Guardianship of a Jack Russell Terrier puppy is, to put it mildly, an adventure. I taught Pat a few tricks, the first and handiest of which was when I took him out walking. I trained him so that whenever I said stop he stopped right where he was and waited for me to tell him to go again – this one took some work, but it was totally worth it. At this point I would love nothing more than to rattle off a laundry list of Pat’s other tricks, but to be honest that was about it. Yeah, he’d sit, if he felt like it, but only for a nanosecond. It’s a Jack Russell thing.
One trick that Pat learned very quickly which I was never responsible for teaching him was how to escape from just about any confined space. He earned the nickname Houdini in his fist few weeks of living with me, although in all honesty he was effectively living with half of our street. I’d be on my way home from work at get a text message from the nice old lady who lived across the street saying I Have Pat. He’s here playing with my dogs. Come on over and grab him when you’re ready. No Hurry. They’re having a blast. Pat had, once again, managed to dig under the fence and bolt over the (thankfully not very busy) road to play with the puppy across the street. When Pat became fixated on something, it was useless trying to stop him. In that sense he reminded me of me.
It wasn’t until he was about 3 years old that Pat started to slow down even the tiniest little bit, and even after the age of ten he was still fundamentally puppy-like. He was a hyperactive handful, but his huge personality make him more than worth any extra attention he required. I know every pet owner says this about their beloved companion animal, but… seriously… Pat was adorable. Strangers fell in love with him constantly coz he was just so damn cute. He was fun, and he was as funny as fuck. He made me laugh out loud every day with his big dog personality trapped in a little dog body.
Like any living creature once you get to know them, Pat had his quirks. There was his morbid fear of thunderstorms, the joy that emanated from his entire being whenever he ran, the fact that I hardly ever let him off the lead in public because he would completely ignore me when I called him if there happened to be another dog within a 1km radius, his refusal to let go of a tennis ball once it was in his mouth that made playing fetch with him impossible, and when I lived with Pat in Perth there was his truly odd habit of licking the back fence.
I tried to stop him from indulging in this odd behaviour but his obsessive-compulsive streak won out and I eventually gave up. (You try stopping a JRT from doing something it has decided it wants to do!) What made this ritual even more odd is that not once did the fence licking take place when it was just Pat and I at home. This was a spectacle that Pat decided to save for whenever I had guests. Upon arrival Pat would greet them enthusiastically and then immediately run to the back of the yard and start licking the fence. On more than one occasion I had a guest motion towards Pat as he licked the fence for ten minutes at a time and ask “Um… is he OK?” To which I would reply “Yeah, it’s just a thing he does when people come over… I have no idea why”. Ask anyone who has ever owned a Jack Russell Terrier; they’re a handful, but they’re so worth it.
One of the many things I loved about having Pat in my life was that he was completely steadfast. Jobs and relationships and all that stuff came and went, but Pat was the one consistent thing in my life through all of it. I lived alone for the majority of the time I had Pat, but my kinship with him assured that I never for one second felt even the slightest bit lonely. Quite honestly, if anything I would sometimes find myself shunning human company so that I could be alone with Pat. There are certain circumstances, I think, where dogs are much better company than humans. I used to rely on the fact that I could come home after a shitty day at work and Pat would have no idea about any of it. He was just deliriously pleased to see me. In those moments when I needed to be reminded to live in the moment and forget about all the external bullshit life was hurling at me, Pat was my teacher.
Pet ownership is wonderful, especially when it’s your very own pet as opposed to claiming partial ownership of a family pet. I think that having Pat in my life made me a more compassionate person, and Pat returned the love I gave him tenfold. Without hesitation I would recommend anyone to get a companion animal but before you do you need to deal with the harsh reality that you will probably outlive your pet, and that when you have to eventually say goodbye it will absolutely level you.
The first sign that Pat was on the way out was when we were out walking one day. We got to a street corner and I said “STOP” in a firm loud voice, just like I always had, but this time Pat just kept on walking, right towards the cars tearing down the road in front of us. I pulled on his lead to pull him up, not really thinking much of it, and kept walking. At the next major intersection, it happened again. He didn’t stop when I said stop, and this time I got annoyed with him and pulled on his lead a little more harshly. The third time it happened I said his name – still no reaction – so I yelled his name. That finally did the trick. Pat stopped in his tracks and looked up at me as if to say “Hi, how can I help you?” That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that Pat was going deaf.
I only had Pat in my life for another 18 months or so after that, and over that time the signs of ageing became gradually more obvious. His eyes became glassy from cataracts, he slept a lot more than usual, and there was this lump that showed up in one of his hind legs that just refused to go away. I’d had various lumps and bumps cut off him – mainly on his stomach – over the course of Pat’s life, but this one was much more sinister looking and a hell of a lot more persistent. And by persistent, I mean cancerous.
The lump grew to the size of a golf ball and affected his mobility to the point where he could no longer get up on the bed unaided. His last ever attempt was a valiant effort, and I know I probably shouldn’t have fallen apart laughing as Pat became just barely airborne, came up short, and somersaulted across the floor, but I dare you to witness the same thing and not piss yourself too.
In the middle of all of this I met my partner, Paul. He was living in Balwyn, about twenty five minutes drive from Oakleigh where I was living in a share house with Pat. The owners of that share house, Sean and Anthony, had two Jack Russell terriers called Hamish and Jasmine and in addition to myself and Pat they housed a constantly rotating roster of other tenants to fill up all of their available bedrooms. It was a charmingly chaotic house full of love, laughter and dogs, and I appreciated living there with Pat.
During the first couple of months of mine and Paul’s relationship I spent most nights over at his place, leaving Pat to be cared for by my housemates, in particular Sean, who took Pat for walks whenever I wasn’t there, and Anthony (who I nicknamed Shirl because of his big Shirley Bassey eyes) who was completely besotted by Pat, a feeling that I could tell was completely mutual. Shirl also completely got that I had just met my person, so he actively encouraged me to go and spend time with Paul while he and my other housemates stayed home and looked after the ailing Pat. It was a strange time. On one hand I was experiencing the initial rush of an amazing new relationship and on the other hand I felt tremendous guilt for not being at home with my poor old dog. On the nights I did stay in Oakleigh I would pick Pat up, put him on my bed, and keep him close so he could sniff me – one of his last working senses.
There were several other signs that Pat’s time was almost up. He’d lost interest in his two favourite things: going for walks and playing with other dogs. He also isolated himself in the front room of the house more and more where he slept all day and night, highly unusual behaviour for such an exceptionally social and gregarious animal. By now Pat’s hearing was so shot that he couldn’t even hear the commotion of the other dogs being fed in the next room, so on the nights I was having sleepovers in Balwyn Shirl would take Pat’s food into the front room and put it down right in front of him. Shirl was lovely like that.
Pat had just turned 14, and for the first time in his life he no longer had that puppy-like energy, yet he remained as affectionate as ever. He was clearly in a lot of pain with that lump in his leg, to the point where he would let out these little whining sounds whenever he tried to move. On what turned out to be the last Saturday night of Pat’s life I sat quietly with him at 2am while he shifted around trying – and failing – to get comfortable. Paulie was staying over in Oakleigh that night, and he was asleep in my bed. All the other housemates were sleeping too, so it was just Pat and I, in the dark, hanging out. I patted him gently, consciously treasuring what I knew would be some of our last one-on-one time together. Pat seemed a lot more mellow than I was about the whole thing, but I could tell the whole ordeal was wearing him out. As I stroked his fur I got in close and whispered to him.
“You just let me know when it’s time, OK Pat?”.
He looked at me in a way I interpreted as, “Whenever you’re ready, I’m ready.”
Shirl called my mobile on the following Monday afternoon in and referred to me by the nickname he had assigned to me the day I moved into his house.
“Poppet…?” I could tell by the tone of his voice that the news wasn’t great.
“Poppet, I think you might wanna come home and take Pat to the vet after you finish work. I think it’s time…”
I took Shirl’s advice and booked an appointment with the vet for 6.30pm that night. I had a lump in my throat for the entire train ride to Oakleigh after work and to my temporary delight Pat was waiting at the front door to greet me, his little white and brown tail wagging as per usual. I wondered for a second if he had somehow made a miracle recovery but then when I saw how unsteady he was on his paws I scooped him up and put him in Shirl’s car for that vet visit I had been dreading so much.
Next week, the 3rd and final part of the Pat The Dog story, in which I discover that Coldplay songs and Marley And Me can be pretty damn useful in the right circumstances. Thanks for reading all the way down to here. Feel free to leave a comment below or on Twitter @gavindmiller