Jackie Mudpie: The one who never left


We rarely called her by her full name, Jackie Mudpie. She mostly went by Jackie, and sometimes Jack-Jack or Sweet Doggie, or various sounds like Doggie-woogie-beegie-baggie-boo.

Most people have a special voice they use for their dogs, and so did I. It’s a high tone that’s a little squeaky, a little weird, and full of affection — and it comes from a different place that’s reserved for objects of pure delight.

She had a long life for a dog and was a baby until the end.

She was a fast learner and messed the house only twice — on the first day we brought her home, and twelve years later, on her last day of life.

The day we found her is a vivid memory for all of us.

A few weeks prior, we had lost a dog in a tragic accident. The guy who mowed my parents yard had not shut the fence gate on departure, and the love of my daughter’s life, Honey, had raced onto Innes Street and been hit by a car.

jackie7In the days that followed, I took Emma to look at puppies and none were suitable. I begged her to settle on a puppy to ease the pain. There was no replacing Honey.

Emma was still in love with Honey and still too struck with grief to consider another dog, but my mom, like me, had other ideas. My mom was a person who knew what was best for her grandchildren, whether they agreed or not. And she was persistent — not one to lose an argument, even with a grieving eleven year old.

She persuaded Emma to keep looking, whether she wanted to or not, and insisted, one Saturday morning, that we take a ride to Albemarle. She had the address of a woman with a yard full of dogs that needed to be rescued.

As it turns out, the dogs did need rescuing, but the woman who lived in the house needed rescuing more. She was a stressed out mess with 50 dogs on her hands. People dropped them in her yard. She fed them bread from the day-old bread store. She begged us tell people about her, to send help, to get Mom to write an article about her and her plight.

Mom had not gone with us. Neither had Alicia. That task was assigned to my father, a man of action. Dad was the primary finder of things that matter: puppies, cars, shoes, houses, safe spaces. He drove, leading us on this adventure to Albemarle. I sat in the front. Emma sat in the back with Sarah, her older sister, her pillar and protector of all things emotional.

jackie2The place was depressing, with too many unhappy dogs, all begging for their freedom inside a maze of fencing. Emma proved that she was right. There was not a single dog on the property that could replace Honey. We turned to go home.

As we walked down the hill, toward the car, there was a puppy on the loose that seemed to appear from nowhere and somehow sprang into Sarah’s arms. Emma immediately joined the 3-way embrace.

Sarah shouted “Jackie.” Emma shouted “Mudpie.” The naming was joyous, spontaneous, and thereby complete: Jackie Mudpie.

Having survived a diet of bread, Jackie was sweet, frail, and grateful. She was anemic and walked with a limp. We thought she was a lab and hoped she would live.

I remember Dr. Almond’s smile as she advised us on bathing and brushing and other matters of care. She told us Jackie was a feist and gave us vitamins.

Alicia is quite skilled at nurturing young beings, and our new family member soon thrived.

Jackie never gave us any problems. Emma taught her to sit, shake, turn around, lie, come, and speak.

jackie3She would get on the couch and be petted by three or four people at once. In our house, Jackie was like the Beatles. She was the object of our over-the-top group affection.

We took a thousand pictures of her, trying, unsuccessfully, to capture her true essence. She was so black that she barely showed up in photographs.

We often walked her three blocks to my parents house to visit their dogs. My parents also had a cat. The first time Jackie tried to play with the cat, she got scratched on the nose. After that, when she saw the cat, she took cover behind a human being and cried.

Aaron was off at college. My father passed away. Sarah moved to Alaska. Emma went to college. Mom’s health declined and her life came to an end.

And then it was us, the empty nesters — Alicia, me, and the one who never left, Jackie.

She slept on our bed. Some nights, when we were up late, working, she would go upstairs around midnight and keep the bed warm and wait for us.

She took turns being with Alicia, while she worked in her office, and with me, in my office — until a few months ago. I don’t know why, but toward the end of her life, she stopped coming to my office (which has a separate entrance outdoors).

jackie6She had amazing bladder control. When we took day trips to visit Emma at college in Asheville, we made frequent stops for her to pee and no matter how much we coaxed, she would never go. Jackie was a bit of a private lady, and a creature of habit. She held it until she got home to visit her familiar bathroom spots in the ivy bed.

When we got chickens, she behaved herself, although sometimes she would chase them briefly, for a moment of fun and exercise. Sometimes, when they free-ranged, she would be naughty and enter the hen pen and eat their food — but she was all-in-all gentle and friendly with any and all living creatures.

She enjoyed walks, especially in the Catawba Nature Preserve, where she often went for a swim or momentarily sprinted after a vanishing deer.

Up until her arthritic end, she devoted her entire being to pleasing Alicia and me. She could still take a two mile walk, and, although it took maximum effort and sometimes a little help, jump up onto the bed.

But I knew the time was coming. I had given considerable thought to the location of her final resting place and had chosen a spot in the yard for that.

jackie5Alas, I didn’t expect it to happen the way it did. Somehow we talk about the future like we know it, and of course we never do and never could. It happened on a cold day of frozen ground, with earth too solid for me and my shovel and Jackie’s entry.

Her death came on Super Bowl Sunday. Very early, when it was still dark out, she wanted to go out. That was unusual. Once out, she did not want to come back in. Also unusual. We got her in and soothed her with our words as she lay on the couch, thinking she had eaten something bad. The last time that happened, the vet said not to give her any food for a day, and she got better.

I was hoping that was it — that she would throw up again and start to feel better. But I feared it was the end and said to her what I needed to say. I told her I loved her and thanked her for being such a great dog.

She didn’t get better. She started to cry. We called our vet, and then the emergency vet — who said to bring her in.

We loved her deeply, and she knew that.

Mostly she loved us. No one teaches the art of love and loss like a pet dog. 

On Sunday, we situated a blanket underneath her and carried her to the car, and, at the moment we gently laid her into the backseat, the one who never left, left.jackie4

they reflect who we are

I just got back from a walk with my dog. It’s warm out, and I know she’s thirsty, and probably hungry.

So am I.

But she’s too hot and tired to go to her dish for water.

Same here.

We both came and sat down. I sat on the couch. She likes to sit next to me on the couch and snuggle — but she didn’t do that.

She’s so hot and tired that she went straight for the floor, sprawled on the hardwood at my feet, taking those deep breaths. A lesson in breathing from the diaphragm.

Dogs are such a reflection of our own lives. First they’re babies. Then they are grown babies. Then they are old babies.

Is a mundane blog about breakfast really just a mundane blog about breakfast? Yeah.

Okay — about six months ago, we got chickens. Six very cute hens that lay eggs for our breakfast and run around the yard in the afternoons.

I had a fear (what else is new?) that the dog and chickens can’t be friends. I was wrong. They play and have lots of fun together.

It’s not like I live on a farm. These are urban chickens.

And I’ve had fresh eggs for breakfast every day.

I won’t say that I’ve mastered omelette making, but I’m getting there. Nor have I mastered the frying of an egg over light with Pam spray without it ever breaking — but I do okay.

One of big treats growing up was when Mom made scrambled eggs with salami. So yesterday I got some salami and revisited my past, scambling eggs with salami. It wasn’t quite as good as Mom’s. I think she might have used real butter in addition to the grease that’s already in the salami (there was no talk of cholesterol back then). But it was a pretty  great breakfast.

This morning, we had no bread in the house. That’s a good thing. Bread is my weakness. Every time I take action to lose weight, no matter what system I use, it always amounts to the same thing: I love bread and eat way too much of it.

I reacted to our bread shortage by going on a bit of a search through the kitchen cabinets. I noticed, in our cupboard, two large containers of oats — leftover from the days before we got the chickens. All these months with daily eggs has given me a one-dimensional view of breakfast.

Can oats sit around for six months and still be okay?


This reminded me of my father. He loved oatmeal and I have a childhood memory of him teaching me how to fix it.

Oats are filling — perfect if you’re hungry. Just a smattering in the bottom of the pot renders a huge bowl once cooked.

So today was a departure. Maybe we’ll have eggs and salami for dinner…

the big experiment

We’ve had our chickens for six months, and we’ve had our dog, Jackie Mudpie, for seven years.

Each afternoon, we let the chickens free range for about 90 minutes, before dark — and we keep Jackie inside.

So today, in order to clean and move the hen house, we created an experiment.

We braced ourselves for a possible dog-chicken attack, and let them be together.

The results are in and they are conclusive.

Not only should the farmer and the cowman be friends; so should the chickens and the doggie.

How many blogs can a guy write about his dog?

How many blogs can a guy write about his dog?

One more, I guess.

This one, Jackie Mudpie, has been sedentary these winter months.

I’ve taken her for walks a few times, but many cold or wet days I’ve walked in the mall — while she has spent her time in various stages of meditation on the living room couch.

And now, on a warm Sunday afternoon in late February, as I get outside for a brisk walk, I’m one year older.

In dog years, she’s aged much more.  She’s seven years older — a bit flabby, out of shape, and dragging.

That’s okay.

I plan to give her lots of exercise these next few weeks.  By June, she’ll be chasing birds again.

And in July, I won’t have the heart to expose her to the heat — so she’ll be back on the couch.

A dog’s life.

Could each day be a work of art?

I had a pretty good day today.

First, after coming downstairs, I put a kettle on the stove for coffee.  While I waited for the water to boil, I went outside and gathered wood.  As I sit here, at 9pm, that fire is still doing quite nicely.

While the fire began and the coffee brewed, I made a large omelet with two kinds of cheese, mushrooms, and onions.  Alicia and I shared this.

After that, I think I surfed the web for a few minutes and checked email.

Then I read a short story called “YoungThing,” by Nuruddin Farah, in a recent copy of the New Yorker.  It was a sad story with considerable suspense about a young boy in Somalia who had joined a terrorist cell.

Then my daughter called in a panic.  She had to be at work and her car had broken down.  I dashed off to get her and as I drove down Innes Street my cell phone rang.   She had solved the problem.  She had run out of gas and was now back on the road.  It’s impossible for me to judge this behavior — since I myself ran out of gas just two days ago — on Thursday evening, a cold night — and Alicia had to venture out in the night with a gas can.

In the early afternoon, I went for a walk with Alicia and Jackie Mudpie (our dog).  We walked in the woods where it was peaceful and scenic.

Upon return, I got a phone call from Tapi — our family’s exchange student in 1973, and a college roommate after that — and one of my oldest, dearest friends.  We talked for a while about all kinds of stuff, including life, children, health, parents, yoga…

Then, I visited my Mom.  While there, sitting in her room, I read a tender piece by Joyce Carol Oates in that same copy of The New Yorker.  In “A Widow’s Story” Ms. Oates recalls the week in February of ’08 in which she lost her husband.  Her details are true and vivid and it breaks your heart.  Then I fed Mom part of her dinner.  Chicken.  Potatoes.  Gingerbread.  She ate, and drank, and never opened her eyes.

After that, I went to the mall and finished my daily 10k steps.  Ran into Keith and Carol Earnhardt, some good folks I haven’t seen in awhile, and enjoyed catching up. We talked about Christmas and business and children and pizza and beer.

Came home and had a bowl of soup and an avocado.  For dessert, I had a piece of toast with peanut butter and honey.

Currently, I’m sitting on the couch by the fire.  The dog is sleeping beside me, pressed against my hip.  In the kitchen, I have a cup of tea brewing.

There was some talk in the local news recently about whether a pair of underwear can be a work of art.

What about a day?  Can that be a work of art?

What if we lived each day as if it were a new work of art, and each moment of that day as if it were part of the work?  Whether we think of it that way or not (and I certainly have not done that, most of my days), that’s really what it is.

NOT walking the dog

According to a study, reported here:

•dog owners who walk their dogs are more healthy than dog owners who don’t walk their dogs
• dog owners who walk their dogs are more healthy than people who don’t own dogs

Here’s my question: What about dog owners who do walk, but without their dogs.jackie

In the fall, spring, and summer, I walk my dog quite often.

But in this heat, with all that fur, she just can’t handle it.

Sometimes I walk a mile or so and and see that she’s hot and exhausted. So I bring her home and finish my walk without her.

Sometimes I walk very late at night, when things have cooled, and I take her with me.

Sometimes I leave her at home altogether.

But I still walk.

How would dog owners who walk — but without their dogs — compare to dog owners who walk with their dogs.

In other words, do the benefits come strictly from the exercise, or is there something else, in addition, about spending time with a dog that makes people weigh less, have lower cholesterol, and have lower blood pressure.

Is there a study for that?

Ball machine for dog

According to the explanation on YouTube, the guy who made this machine spent two years on the job, on and off.

It was worth it — if not for the dog, then for the resulting video.

Snowday = Lazyday

This dog is such a homebody.  She likes to go out.  Loves a walk.

But let there be a few inches of snow on the ground and she’s a hibernator!

In the past 24 hours, she’s been to the bushes once — very briefly.  The rest of the time, she’s been like this.

Maybe she learned it from me.

Jackie Mudpie
Jackie Mudpie