Jack had been at the animal shelter much longer than any dog. No one, it seemed, wanted him. The staff and volunteers loved him, and all of them doted on him, but a year and a half passed without a single person or family adopting Jack.
I knew some of the reason why. Jack loved people, and he'd get way too excited when potential adoptees walked down the aisle. He'd jump up and down, spring against the gate, and bark like mad. Folks would ease to the far side of the aisle and keep walking. In cases like this I want to stop people and explain that this is a great dog; he's just excited to see you and wants out of his kennel. He doesn't know how to act. But no explanation would've mattered. All they ever wanted was to keep moving to the next dog.
I'd taken Jack all over town. Had taken him hiking off-leash. Had taken him riding with my horse. He was a perfect gentleman. But in the wrong hands, say, someone who would not insist he be on his best behavior, Jack would jump up on people and heel anything that moved quickly: bicyclist, horse, or jogger. He didn't know how to behave.
Little by little, the staff and I worked on his manners. All Jack wanted in this world was to be with people who love him. He adored going places and being active. Being kept in a kennel, even for a few hours, drove him crazy.
Jack became the perfect trail dog. His recall was perfect. And in my hands, and the hands of a few experienced volunteers, he was the perfect dog. Still, people kept passing him by.
We tried everything. The staff highlighted him on t.v. and radio as "Pet of the Week." They promoted him via social media. I put and "Adopt Me" vest on him and took him to the dog park on on hikes. Soon, people around town started recognizing him and calling him by name. They liked him, asked how he was doing. Still, no takers.
Then one day Jack got adopted. All of us were overjoyed, but also quite sad to see him drive off with his new family. But in two days Jack was back. He had heeled a person and kept jumping up on visitors to the home. He had too much energy. Though the owners were told about these behaviors and how to prevent them, they didn't want to put in the effort. Jack was not turnkey enough for them.
It is hard for me in stuations like this to keep from being judgemental. Especially when I know a particular dog is terrific but its adopted owners can't see it. I have to keep a lid on my attitude and just keep working. The right owner usually shows up for each dog.
More months passed. I considered adopting Jack because I loved him and he gave me no problems, but my housing situation wouldn't allow me a second dog. We took Jack to special events around town, and though other dogs were adopted, no one adopted Jack. Then Todd showed up.
This big ole southern boy, country to the core, instantly connected with Jack. He had no problem telling Jack "No" like he meant it. Jack seemed to respect him. Todd came to the shelter several times to visit Jack, and he and I had long, frank talks about Jacks' good and bad points. Todd brought his mother and her dog to meet Jack, and all went well. Todd said he'd really like to adopt Jack. And in the back of my mind I was trying to keep a lid on my excitement knowing Jack could return again. But then Todd said the magic phrase to me, the one that indicates this person will be a good owner for any dog: "I don't care what happens, this dog will be with me for life. I'd never bring him back."
Jack loaded happily into the cab of Todd's truck. He wagged his tail so hard I thought he might break himself in two. Seeing him there looking out the window bright-eyed and hopeful made me as happy as I'd felt in a long time. But then my mind flashed back through all the moments I'd spent with him, and I felt like a parent having to watch his child go off on his own into the world. I didn't know if I'd ever see Jack again, and I had to step around the back of the building and compose myself.
Watching that dog ride away with Todd brought on the strangest mix of emotions, happiness and sadness in equal measure. Then wait began. Would Jack be returned again?
Weeks passed, and then Todd called the shelter saying all was well. He loved Jack, and Jack him. Then more months and Todd, because Jack had begun barking, was about to lose his rental. Todd sounded very stressed. He loved Jack but finding a new place that allowed a dog would be a difficult task. Many times I had faced a similar circumstance. I worried for them.
I never heard what happened with Todd's place, never heard what happened to Jack. But I think about him often, as one would a dear friend from long ago that never pales in importance. I think about how much I loved that dog and still do. I hope that one day in passing I'll see him again, that he will still be free of his kennel, living large and running free in the company of people he loves.