Once upon a time there were two newly hitched people creating their first home together. After most of the boxes were unpacked the woman said, “Something is missing.”
It was around her birthday so her mother (who was visiting) took her on a trip to the local animal shelter where a gray tabby kitten stuck it’s paw out and claimed her as his new owner. When she brought home the kitten, the man (not a fan of cats) threw up his hands and said, “If it makes you happy.”
The two then became three.
A little while later as the kitten, now named Wilhelm, grew and napped as only cats can do, the woman said, “He seems lonely. Something is still missing.”
“No!” the man cried. “We live in a one bedroom town home. There is no room for any more.” He was just finishing graduate school and the woman was working hard building her career.
“But you need a project. When will we have a chance where one of us is home again?”
“Fine. But we’re just looking.” The man conceded.
An ad in the newspaper caught their eye one weekend. Yellow lab puppies available it stated.
“Let’s just go and look.” The woman said with a twinkle in her eye.
So off in their new vehicle they went, outside the bright city lights to a farm where a lovely woman took them to a clean, warm barn. Two puppies were rolling around in their mother’s large kennel. The father stood in a separate kennel, large and muscular showing his teeth as the couple approached but with his tail wagging in greeting. The female lab was smaller, fine-boned and gentle.
“These are the parents.” The farmer’s wife smiled at the two dogs with love and nodded to the dad. “He’s a big baby, he just likes to show off.” She opened the kennel door and the two puppies came out with boundless energy.
The woman sat on the ground observing the two. One was chubby and after running over for a sniff proceeded to nip at her fingers and nibble her shirt. The other was smaller and jumped into her lap bouncing up licking her face before sitting for a moment in her lap.
“This one.” She said hugging the smaller one regarding his large brown gentle eyes.
“He’s the runt of the litter.” The farmer’s wife warned.
The woman shrugged scooping him up to present to her husband. “What do you think?”
She could see his eyes softening and he smiled. “Why not? What are we going to call him?”
The woman closed her eyes and a name drifted across her vision. “Jake. His name is Jake.”
From that day forward, Jake was theirs.
Wilhelm the cat was not happy but they learned to live together. Wilhelm would swat at his nose every once in a while to remind him he was there first and Jake never minded.
Jake was the cutest puppy and all that saw him cooed over the new addition. He never destroyed furniture. He potty trained with ease. He was never aggressive but, he hated being alone. He hated it so much so he would follow the woman everywhere, even to the bathroom.
So the couple got used to having him with them in all the places they went and if they couldn’t be with him, they had family members, dog walkers and sitters along the way to ensure he was never alone for long and the four of them lived happily together.
Jake grew up to be a gentle, quirky dog. Like most labs his nose was to the ground sniffing everything and he never turned down any food. Garbage, leftovers, his own food, other dog’s food, dead animals, he would eat anything except raw vegetables. He hated raw vegetables. He loved chasing small animals and the family would never forget the time he found the rabbit’s nest in the backyard. He would carry huge tree branches on walks and loved heading to the lake to get his feet wet.
He rarely barked or growled only when the man was not at home it became his job to ensure that people knew he was there and the woman wasn’t alone. Although the couple would joke his big bark, similar to his dad’s bark, would cease the moment a robber patted his head or gave him a treat so he would never be a true guard dog. He just loved people too much and believed most people coming to the house, were there to see him. But his love of people was one of the reasons everyone loved him.
Time went on and the family grew. Wilhelm got sick one night and passed away. The woman was very sad so Jake made sure he stayed near her to let her know he was still there. Over the next eight years, three human babies joined the family. Each one was a mystery of new smells and rules and Jake would sigh, “Another one?” But then he would accept the new addition, never complaining. He would bide his time trying to make life as easy as possible for the new parents who did not sleep and were cranky. He would still try to sneak on the bed to sleep but one by one the kids took over and his legs wouldn’t allow him to jump up any longer so instead he created a place beside the bed that was his alone. One day he got a brand new comfy bed that was only his and that made him happy. But every morning he would awaken the man or woman with his head laying near their faces waiting to go outside so they wouldn’t forget he was there too.
The kids got older and they started playing with his ears and accidentally poking his eyes and he never minded. He liked the extra attention. They helped feed and walk him and to his delight he realized they dropped food on the floor! Perhaps they weren’t all that bad and the woman was home a lot more to take him for walks which made him happy.
But like all animals, his body started slowing down and one day, after he had been on vacation at a sitter’s house while the family went on another trip where he couldn’t go, he got sick but he didn’t tell anyone. When the family came home, he was very ill and he couldn’t hide it any longer so the man and woman took him to the vet and after a while he got a little better. He had new food he didn’t like and pills to take but he felt well enough to go for walks with his family again. They even took him along on their next trip where he could explore a new grassy backyard and watch the deer outside the window. But he wasn’t the same and the hilly mountains were hard on his heart and legs and he had to go to a strange hospital twice but the man and woman stayed with him. Eventually they went back home and although he was very tired, he was very happy to be in his own backyard. The next few weeks he got used to the bi-weekly vet appointments where they poked him and took x-rays but afterwards he felt a whole lot better so he didn’t complain. He still made it up the stairs every night to sleep in his place beside their bed.
One weekend, the family went away again and this time he went to the vet hospital to stay. It was okay because by now he knew everyone who worked there and they treated him kindly. His family would be back in a few days. On the third day he wasn’t feeling well again but he knew his family was coming soon. He always knew when they were on their way. So he held on telling his body to keep moving and waited patiently while the vet checked him again. She seemed sad giving him a gentle pat. Then the man came through the door and Jake was so excited to go home! The man seemed sad but smiled when he saw his eleven year old guy and he held out a treat. “Let’s go home boy.”
Jake trotted out to the van but the man said, “Potty first.” So off they went to the grassy patch and the next thing Jake knew, he was floating away and the man was crying. Jake followed him back into the vet where everyone seemed sad and quiet. Eventually the man went home and Jake followed where the whole family was crying. He tried to tell them not to be sad, he would wait for them, but they couldn’t hear him and eventually he fell asleep in the backyard under the warm sun with his favourite tennis ball beside him.
The next thing Jake knew, a gray tabby cat swatted his nose, “Hey, I’ve been waiting for you. Now I have someone to keep my company.”
“Where are we going?” Jake asked sniffing this cat who seemed familiar.
“To the rainbow bridge.” Wilhelm said. “We can wait for them there together.”
“But they’re so sad. I can’t leave.” Jake said.
“Yes you can. They’ll be sad for a while because they miss you. They still miss me. That’s just how humans work.”
“Are you sure?” Jake asked lifting his ears remembering the cat who would sniff his nose and then run away.
“Yep. We have to go because if we don’t no other pet will come into their lives and they have too much love not to pass it on. Come on. You can go swimming. You’ll see them again and while we wait we will have the best time.”
Jake pushed himself up expecting the usual strained effort but realized his body felt better. There was no discomfort and his legs didn’t creak. The idea of a good swim was a pleasant one.
“Can I take my tennis ball?”
“Yes.” Wilhelm said impatient to get going.
So into the blue sky they both flew without a backward glance. Over the marshmallow clouds to the rainbow bridge where a shimmering lake, piles of treats and soft beds await them. This is the place where they will wait until we are able to join them.
R.I.P. my dear friend.