We went to pick him up one Saturday morning, me and the two girls, they would have been 10 and 6 years old at the time and were so excited to be getting a new puppy, I warned them it was a long way away but even I didn’t realise just how far into the wilds we’d be going to collect Jake.
Through Ripon the man on the phone had said, head towards Lightwater Valley and then keep going through Grewelthorpe and then just keep going he said, there’s nothing else after Grewelthorpe he said but just keep going up onto the moors and then go some more.
I nearly turned back twice, he wasn’t joking when he said there was nothing else after Grewelthorpe but he had promised me that after some time we’d come across two cottages on the moors and he’d leave a horsebox parked outside one of them so I’d recognise it, sure enough he did, I woke the girls up and we scurried down the path, me with £180 rolled up inside my pocket, that being the going rate then for a pedigree Golden Retriever.
A wild looking bloke of roughly the same age of me opened the door as he saw us coming up the garden path and he led us around the back of the house where several large sheds and enclosed dog runs occupied a large garden, “There’s three bitches and a dog left” he informed me again following our telephone conversation from the night before, “the rest of the dogs have gone for gun dog training, but this one’s no good because he’s scared of guns”.
The wild looking bloke had taken enforced retirement from the Army he told me, had come to live on this wild moor next door to a professional gamekeeper for whom he was selling the dogs, Labradors and Retrievers, kennel club registered and from a long line of prize winning working gun dogs, Jake must have been a bit of a disappointment for him.
He opened a cage door and let four twelve week old Retriever puppies out into the garden which was almost waist high in grass, they disappeared into the grass instantly which wasn’t exactly the effect that he was trying to achieve, we wanted a dog anyway so there wasn’t really a choice, it was the scaredy-dog that we had come for and the wild looking bloke pointed him out to us, or at least he pointed his nose out to us sticking up out of the long grass, “Its a pity about the guns” he said, “He’s an air-scenter, see, he’s got the making of a good gun dog if only he wasn’t scared to death of bangs”
We paid the money over, got the registration documents and off we set back home but this time with a little bundle of fur and fluff in the back of the Volvo, Jake had just joined our family.
He was a silent dog, I only ever heard him bark when he was awake a handful of times in his whole life and usually at birds in the garden, he barked and growled a lot in his sleep though, a really deep gruff bark and growl which he would manage without actually opening his mouth so that it all sounded a bit muffled.
If you follow the “Alpha Dog” theory then Jake would not be the Alpha Dog, he wouldn’t be the Beta Dog either, I don’t think even David Attenborough could properly describe what Jakes function would be if he were a wild dog and living in a pack with hierarchy, suffice to say that while all the other dogs were out hunting for food then Jake would be asleep at the back of the cave woofing in his sleep and waking to scrounge bits of food off the other dogs.
He loved having his paws rubbed, if you sat on the floor he’d come across, lay down and give you a paw to rub, he loved having his ears scratched and the bit right at the top of his head, the lump at the top of the skull, he’d stand there all night with his head bowed while you scratched that bit, he hated being bathed and would stand in the bath under the shower looking miserable, this probably stems from the time we took him to Bolton Abbey as a puppy and forced him to stand in the river up to his knees, as a gun dog he would have been hopeless trying to retrieve game from water, he got a nasty rash from the river water and had to have a course of steroids to bring it down.
I took him to work almost from the first day we got him and he’d sleep under whoever’s desk was occupied if I was out but he was just as happy if you had to leave him alone in the house, you’d come back in and he’d still be asleep in the same place that you’d left him in hours before, since I started working from home two years ago he’s followed me around the house everywhere and I’ve just got used to not moving my chair backwards too quickly because he’ll be there, asleep, stepping over him to get anywhere became normal.
He was never allowed upstairs in the house, a fact that he just understood without having to be trained, likewise he was house trained when we brought him home as a puppy despite the fact that he’d lived out of doors for the first twelve weeks of his life, but in the past couple of years he had taken to sneaking upstairs through the night, opening Jodie’s bedroom door and sleeping curled up on the floor at the foot of her bed, always her bedroom never anyone else’s and if he couldn’t open the door he’d sleep on the landing outside it.
A nasal tumour was the cause of his death, not uncommon in his breed apparently, an infection set in that antibiotics eventually would not shift, when I took him to the vets on Friday afternoon it had spread to his kidneys, cause ulceration of his mouth and weakened his heart so that the vet couldn’t feel a pulse in his thigh at all, carrying him out to the car and taking him to the surgery was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as was talking to the vet in the surgery, she was as choked up as I was and I’m pleased that she cared so much about him that she got so emotional about the decision that we both came to – I was doing alright until the vet started to cry.
So he’s gone now and yesterday I spent all morning searching for a portrait I did of him when he was younger, I literally took every box out of the garage and searched through every drawing pad and file of unfinished paintings and finally found it in the second to last file in the loft, its been framed and now hangs on the wall in the living room and maybe one day I’ll stop walking into rooms and instinctively look to see where he is lying, I thought I saw him at the foot of the stairs as I came down this morning but it was someone’s white shoes in the corner of my vision…
RIP Jake, a great dog and companion – 10/04/98 to 27/05/11