Friday, June 26, 2009

A Dog Named Jessie by Jaye Lewis

They say love can cover a multitude of sins. I have seen it; yet never have I seen it more beautifully illustrated than in the life of a dog named Jessie.

Jessie came into our lives at the age of six or seven months. By that time he had already experienced the hard knocks of life. Found abandoned on the side of the road, along with his six siblings, Jessie and his siblings were rescued by a kind stranger who picked them up and brought them to the shelter, where we adopted him. With a promise that Jessie wouldn’t grow much bigger than his already forty pounds, we took him home.

Immediately, it was obvious, that Jessie had issues. Instead of the majestic cattle dog that we had been assured he was, he was, well, rather goofy. And he was afraid. Of the car. Of the door. Of the stairs. Of peanut butter. And even scraps of paper. And Jessie grew. Oh how he grew, topping out at eighty pounds.

Jessie was a wounded, terrified part of our family just a few months, when we became the foster parents of a sweet, young beagle-dachshund mix. Jessie’s adoration for my little dachshund, Happy Dog, was evident from the first day, so we believed he was socialized. Loving Happy Dog was one thing. Accepting this new dog was another.

The very first night there was a food fight between Jessie and this foster child. I started hollering, and my husband managed to get in between the two dogs, grabbing Jessie by his collar. Jessie screamed all the way down the hall and into the bedroom. I, quickly put the foster into her crate, grabbed Happy in my arms, and hurried down the hall. The crashing I heard in the bedroom, scared me to death. But nothing prepared me for the scene I witnessed as I opened the bedroom door.

There was my husband, on top of a terrified, snarling Jessie, holding back his head. Blood dripped from my husband’s arm and onto the rug. Lots of blood. From all we could figure out, when my husband grabbed his collar, Jessie thought he was going to be killed. Whatever his past, nothing had prepared us for a dog who was this kind of loose cannon. This was a dog whom every animal expert insisted ”should be put down.”

To tell you the truth, as I was sitting beside my husband in the emergency room, I just didn’t know what to do with Jessie. I was so angry at that dog. My husband had carried him up and down the stairs, coaxed him into a love affair with peanut butter, and sweet talked him out of his corner and down the hall. He slept by his side. Yet one step towards control, and Jessie mangled the hand that fed him.

I was angry with Jessie. I couldn’t imagine what was going through his head. Would he attack others? Would he attack Happy Dog? Would he even attack me? I didn’t trust him, and I wanted him gone! But my husband insisted, No.

No??!! No.

So Jessie stayed. Against all the expert advice, my husband blamed himself. I was not having any of it. Past, or no past, Jessie had crossed the line. You do not bite the hand, and Jessie had pretty much chewed up most of my husband’s arm.

For ten days, Jessie was quarantined. Then my husband began immediate training, and he bought a training collar. I had to learn to use it, and I had to learn the commands. Since Jessie’s trial by fire began with a dog fight and shouting, my husband began to train Jessie with soft commands and hand signals.

Day after day. Week after week, my husband faithfully trained a dog that others would have given up on. As his arm healed over the next months, something rare and beautiful began to take place. Jessie, under my husband’s gentle persuasion, began to understand and obey. And Jessie adored him. I could see, that no matter the tempest that ruled Jessie’s former life, affirmation and love had calmed the storm.

The storm within me also began to be healed. I learned to forgive. I didn’t know that was happening until one night as I was writing, I felt someone watching me. I turned around, and there was Jessie, standing in the hall looking at me. I saw a pleading expression in his eyes, and I seemed to hear his voice. “Mommy, please love me.”

At that moment, my heart broke for the little pup who had been abandoned in a cardboard box, by the side of the road. Then, love burst into my heart, as he came over to me, hesitantly, expecting rejection.

“Yes, Jessie, I love you.” I whispered into his neck, as my arms slipped around him. Jessie had found another home, in me.

Nine years later, things have changed. I’m older, and so is Jessie. Our relationship has grown, as my health has declined. In the house, I’m very much the one in charge, and Jessie, still timid in many ways, knows who is boss. When we go outside, however, Jessie takes over, like the noble watch dog he was born to be. His job, as he sees it, is to protect and defend me and our passel of little dogs. His vigilance is unmistakable. He sniffs the air, and he is exactly what God and fine breeding had made him to be. He is the one who keeps me safe.

Jessie has taught me many things about life, love, and forgiveness. He never was a bad dog. He was just afraid. I’m so glad that my husband insisted that Jessie’s life was worth saving. I’ve seen the animal shows, where a dog like Jessie is tested for sociability by jabbing at the poor creature with a fake hand, attached to a long stick. Then, when the dog fails he’s put down, without giving him a chance.

I don’t know how much longer God will allow us to have Jessie, before He calls him home. All I know is, that I love him. He is healthy, happy, and just a little bit goofy. He has taught me that all things are not necessarily absolute. Some things just have to be tested and felt in the heart. I also know one very important thing: that if you allow a lesson to really change you, it often will.

With love,
Jaye Lewis

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