It has almost been a year since my wife and I adopted Jack. Jack is a dog. Jack the dog is a Gordon setter, an active breed traditionally trained to hunt gamebirds. These days, the only thing he gets to hunt are tennis balls out of the brush in our backyard. But he seems to love it and we love watching him work.
Jack came to us with his name. When we found him at the local animal shelter he was already six years old, so we decided to keep the name and not disrupt his life even more by changing it. I will never forget the way he leaped into the back of our Forester on the day I took him home. He was eager for a new life even if he didn’t know exactly what it would entail.
Rachel and I had no idea what we were getting into, really. We had both had dogs growing up, had studied up on some different breeds that we thought would be a good fit for our home, and had watched countless episodes of Cesar Milan “the Dog Whisperer” on tv. But caring for a living being that can’t talk, needs to develop trust, and was abandoned by other people is different and a lot more real.
We had been to the shelter a few times looking for a dog that we could fall in love with. The day we saw Jack on the shelter website we got excited. He was very handsome and the shelter staff spoke highly of his demeanor. From our experience, we knew we had to act fast as he was likely to be adopted quickly–like within hours. Rachel got off work early and we rushed to the shelter to see and meet him.
The whole process of visiting dogs in a shelter and taking one home is insane. It happens so fast. Our paperwork was already on file that day so we were immediately able to go back to where the dogs are kept. We passed by nearly all the kennels with other dogs on our way to find Jack. Some dogs were frightened and curled up at the back of their kennels, remaining quiet, hoping to be left alone. Others were eager to meet a potential new friend and poked their noses and paws through the steel fence gate trying to make contact. A few were howling like mad, disrupting all thought and tranquility, reminding me that this was more like an asylum than an orphanage.
Finally, we found Jack laying quietly in his kennel. Despite the obvious mayhem around him, he had a zen-like meditative appearance. He came up to us when we put a treat out for him, but he did so calmly and on his terms. We said “Hi.” He laid down. Rachel and I looked at each other and I’m sure we both were thinking “How is he so well-behaved amidst this chaos?”
From there, we were allowed to take Jack out for a brief visit in a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall concrete room for some one-on-one time. We threw a ball and he fetched it. His tail wagged. He would come when I called. It was magical.
After that, I asked if we could take him outside, on a leash, for a walk. There was a short path around the main shelter building for just such a thing. The staff member agreed and we leashed him up and out we went. He was mostly well-behaved on this 5 minute walk, eagerly pulling me to pick up the pace. He seemed perfect in our eyes.
So about 25 minutes after first meeting him we were signing the papers to permanently make him a family member. He really had no idea who we were and we had just this brief encounter and the word of the shelter staff to base our decision on. Again, it is insane. But you know what, we’ve made it work.
Over the last year, he taught us what we needed to know. And what he couldn’t teach us, we’ve tried our best to learn. He still has that same stoic personality. He is not a dog that craves affection. What we once saw as zen and monk-like, we now joke is more akin to an ex-con trying his best to keep his criminal past behind him. Overall, he has been better than we could have ever hoped and his quirks have becoming endearing to us rather than insufferable qualities.
Initially, I was not in love with the name Jack. It was so common, human, and short. But boy was I wrong. Jack is a great name for a dog. Not only does it work by itself, but coupled with my imagination and tendency to use nicknames, it has become the perfect springboard for my creative stylings. In an effort to catalog my lunacy, I present a list of context-aware nicknames I have used for Jack the dog.
Place or Context: Nickname
- Automobile: Carjacker
- Plane: Hijack
- Boat: Captain Jack (Sparrow)
- Whale Watching Tour: HumpJack (whale)
- Train: AmJack
- Casino: Blackjack
- Alt Comedy Club: Jack Black
- Watching a Kung-fu Movie: Jackie Chan
- Quentin Tarantino’s House: Jackie Brown
- Watching an 80’s movie: Jack to the Future
- Eating tacos: Pepper Jack
- Listening to a podcast: Headphone Jack
Also published on Medium.