Story and Photos by Robert Ronning
We like to say that animal com-panions are members of the family. More often than not, they are favored members. Our West Highland White Terrier was our first dog—and of course, our favorite. My wife and I had an instant attachment to Jake when we brought him home as a puppy. But our devotion blossomed in different ways: I preferred the rough and ready terrier in Jake, while Kathy was drawn to his Westie adorableness, his soft double coat and dark-brown button eyes. It’s easy to turn into a committed dog fanatic just from their lovable photos, not to mention ads for dog food that use a cute dog like ours to sell a product.

We grieved over Jake’s passing at age 13. I was a protective dog dad, always watching where and what Jake was up to. If he was on the patio, I would check frequently while he snooped about or sunned himself on the flagstones. No bobcat or coyote would take my boy, not on my watch. I was an edgy guardian while trying to remain casual—but within, I was a fearful parent.

And the joy that came with those walks with Jake (in spite of his incessant sniffing). A walk always started with canine anticipation, as if his home range was always the very first time he walked it … every time. And the bliss I felt when he pranced and strutted along the sidewalk or on a nearby desert trail. If he spotted another dog, how he got all aquiver and eager before they greeted and sniffed each other. If the smelling went well, they might go into play mode, head down and butt up in the air. A friendly tussle might ensue—Jake, the master of the bob and weave. Always, he was friendly, Mr. Social among the other dogs in the hood. Yet, as alert and responsive as he was, he never obeyed our every wish and command. While he expected his walks, he often waited for a treat before willingly coming to us to be leashed up.

In LAPDOG … NOT! Deb Duncan, a canine etiquette and training consultant, writes that Westies are not lapdogs. After Jake chose us as his forever home, he would only sit on Kathy’s lap for a few minutes. As he matured, the laps could last a half hour or longer. At dinner hour, she indulged him by letting him sit as close as he could while she ate. And he would watch every mouthful, knowing he could usually count on a morsel or two at the end.

Later in his life, I often called Jake my champ, even though he never had a clue about any sort of dog contests. But in my heart, he will always be my champ. I reached out to Deb about our life with Jake. She suggested something that strikes me at a deep level: That Jake was simply who he was meant to be, intended to be. He so gracefully fulfilled his purpose in life and why he came into our lives. That he was a wonderful result of our relationship.

Jake’s passing was so painful. But we soon found new joy from SAFE rescue: a little ten-pounder, a mixed breed about age six. We had his DNA tested and it turns out he’s a third Chihuahua, plus a mix of Poodle, Shih Tzu, and Maltese, as well as other bits. In other words, he’s a mix of special sauce like us humans, a blend of rich flavors and doses of lovable canine. He came with no name and Kathy named him Henry—and right away he answered to his name. Perhaps he recognizes the hope and kindness in our calls.

What a performance Henry gives when we mention WALK. As Jake used to do, Henry leaps and bounces off chairs and sofas, cat-like. He has had quite an impact on our neighbors: What kind of a dog is he? … I want him, they shout. I warn them that he’s a Velcro dog and he’ll jump in their arms in a moment.

There are times when I ache to know Henry’s backstory—where did he come from, what were the conditions of his losing a home? We can see he was well trained in all the basic ways. We are so lucky and content he found us. It’s as if Jake searched for another smarty-pants like him, paid him forward, and there’s our little ten-pound sausage roll. And yes, he’s a TOTAL LAPDOG, much to Kathy’s delight.

Robert Ronning is author of Wild Call to Boulder Field—An Arizona Trail Adventure, and can be reached at RobertRonningAuthor.com



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