The strange tale of Jack Ethier’s strange tail began on the morning before Thanksgiving.
“Jack doesn’t look right,” I said, glancing between my wife Deb and daughter Brooke. We were in the kitchen preparing for the day ahead, while Jack, our 7-year-old Jack Russell Terrier/Corgi mix, was at the threshold to the family room, looking forlorn. “His tail isn’t wagging like usual; it’s limp. He looks limp. I encouraged him to eat one of his favorite chewy bones, and he refused. He wouldn’t even move.”
We looked at each other and then back at Jack. His normally bright, dark-roast-coffee-colored eyes were beady and glazed and sunken deep in his tiny head.
If a dog could have droopy shoulders, Jack did. I felt myself frown with concern; I looked at the others, and they were just as worried.
Jack is, among many things, immensely cute and amicable. He bears the typical Jack Russell features: A sleek, white/black body of a hunter and black head and white-dabbed snout. Combine that with the Corgi accents - stubby white legs and erect black ears, and he resembles “Dobby,” the free house elf of Harry Potter fame. More important, however, Jack is Deb’s “Little Boy,” her “Little Boos.”
While it pained me to see Jack ailing, Deb and I were about to leave for upstate Vermont to retrieve our “human son” Adam from college and were indisposed for two days.
“Do you think you can take him to the vet?” Deb asked Brooke.
Brooke, who usually shares space with our three cats, curled her upper lip in dismay before consenting.
“But I have to finish a (college) paper tonight, so Jack better not have anything seriously wrong with him.”
The four-and-a-half hour drive from coastal, CT, to Burlington, VT allowed me time to reflect upon Jack’s lot in life. We’d met him at a local adoption/rescue program three years ago and learned that he’d travelled from town to town, state to state, via the “Orphan Railway” in search of a good home. That day, however, we’d decided Jack’s lonesome journey would come to a screeching halt. In fact, after we signed the adoption papers, Jack emerged from the building pumping one stubby white and black paw high into the air; then he barked cheerfully, “I got me a family!” And so he had, and he has slept with his adoptive parents ever since.
Meanwhile, amidst my reverie, we had crossed into Vermont. That’s when Deb’s cell phone rang. She answered, spoke briefly with Brooke, and then hung up.
She turned to me, and her voice was taut with emotion. “Brooke took Jack to our friends at the Saybrook Veterinary Hospital. Doctor M. took X-rays and blood tests that revealed Jack swallowed a foreign object, which is now lodged deep in his stomach. They have to get it out, either through an endoscopy or surgery. Brooke is on her way with Jack to the hospital.”
What had Jack eaten? What was in the backyard - where he and his sister Abby roam freely - that a 2-foot long, 5-inches tall, 20-pound dog eat? Hockey stick? No, curved and 6 feet long. Basketball? No, round and big. Hockey net? Six by 4 feet? Fifty times his size. Something he dug up from the center of the earth? Probably.
I pondered this question and many others, as we drove and awaited Brooke’s follow-up call.
Finally, a long while later, Deb’s cell ran. She answered.
“Brooke, what’s the matter!” Deb cried.
I felt the blood drain from my body, and it took all of my will to keep my car on the highway. I held my breath and waited for Deb’s report.
“Oh, my poor Boos!” Deb exclaimed, her voice choked with dismay. “Jack needs surgery! They couldn’t reach the obstruction with an endoscopy. He’s going to be hospitalized for three days.”
I could only blink back the tears and keep my car on the highway. What can you say when a frightened, defenseless creature literally has to be gutted?
Well, we made it to and from Burlington without incident. Thanksgiving came and went in a blur, and the following day, we visited Jack. We spent a few heartbreaking minutes with him, but the medication he was taking had made him delirious, and the poor creature had no idea who we were. No worries, said the attending physician; Jack was recuperating nicely, would be able to return home in a few days. The foreign object? A mixture of plastic and clay. Oy!
We concluded the visit by swapping Jack for a hefty invoice. I sneaked a peek at the bill and almost lost my lunch. But that’s what we pet owners do; we treat our pooches as if they are our biological children.
“I don’t care how much it costs,” Deb, said, fighting back tears. “I’m just glad my little boy is okay.”
But Jack wasn’t quite okay, as we learned after his return the next day. Still weak and groggy from the surgery and a small variety of pain-killers and anti-nausea meds, he showed no interest in food or water for three days.
“He needs to eat, or he’ll never get better,’ Deb murmured early the following week.
So, we offered other soft, mild foods, including scrambled eggs and boiled rice.
A nibble here and there; no more.
Then, a full week after his surgery, something changed. Perhaps Jack was starting to heal; maybe the reduction in his medications had helped to stimulate his dormant appetite. Or, perhaps it was the “Miracle of Pork” that revived him.
I was born with a pork chop in my mouth and subscribe to its healing qualities. So it came as no surprise when Deb made a pork loin on that particular night. Maybe it was pure pork magic, but when Deb pulled the roast from the oven and the savory-sweet aroma of the meat wafted into the living room Jack came racing from his sick bed and to the kitchen gate. Literally bedridden two minutes earlier, now he was bouncing on back toes and clapping his front paws. His tiny black nose was all atwitch, and those once foggy eyes were their usual hot-brown-coffee and alive.
Could he be hungry? I wondered. When Deb’s back was turned, I snipped off a tiny piece of the succulent meat and fed it to Jack.
And another piece. And then another. And so on for almost five minutes. CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP! Finally, his stitched abdomen still swollen but finally sated, Jack dropped to all four paws and retreated a step of two. Then he licked his little black lips and wagged his tail enthusiastically. And as Lassie is my witness, Little Jack looked into my eyes and barked, “I just want to be a real boy!”
Doubtless, to us, Jack Ethier always has been a real boy.