A Good Dog
Jester came to me on June 28, 2003. I was living in one room in Los Angeles, and did not really think I ought to adopt a border collie, but I equally did not think I could live without one any longer. I had spent many months attending gatherings and adoption events held by BC Rescue of southern CA, and once they knew me they agreed to let me adopt a dog despite my limited space. I had become interested in a specific female I had seen online, but when I talked to the foster person she told me she had a male that she really thought would suit me better. I went to the event to meet them both.
Here is the photo of Jester seen on the BC Rescue web site. His name then was Joe, which I made his middle name.
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As soon as I met him I felt a connection, but I kept second guessing myself. It didn't help that he was bonded to his foster person and wanted nothing to do with me. He wouldn't look at me. Every time I let him loose he ran to find his foster person. At the end of the day I still had not made up my mind whether to adopt him or not. I couldn't say yes and I couldn't let go of his leash either. One of the coordinators of the event was passing out big dog biscuits, going up to each person and asking, “How may dogs do you have?”, then giving that many biscuits. She came to me and asked the same question, knowing I did not have any dogs. I was going to laugh and say that I did not have a dog, but I opened my mouth and what came out was “Well, I'm taking this one home.” And so I did.
This is the first photo taken of Jes and me together, on the day I adopted him. Note that he is looking anywhere but at me!
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We did not have an easy start. He panicked all over the cab of my truck and wore himself out trying to get out and go back to his foster person. I kept wondering if I had made a mistake. It was a long two hour drive home.
Our first few weeks felt tentative to both of us. He did not want to engage with me, and would hide in the farthest darkest corner of the house all of the time. But occasionally he would come out and peer around a corner at me, checking to see if I were still there. We took a road trip a week after the adoption day and that time spent together helped, but we were not bonding and even after a month I was still not certain that we were right for each other. It was a strange incident that sealed our relationship.
I had gotten him a squeaky toy. He had never had a toy before in his life and it was very exciting for him. We were playing with it, and suddenly he went into “keep-away” mode. I was stupid and did not read the body language correctly and reached for the toy and he bit me hard enough on the wrist to make a bruise. I was shocked and angry and, although I am ashamed to admit it now, I slapped his rump hard. I stood up and stared at him, trying to decide what to do next. He looked up at me, and something in his expression told me not to leave him, not to send him away from me. I knelt down next to him and he did a very interesting thing.
He put his paws up on my shoulders and looked me in the eye. We held that position and that eye contact for what felt like a very, very long time. I swear it was ten seconds. And I got the message from him, as strongly as I have ever gotten anything from any animal, that he was sorry he had bitten me, and that he wanted to work it out with me; he wanted it to be OK. And I said to him, “Right, then. We will work this out.” And that was the moment that I became truly committed to that dog.
It doesn't matter that he bit me. I realized very soon afterward that it was only a misunderstanding, and was really my fault. He did not know how to play with a toy. All that changed very soon.
I taught him to fetch the frisbee for treat rewards, and after a few weeks of that suddenly one day he was bringing it back to me and I literally saw the “light bulb” go off in his eyes. Suddenly, he realized how much fun this could be, and he never wanted a treat for fetching again. Instead, it became his favorite activity.
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Doing right by a young energetic border collie in LA requires a bit of dedication but fortunately I didn't want to do anything in my time off work except be with Jester. (I named him that, by the way, because he kept making me laugh). Since neither he nor I could tolerate the dog parks, it was a challenge finding places to throw a frisbee, but we found them. He got two hours a day of walks and play, which meant that I did as well. And on the weekends we went hiking or drove out to the Anza Borrego to camp. He was a huge part of what kept me sane living in that huge city.
This photo was taken of Jes in LA.
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We moved to Tucson in our second year together and life was easier for us both. Lots of room to play and lots of public land close by for camping and hiking and we did a lot of both.
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We did agility training, and Jester was the only dog in the class who wasn't ever afraid of any of the obstacles. His attitude his whole life was that if I wanted him to try something, he was game. He trusted me. And I trusted him.
I think we really hit our stride together when we discovered Musical Canine Freestyle. Jes learned everything with lightning speed and the aforementioned willingness to try anything. I always dressed in black and white to match him. Jester threw himself into dancing with me with the same energy he brought to everything in his life and, while he was often more wild enthusiasm than precision in his moves, he hit his marks and his ending pose and audiences loved him. He never stopped wagging his tail throughout a whole routine with me, and I never stopped smiling. We had so much fun.
Here is me and Jes during a freestyle performance.
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Everywhere that we went together, everyone liked Jester, both people and dogs. Even cats liked him because he was respectful. Jester had the kind of personality that made him welcome wherever he went. He was unfailingly friendly to people. He never had to dominate over any other dog, but at the same time he did not put up with another dog dominating him either. He was also a great communicator. He had an entire series of slowly escalating signals that he gave to another dog who was bothering him and only if all were ignored would he resort to a snap. Of course, that very rarely happened because I knew his signals and could protect him. He knew I had his back.
Mostly, Jester seemed to like people better than dogs. We tried going to border collie meet-ups and events, but Jester would rather jump in the air after a frisbee than than play with other dogs. And boy, was he ever good at catching that frisbee! I was challenged to throw it far enough for him, and with just the right angle so he could leap into the air to catch it. It was like a dance. Sometimes he and I got into an amazing groove in which the toss, the catch, and the return were all one smooth motion with no stops or misses.
I always thought that if Jes were a human being he would be the kind with a hundred friends. The kind of guy all the women wanted but the men couldn't be jealous because he was too likable. He was also respectable. I admired him. No matter what we were doing, he always made me proud.
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I always wished I could put him on sheep, but it was not to be. I did take him twice to sheep, just to see how he would do, and he did pretty well. I think he could have been a fun-sport herder if only I could have given him that.
We took in foster dogs for border collie rescue. Jester always taught them the ropes. He was so beautifully obedient that it made training the foster dogs a breeze, as they followed his lead. One time we took in an 8 week old female foster puppy. Jester became “kindly uncle with a heart of gold”. He allowed that little dog to do anything to him and never complained. Twice over the years I fell in love with a foster and wanted to keep the dog. But Jester did not want to keep the dog either of those times. The first was a sweet young male he did not like; the second a dominant female whom I adored, but who constantly got in between Jes and me. It was hard to let those dogs go to adopters, but Jester came first in my life. If he did not like the dog, I was not going to keep it. Only a few months after my heartbreak over letting the female dog go, another female border collie dropped into my lap....literally. And this one thought that Jester hung the moon. From day one she worshiped him. He liked her, so I kept her, and that is my Kit dog.
Kit misses Jester terribly. She goes to his grave and stares at it, sniffs all around it and tries to dig it up.
This is a picture of Jester and Kit taken just a few weeks before he died, waiting for me to throw something for them to fetch.
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Jester was two when he came to me, so he was 15 when I had to say good bye to him on June 24th 2016.
You know you are making this deal when you let an animal into your heart. But somehow I think that I never fully believed it with Jester. He was just so beautiful, so strong, so vital, so indefatigable. How could a dog like that ever get old?
But he did, and he couldn't jump for the frisbee any more and then he was no longer able to fetch the new toy without falling down and then when he fell down he could not get up without help. Toward the end he couldn't see well enough to find the toy unless I managed to throw it right in front of him, so Kit would bring it to him and stand there staring at it until he found it. I think that Kit and I both tried to pretend that Jester was not failing.
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And he tried, too, right to the end. People said that he would tell me when it was time, but he didn't. I don't know if he ever would have, because Jester never gave up on anything in his life. And what would it have meant if I had waited until he did? Would that have been a kindness? I don't think so. I had to make that decision and I hate it even as I know it was the right thing for me to do. I held him when he died and told him that he was a good, good dog.
I had had a border collie before, and I will have other border collies, I hope. I will never have one like Jester. I will never forget Jester, and I will always miss him.
I don't believe in heaven. But I wish I did when I think of Jester, because if there were one he would be there now, in fields of green grass, with all the frisbees in the world flying and he would never get tired.