The first time I saw Jack, my daughter's pup of choice, 11 years ago, I was certain she had lost her mind. There I was picking up her dog with her at Howard County Animal Control, unaware until that moment that Jack was very, very large. Called Polar Bear by his previous owner, this Great Pyrenees was going to live in my daughter's Ikea-like townhouse with the postage stamp back yard? She had to be kidding.
Yes, I had known since she was a small child that she wanted a big dog with down ears. And yes, I knew that as a munchkin she had this plan for her and her dad to live on a farm in Italy with an Italian sheep dog, while I lived on the farm next door. I still don't know what that was about, except, of course, I was the one she spent all day with at age 4, and her dad was the shining knight who rescued her every evening when he came home from work. Dads and their daughters, what can I say?
So she took Polar Bear home and promptly changed his name to Jack in honor of Leonardo diCaprio's character in "Titanic," her then-favorite movie. And Jack settled in with a presence beyond that of any dog I'd ever known, him being a giant breed, and all. Thrice I saw my Lab-pointer mix walk under his belly.
Jack's bed was big enough to nap me and a small child. Because of his calm and his beauty, I'd always imagined him in a gentleman's club, lying alongside a heavily crafted comfortable chair holding a formally dressed man wearing an elegant ring and smoking a pipe. In my Jack-dream I always saw a fireplace in the foreground, simmering warmth with blue flames. And the big white gentle giant would be ever so content.
Well, Jack never got that at my daughter's house or mine, but he sure got loads of love and attention. He, like the man I imagined, was a gentleman.
Had Jack lived in the Pyrenees Mountains, twixt France and Spain, he might have been the protector of a shepherd's flock, fending off wolves. A working dog over there, he just reveled in loving and being loved over here. He did like the cold, though, lying atop the snow on a raised patio, overlooking his domain and wondering where the deer were running off to.
We were told that a woman who ran a day care had given up Jack because of his size. Some of her parents were wary of his 27-inch shoulder height, which was the same as their children's. Daughter was surprised that a pure bred, such as he, had not been turned over to a rescue group, but the woman must have been a true believer, as are my daughter and I. Having gotten all our pets from shelters, we know that both the county facility and the Animal Welfare Society next door have marvelous pets available for adoption. And I believe they know their new parents have given them another chance at life.
Both of Jack's new homes were quite wonderful. The "Ikea" home welcomed him joyously, and the second gave him room to roam when my daughter moved to the country, with Patapsco State Park as a backdrop. With his lumbering gait crossing the home's five acres to the park, his name often shape-shifted into Lumberjack.
Jack died last week at the age of 12, a typical life span for a Pyr. He may have had a stroke or a brain tumor. VCA Lewis Animal Hospital staff took care of him. They'd known him since he was a pup.
At week's end, a packet arrived with Jack's collar and his paw print — a warmhearted gesture — and things seemed a bit better with the world.