned over the years that the work that Jessie was born to do was to be that gentle, peaceful, patient soul that we had hoped to find on that cold, snow-filled day in upstate NY when we first met her.
Over the years the changes that we’ve seen in Chase (Jessie’s job) have been nothing short of miraculous. In recent months I can’t count the number of times that Dennis and I have exclaimed that she’s a normal dog. She does normal things – like coming over for pets and enjoying them, laying down and relaxing in the middle of the day. Things that once freaked her out don’t seem to bother her as much. Sure, she’s getting older and she’s on a few medications that help with the anxiety, but there are also the behaviors that she’s picked up and modeled from her older sister - that gentle, peaceful being that brought so much love and laughter into our lives. Jessie, the dog who did her job every minute of every single day since hopping into the back of our car in December of 2005; never asking for anything in return except cookies and pets. She’s done it with hips and back legs that are now tender & twisted and muscles that are atrophied and make it hard to get up. At four years old we knew that she had pretty severe arthritis. As the years went on we wondered if it would ever cause her to start slowing down and recently it became quite obvious that it was bad – and even meds and acupuncture and hydrotherapy couldn’t keep us out in front of it anymore.
Saying goodbye to you Jessie will be the hardest thing ever. But thinking about the pain that you’re in now, after all of your years of sprinting after tennis balls and sheep; swimming and hiking and cliff diving (story for another time); jumping up on the sofa or into the bathtub during storms; of tip-toeing down the halls of the hospice and tenderly demanding pets from the people you met there; of pants-ing strangers on the street – it’s selfish to ask you for more time – because you would do it and demand nothing in return.
But you deserve beautiful days without pain. With green fields, rolling hills and streams to swim in, birds and squirrels and sheep to chase, and all of the cookies and cheese and Biggie Birthday Cake that you’ll ever want.
Thank you for always being my audience when I serenaded you with impromptu out-of-tune concerts in the kitchen.
Thank you for picking Dennis as your favorite – he needed you on his side.
Thank you for saving Chase’s life – she would not have made it this far without you.
Thank you for bringing so many smiles into this world.
That’ll do Bigs, that’ll do.