James Cowles

© Copyright 2018 by James Cowles


Photo of Jolie.
Photo of Jolie.

It was February when our fifteen-year-old cock-a-poo, Missy passed away and we of course were devastated. She was barely seven-weeks old when we got her and she had quickly become a treasured member of our family. After she died, one of the most difficult things for us was to come home and see an empty window where she used to sit; the one she always watched from, waiting for our return.

February in Louisville, Kentucky is usually very cold and cloudy, adding even more unpleasantness to our misery; so we decided to pack up and head for Florida. At least we could find short-term reprieve from not seeing that cute little face staring back at us. My wife had experienced the love of a dog before, but it was my first time and I fell hard. Not only that, Missy seemed to favor me and she waited patiently every day for my return from the office. She would cry and just go crazy when I came into the house, wagging what was left of her stubby docked tail and rolling around all over the kitchen floor.

Southern Florida was beautiful in February; it took our mind off our loss for a few days, but when we returned, so did the hurt. All it took was to drive to the back of our driveway and turn toward our garage; there were no little brown eyes staring at us from the kitchen window. After a few lonely weeks, Teresa said, “I want another dog,” but I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea and I actually resisted, at least for a time. When she finally convinced me, we thought through it logically and decided that we should not go for a little puppy this time around. For one thing, we were getting older and neither of us really wanted to go through another “puppy-training period.” So we decided to “save” a dog and with that in mind, we headed for the local “Animal Care Society.” The people at the ACS are so marvelous. They care so much for all of the cats and dogs housed in their facility and I love that they have a “no kill” policy. In fact, if an animal never finds a forever home, they live their life out right there in the facility, receiving love and care from volunteers and employees alike; it was comforting to know all the animals there were safe.

Teresa said she wanted a “little” dog, one with which she could cuddle on the sofa, take on long walks and in general, spoil rotten. I concurred, thinking a smaller dog would be a perfect fit for us; the folks at ACS greeted us like we were family and it didn’t take us long to pick up on their standard routine. The animals with them the longest were housed in the first large area and they was understandably anxious to “move” them first, if possible. We dutifully looked at every one of them and even took a couple outside on a leach, seeing how they would respond to us. But Teresa persisted in wanting a “smaller” dog and as a result, we were allowed into the next room, where the newer arrivals and several smaller dogs were kept. They isolate new arrivals in private rooms for a few days to be sure they are not ill or have any kind of transferrable bug that might affect other animals.

Carol, the ACS volunteer, led Teresa to one of the isolation rooms and I followed dutifully, hoping that we would soon find a little one that really needed us. I suppose I was hoping for that special feeling, where both the animal and I just clicked. We looked through the window in the door of one room and could see that the little dog there was a terrier mix and about the size Teresa preferred. Carol began telling us the history of the animal and I could see that Teresa’s interest was really peaking. My wife is a people person and loves animals, so it didn’t surprise me when she and Carol began sharing personal experiences about animals they had owned. As they talked, I began to wonder around the large room, which was filled with numerous empty cages and as I walked down one row, suddenly I saw the cutest little head, tilted to one side, staring at me.

I didn’t ask permission to open the cage; after all, Teresa and Carol were locked in conversation and it would be rude to interrupt. Instead, I just reached in and picked up the puppy that I would guess, weighed about 15 or 16 pounds. As I pulled the little animal to my chest, it immediately laid its head against my head and shoulder. Maybe it was just frightened, I don’t know, but I took that as a sign this animal was saying to me, “I want you” and I immediately wanted it. When I finally got Carol and Teresa’s attention, I said, “What about this little dog?”

Teresa immediately said, “Jim that dog is going to get very big; just look at its paws” and for the next 20 minutes or so, I listened to a barrage of reasons why “we should not consider this animal,” including the fact that she was only 3-months old and would require house training. I persisted, saying to Teresa, “This will be my dog and you should get another for yourself; “let’s just be a 2-dog family!” That actually prompted us to consider another animal right then and there, one about the same age, so they could grow up together, but we finally decided that one “puppy” would be quite enough.

So here I was, one brave husband going against one pretty unconvinced wife, but I swallowed hard and made the decision we would pay the ACS fee and take this little dog home. This little blond, shiny puppy happened to be the last puppy of a large brood and Carol said she was the “runt of the litter; I was even more convinced she was waiting for us to come get her, but as we were filling out the adoption application, Carol asked, “Jim, is your yard fenced?” I said “No it isn’t, but we never had a problem with our dog, Missy; we’d let her out in the backyard to do her business and she’d come right back when we called her.” Carol laughed and said, “Okay, good luck with that; I can assure you of one thing; this dog is going to be curious and when she gets settled in with you and Teresa, she will begin looking for every opportunity to explore.” Still, I was not swayed, but Teresa clearly was nervous and said, “Why don’t we go home and sleep on this before we take this puppy home, Jim.” Something about this little dog, which incidentally I was still holding in my arms, made me want it even more; I wanted it now and so I said, “If we go home without this dog, then come back to find that someone else has taken her, I am going to be very sad and also, very, very angry.” We took our new puppy home that night.

On the way home, she sat in Teresa’s lap, completely still and frightened to death of riding in the car. Most dogs are thrilled to ride in a car, but not this one; she never got over this foible. For some reason, she hated cars; we were certain that she had been frightened by one when she was a new born puppy. I stopped on the way home at Feeder’s Supply and bought our new little blond girl a cage, a crate that would become her home. Teresa again cautioned me, saying, “Now don’t get one of those small ones; it might be okay right now, but this dog is going to get big (again, referencing the size of her paws).” That prompted me to purchase the largest crate they had, which ultimately ended up in our basement, finally replaced by a slightly smaller crate. I think it’s still there.

 Teresa named this little pup from the title of a song that she had heard on a Bill Stains album; “Jolie Girl.” It fit her so well. Jolie grew to be a medium size dog, weighing in at about 45-50 pounds. Carol was right; Jolie loved exploring, mostly at my expense. We tried the no fence approach for a short time and it worked well, at least until Jolie got a little older and larger. Once, when she was still very young, I bought a roll of plastic fencing, approximately 3-feet high and I worked for several hours, constructing a temporary fence to keep her in. She actually sat and watched me build it; I think she was just curious and wondered what the heck I was doing. She followed me during the process, me on the outside of this plastic fence and she on the inside. When I finally got it finished, I stepped back to proudly examine my work, only to see her jump the fence and come sit right beside me. It wasn’t long before we decided to get at least a part of our yard fenced by an expert.

We have very mature burning bushes on either side of our yard and I saw no reason to fence around those. In fact, I bought some chicken wire and weaved it around the bushes on both sides of the yard, then fashioned u-hooks out of hangers I had cut into pieces, placing them through the bottom of the chicken wire and securing the bottom of the fence to the ground. Again, Jolie watched me closely and when I laid down my wire-cutters, or hammer, the little girl had the strength in her jaws to pick either or both up and run with them. It got to be a game for a time, with her grabbing one or the other when I got complacent and me having to spend time trying to catch her. The little girl about wore me out and I finally called Bob, our fence man; he did a beautiful job fencing the balance of the yard, all the time preserving our beautiful burning bushes; now I was confident Jolie could never get out again, despite how hard she tried.

Well, it didn’t take Jolie long to find the weak spots in my design. By this time Teresa had found a little dog black dog resembling Missy, one that had been saved from certain death by our dog groomer. “Sassy,” I named her (because she had been found at a “Big Foot” gas station) and Jolie became fast friends quickly; the only problem we had was that Jolie became the ring-leader of a two-dog gang, with Sassy following her just about everywhere she went, including through the weak spots of my fence. The two dogs roamed the neighborhood and kept me busy devising ways to strengthen my chicken wire structure. Once, when she was out and Sassy was still inside, Jolie decided she needed a little more adventure in her life. Once again, she found the one spot that I had failed to secure well enough and she was gone in a flash.

When I called for her and she didn’t come, Teresa and I began a search on foot, she going in one direction and me the other. When that proved unsuccessful, we each got into our car, with Teresa driving one way and me the other. I drove out of our subdivision onto a busy road, all the time expecting to see Jolie lying on the side of the road, after being struck by a car or truck. We both drove for a good while, checking all around and outside our neighborhood and finally, on the way back I said to myself, “Teresa was right; Jolie is too much dog for me. She’s gone and we’ll probably never see her again.” Then I remembered, “Hey, she is chipped; if someone finds her and takes her to the pound or a Vet, we’ll get her back.” I was downhearted, thinking the worse as I turned the corner into our subdivision and headed for our driveway; but as I turned in, there was Jolie, sitting outside the fence on the driveway and greeting me with a tail wag and a friendly bark. “Hello,” she was saying; “Where have you been, dad?”

Even as she grew older, the Lab in Jolie kept her playful and adventurous. I was finally prompted to fence the rest of the yard when Jolie again escaped and headed for the next subdivision, with me following close behind. On the way, still in our subdivision, there was an Akita lying on a driveway; I knew that he was kept in by an invisible fence and thus, he could come out after us. My heart sank when Jolie decided if he couldn’t come out, she would go in; I held my breath as she circled “Akita,” tail wagging furiously, making a bold offer that said, “Come on and play with me, big boyu.” The big dog, named the same as his breed, “Akita” did not move at all. Thankfully, after a few minutes, Jolie got bored and decided to move on, heading toward the next subdivision and more adventure. She would sniff around a little, all the time watching me out of the corner of her eye and when I got close enough to grab her, she’d just slip away from me and run on ahead. After a while on of the neighbors stuck his head out of his front door to see what was going on; I was making more noise than I realized, I guess, yelling at Jolie, trying to get her to come to me, but I was so glad the man had opened his door. It caught Jolie’s attention and she stopped for a long stare-down and I was able to slip quietly behind and grab her. Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of following her, I left her leash at home; I had to pick her up and carry her about 2-blocks, leaving me out of breath and worn out when I reached home. I admit, I fussed at her almost all the way home and she knew I was angry.
It has been two years now since Jolie’s passing and we miss her more every day; I’d give anything to have to chase her again. Yes, we loved Missy and we certainly love Sassy, but Jolie was special. She added a kick to our lives; she made us happy with her wit and playfulness. I used to call her “Devil-dog, but she was much more an angel than a devil. She was so smart and so pretty and without her, we are so sad. As I look back, yes, it was true; her paws were big, but so was her heart.

All of you out there please give this serious thought; there are so many animals needing our love and a forever home. Buying a puppy for a birthday or Christmas present is not a bad thing, but saving an animal that needs a forever home, is a great thing. There is unconditional love waiting for you; yes, more than you can ever imagine. A dog knows when someone saves it and it will show you by loving you ever more. Save one today!

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