" You have to come and see this dog, she looks just like Rachel."
It was my wife's third call from the pet store in the past half hour with the same message.
The truth was, I didn't feel that Rachel could be replaced. She had been part of our lives until September 11, 2001 (yes, that September 11) when she jumped out of the back of my truck, landed awkwardly and broke her leg. The vet said that, at 14, she was too old and feeble to rehabilitate. We had to have her put down.
Reluctantly, I drove to the mall and found my wife, son and Rachel's doppelganger.
In a room populated with smaller, cuter puppies stood this gangly hound with feet that were three sizes too big for her body. Her body was three sizes too big for her crate, which was euphemistically labelled "Pointer Cross." The original asking price had dropped to one hundred dollars from three hundred.
And so, from a pet store in the middle of the city, Jessie came to us and our farm.
To say that Jessie embraced life on the farm would be an understatement. She had the run of the place, which was Big Rock Candy Mountain for that dog, who brought a manic, unhinged joy to each and every day that she spent there. Her glass wasn't merely half-full; it overflowed.
Whatever you were doing was just what she felt like doing. She was hard wired to the throttle of any farm vehicle, no matter where and how long the job. Her personal favorite time of year was during sweet corn harvest, when she had a 25 acre buffet to graze selectively.
She wasn't beyond a little devilment: ambushing my son's soccer ball in a high speed run by assault, or snatching the odd carrot from the counter at the market. We marveled at her easy athleticism and stamina.
Jessie's presence at our market was a calculated risk. Some people, especially children, are afraid of dogs, fearing that they will be bitten
Jessie put in long days at the market working assiduously to tear down this belief using her own method of dogged diplomacy.
Rather than going right up to the stricken child, she would find her tennis ball, which she would then drop in such a way so that it would roll up to their feet. Jessie would position herself in front of them, about eight feet back, sitting in a non threatening position. From there, she would see if this particular kid could put two and two together.
Most did. Parents would constantly be amazed that, in short order, their formerly terror stricken child would be joyously throwing a dog-drool soaked tennis ball and having it returned to them.
We have a large graduating class of young adults who now tell us: "I no longer am afraid of dogs because of Jessie."
Jessie had slowed down over the past couple of years, her eyesight and hearing both diminished. I turned her out early one morning as usual this past September. She came back dazed and badly torn up, having been blindsided by a coyote in the dark. Despite a round of antibiotics and treatment, she never really recovered her health and her former zest for life.
In the end, it was her legs that finally failed. Those marvelous limbs that had propelled her over thousands of miles were unable to lift her frail body any longer.
We spend a lot of time and energy in our lives looking for "the one." Sometimes, with luck, we get it right.
It is my experience that dogs are, invariably, "the one." Dogs don't fall out of love over time. Rather, they define love, work hard at it and embrace us, imperfect as we are, to make the absolute best of our short time together.
Although my life is poorer for having lost Jessie, it is infinitely richer for having known her.