Last week we said goodbye to our amazing dog Jane. A rapidly-degenerating back injury left her unable to walk, and in obvious distress. She left life resting comfortably on her favorite couch.
Jane had a life of adventure. She was first found running around in traffic in DC. She was given the name “Jane Doe dog," and she lived in the city with her first owner for four years. Then her owner was diagnosed with terminal cancer and could no longer care for her pets. Jane was surrendered to a rescue group. Sometimes I imagine how terrible that must be, giving up your companion and wondering if anyone would ever be able to take care of and love her again.
There was some reason for concern. Jane was known in the rescue as a bit of a handful. That's an understatement; many believed she was not adoptable. She was willful, reactive, and wanted to control all animals and people around her. For years after we adopted her, we’d meet people who recognized her from the rescue group, and they’d retreat a little. Jane was lucky enough to have a foster family that spent months training and socializing her, giving her the love and structure she needed to fit into a home.
Jane was with my wife and me for many key moments of our life together. We got engaged during her first hiking trip. It was a rainy night, and Jane informed us that she was going to sleep in the tent with us. We said no; she was to sleep on the bed we’d set up under a large tarp suspended next to the tent. But we were wrong. Jane slept with us from that night onwards. Jane was a good dog who wanted to follow the rules, but she was smart enough to demand that you meet her partway, and we appreciated that.
We bought a bigger tent. And a bigger bed.
Many people who know Jane remember when she was bitten by a venomous snake while she and I were hiking on the AT. Her onetime foster dad from the rescue group orchestrated a daring midnight foray into the woods to extract her. He managed to recruit a man I’d never met before, another dog lover, who dented up his brand new truck to get within hiking distance of my camp. We carried Jane out on a stretcher that had been borrowed from a firehouse.
Jane was vigilant, protective, and willful – a classic Shepherd. She didn’t bestow her affection lightly, and she never learned to like loud little dogs. Her willfulness and intelligence made her a “work in progress” throughout her entire life. But she learned to suspend her perpetual wariness and her need to be in charge. She learned to trust and love, and to demonstrate her affection freely.
I don’t think I’ve ever identified with another person as much as I did with Jane. I marveled as she grew into a dog who unabashedly loved everyone she met. When I was home, Jane was almost never more than ten feet from me. I feel like I’ve literally lost my shadow, like a part of me is missing.
For those of you who never knew Jane, you have my condolences. She was an awesome dog, and she made us better people.