Jessica Dog

jessica and me1
I’ve seen a look in dogs’ eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts.
__John Steinbeck

(Probably part of the reason dogs are so people friendly… they must think we can’t function without their guardianship)

Once upon a time, in a land called Memorie was a most wondrous dog…

Just about everyone has known at least one wondrous dog in their lives.

This is not a challenge of “My wondrous dog is more wondrous than your wondrous dog.” Nobody wins those kinds of things.

I already had a Wondrous Dog for my growing up years in Michigan, a locally bred collie named Corky. He was irreplaceably important to my formative boy-in- the-woods years but this is not about him. But in fact, the dog this writing is about wasn’t even my dog.

This dog, Jessica Dog, lived with her Alpha Companion, Kevin Jarvis, mostly in Redwood City CA. She was a “store dog” at Gelb Music, a legendary Redwood City musical emporium. Because she was a “store dog” she was a well known entity to many of the customers at Gelb Music during her lifetime. Hence this writing, a memento of a well known canine personality.

Before Jessica was Jasper, another store dog. A “store dog,” by the way, is a dog so well mannered that it is allowed to spend its time in a retail establishment.

There are lots of “store cats” but cats are smaller than most dogs. Dogs, being larger, have to be wary of getting stepped on because, unlike cats, they don’t have the feline ability to climb to high, out of the way places and look condescendingly regal. “Underfoot” is what a dog can sometimes be.

Cats are, as a rule, very snobbish, spending much of their time sleeping or, if awake, they attempt to look mysterious as they shed hair all over the place. That’s what cats do.

Dogs, like cats, can also easily form the “sleepheap”, the instant nap state pets seem so capable of. Dogs also shed hair all over the place but they have absolutely no interest in looking mysterious. Nor are dogs snobbish, because they are keenly aware that being snooty lessens the likelihood of being fed a Milk Bone treat or being taken for a walk. Or playing Throw and Get. Cats miss out on all the Good Stuff!

Getting back to the story… Jasper was a light framed German Shepherd who displayed none of the aggressive traits of his breed. He was very dignified and somewhat aloof. Jasper’s realm was a now defunct magazine and smoke shop across the street from Gelb Music. All the guys who worked or hung out at Gelb’s knew and liked Jasper for it was at the smoke shop that was Jasper’s domain that the GelbFolk went for their soft drinks.

Everyone marveled at how mannerly he was. Jasper was a gentleman. He had a perch place behind the counter and calmly regarded the customers with great dignity and little interaction. An icon of peace was Jasper.

Lo, it came to pass that Kevin Jarvis, being one of the owners of Gelb Music, decided to get a dog. His sister, a dog trainer, told him of a Shepherd/Lab mix litter of pups that was coming to adoption age. She thought this might be a good breed combination for his needs. Kevin, after consulting with his partner, Henry White and myself, thought it would be a nice idea to raise a puppy in the music store and create an animal the equal of Jasper in decorum and persona. We thought it was a great idea and agreed to pitch in and help raise her.

So he selected a female puppy. He named her “Jessica” after the Allman Brother’s 1973 hit.

Everyone in the store, customers and crew, pitched in to help with puppy training with all the joys and trials that come with it. Housebreaking came fairly easy although there were some issues. Housebreaking a pet is like potty training an infant, one of those things that seem like it will take forever but the ordeal is quickly forgotten once the individual gets the hang of it.

She grew to have the long nose, alert ears and head of her German Shepherd genetics. She had a longer, softer coat and a fuller tail than either Shepherd or Labrador contributors were known for. She was mostly black with dark tan pasterns (“forearms” and “ankles”). She had a tan muzzle and face. Her ears, like any dog’s, were very expressive and when alert they would perk up like a Shepherd’s but the tips would bend and point forward probably the Labrador influence. When she was feeling her oats and strutting she would carry her tail high, almost in a curl. Her tail was black along its upper surface with a light tan in the longer haired brush section.

An altogether agreeable dog. She was, of course, very socialized, being more or less publicly raised and grew to be a nice looking, medium sized, dog with a generally happy disposition.

In temperament she was more Labrador than Shepherd having little or none of the Shepherd’s aggressiveness. As far as is known she never bit animal or human in anger in her entire life. She did have the herding trait of insistently nudging whomever she wanted to move in a given direction.

If she was promised a walk there would be the expectant delight as she dashed back and forth from the doorsill to the designated walker-person. If the walker-person didn’t stir their stumps and get on with the walk (usually because they were talking to someone) she would impatiently and adamantly nudge their legs with her nose in an attempt to herd them to the door.

It is quite a process, training a ‘store dog’. It must have impeccable manners. Absolutely no cavorting or jumping on the customers was allowed. Rambunctiousness was forbidden. Somehow she never knocked over any guitar stock which is quite a feat in a guitar store. Spontaneous barking was not encouraged although she did earnestly vocalize, crooning as if trying her best to communicate if she thought she had an attentive listener. She sometimes seemed frustrated at her inability to speak the human language.

Anyone who has owned an intelligent dog is fully aware of how communicative they can be. Responsive thumps of tail when being talked to, use of the ears to signal mood, the puckering between the eyes when trying to figure something out…she had all of that…she even had traits of female jealousy should a customer or friends visiting dog appear to get more attention than she.

An important boundary was The Line, that being how far outside of the store she was allowed to venture on her own. The store is on a busy four lane thoroughfare and Jessica, like all dogs, was territorial, constantly watching for Other Dogs. Seeing another dog in a car or worse, in the bed of a pickup, would put her in a challenge mode and traffic is very unforgiving of dogs that might dash out to Claim Territory.

The Line in this case was the doorsill. When the weather allowed the front door to be propped open during business hours there was a springtime ritual.

This Ode To Spring was for her to lie near the doorway, trying to look innocent as she ever so slowly inched her front paws closer to being finally over The Line just to see how far outside she would be permitted to go. Ever hopeful, she was, although the line never changed.

She blossomed into a wonderful, vivacious, personality, a little neurotic at times but sometimes that comes with being intelligent. She was trained to stop on a dime and trained to drop whatever she had in her mouth on command unquestioningly…both very good things to teach a dog for their own safety.

She was one those dogs that understood the abstract of a human pointing at an object. She understood it enough that she would swivel her head in the direction being pointed at and accurately act on the particular vocal command, whether it be “Go get that” or “Go lay down over there.” She readily accepted the job of “newspaper getter” in the morning at home although sometimes Kevin said she treated her quarry more like she was “newspaper killer” rather than “newspaper getter.”

The leash laws were pretty much ignored in her case when she was walked, which was the fault of the humans, not her. She would walk perfectly At Heel if told to but was pretty much allowed to gambol to the next corner and back to the Designated Walker, loping back and forth, back and forth, investigating Interesting Scents as she went. She was biddable, always stopping at the street corner having been trained to never cross the street by herself. Crossing a street was always done at Heel or allowed with an “OK” command.

Her walks were of the usual urban dog variety. Much sniffing, much route and territory marking with little squats of urine. She did have an odd bird dog quirk: Every once in a while she would stop… Her finely tapered head would form an arrow straight line with her body stiff and tail outstretched. One forepaw would be raised as she stared intently at her would-be prey. She would have made a bird dog, any of your majestic pointing setters or spaniels, proud.
The target? It was always the same.

A cat.

It has been said that dogs and cats were made for each other, chaser and chasee. An ancient tradition, going back for eons, when small feline ancestors might have been part of the food chain of larger canine species.

She wasn’t allowed to chase cats but she was truly fascinated by them. She seemed to look at them as something exotic rather than something requiring animosity. But she was still hard wired to ‘point’ at them as if they were the end game of ancient hunt carried on by her ancestors.

As with most dogs she was a True Believer in the Holy Rite of Throwing and Getting, be it tennis ball or Frisbee. As with most dogs her eyes would glaze over if a Frisbee was held in throwing position. Anyone who has ever had a dog friend and a Frisbee understand this universal effect so there is no need to go into detail here. She was never one of the YouTube type Olympic gymnastic Frisbee dog-athletes. With Jessica it was a matter of throwing the damn thing until she finally pooped out and had to sleepheap and nap.

Gelbfolk would have Magical Tunitas Creek “Tequila Sundays” where denizens and friends of Gelb Music would take Jose Cuevro and Lemons to an idyllic verdant lea near the settlement of Tunitas Creek. The Tunitas gatherings were almost ethereal in their perfection and as a matter of fact, the photo (made by Carl Flach) accompanying this writing is at one of these gathers.

There they would hold forth with music, tequila rituals and Smoke. The weather was always nice and a creek was nearby. Jessica liked a plunge and a short swim to cool off. She got to see and play with other Dog Buddies and they would frolic, playing dog tag like rambunctious six year old kids and often get yelled at to ‘Cool it!’ as if they were rambunctious six year old kids. She was neutered early so motherhood, planned or otherwise, was never a consequence of her playing with her male doggie friends.

From time to time Kevin needed to go someplace that was inconvenient to bring a pet so Jessica would usually spend that time with Moi. This worked out well because she ended up suffering no separation anxieties whatsoever. I was her number two guy. Kevin always brought her food and her food and water dishes so she adapted easily, what with knowing her basic necessities were being brought along.

And I had a Cat!

The cat established Touching Rules (don’t) and Jessica, for the most part, honored them. She would vocalize, croon, at the cat, wanting so badly to play but the cat was having None Of That. The cat would give me a contemptuous “j’accuse” look, clearly damning me as a traitor.

Of course, Jessica would follow the cat around when it moved. Every time the cat stopped to sit, lick itself or nap, Jessica would look yearningly at the cat hoping it would change its mind and want to play. The cat never did want to play. But Jessica’s hopes never died.

The cat…? The cat knew and accepted being worshiped and desired.
That’s what cats do. To them that is their purpose in life. Along with shedding hair.

Jessica got so she learned to understand many human words. Jessica clearly knew the phrase “go for a walk.” and, like so many other dogs the word “cookie” had ear cocking merit.

Still and all, some words we would feel we needed to spell out. “Cookie” was one. She was a medium size dog and we used Milk Bones as a treat reward. We only bought the size intended for small dogs, toys and Chihuahuas because no matter what the size of the treat the dog wastes no time in scarfing it down. Being that she couldn’t read and seldom saw a larger size of the product she understood “cookie” to mean Milk Bones. We also would spell out the word “walk” just in case she got the grasp of it because if she thought she was going to be walked and the walk got cancelled it meant a sulk as she petulantly dropped into sleepheap mode with an audible thud and a martyr’s sigh. This must have been hard to do on a cement slab floor but she managed it. She knew how to throw a good pout when she felt wronged.

Kevin wondered how she knew just when to get up from the dog sleepheap and hit the door when he was getting ready to leave for work. She would lay in sleepheap mode until he was finally really ready to leave. He discovered it was the noise of his car keys. The jingling of the keys, the last thing he picked up before he hit the door, would rouse her to a bright eyed, ready for nose-out-the-window shotgun seat ride to work. Car riding also meant pacing and checking out the side windows in Kevin’s camper/truck as they rode to their destination no matter where it might be. The inside windows on the camper shell were dotted with wet nose prints as she maintained her vigilance for Other Dogs.

Well socialized dogs tend to be intuitive and communicative. This, coupled with the Shepherd/Lab combination and work dog genes makes them inclined to be helpful.

Almost directly in back of Gelb was a grocery store. To get there you walked half a block, turned left, walked a whole block, turned left again and you were there.

At lunchtime we would often have sandwiches made at the deli/meat counter there (and would of course buy her Milk Bones there). She was allowed to accompany us to the store for it also gave her a bit of a walk. Dogs were not permitted within, of course, so she did a perfect Sit/Stay at the front door whilst the sandwiches were made. She basked in the ‘Good Doggie’ praise from customers that were charmed by her picture of stalwart canine loyalty. Then it was the routine of back and forth running all the way back to Gelb.

One day as I was coming back from one of these trips, Jessica kept nudging the hand I was carrying the bag in. Since it was a small bag I stopped to see if she was ‘asking’ to carry the bag. Indeed she was! So I very carefully rolled the top of the bag into something she could get a grip on and let her take it and sent her on her way.

This started a bit of business of letting her carry manageable bags from that store back to Gelb. It became her “job.” She was eager to tote the bag no matter what it contained. If the bag was too heavy for her she would be ordered off but I remember once, at least, allowing her to try to carry a too heavy bag and she ‘got it’ right away that some bags she could not manage. Rather than shred it in frustration she allowed others to carry the heavy ones.

Boy, did she strut when carrying a bag! Her tail was held high as she walked a high stepping “look at ME” pace that would have impressed a Budweiser Clydesdale all the way back to the store to much applause. She kept her mouth ‘dry’ during these carries. The sandwiches were wrapped in plastic then paper anyway so no contamination was ever feared. Interestingly, even though the bags of sandwiches must have had a powerful “food” aroma for her she never paused to examine the contents. Nosir! The bag was to be carried and that was it.

We, down at the store, got the best of her, of course. Kevin got the vet bills and the dubious joy of having to make plans that may or may not include Jessica. In his case she was like an impetuous, sometimes hyper, five year old child. We saw her during her “working day.” For Kevin it was like being a single parent with a loving but willful child.

She enjoyed being around people and when it was obvious they had other things to do she would drop into a sleepheap in seconds, seemingly dead to the world. Sleep is something dogs do very well when there is nothing much to do. Just being around their humans is sufficient to most dogs. It’s when they’re alone and bored when they get in trouble.

Customers would come in but she wouldn’t give them much attention unless she had reason to know them. Like any intelligent entity she had her favorite people and would go greet them. Others usually just got a welcoming thump of tail as a greeting if she was spoken to. But hearing her box of Milk Bones rattle or the word ‘goforawalk’ would bring instant alertness.

Kevin moved to the Santa Cruz mountains for about a year. He rented a small cabin in a beautiful clearing and Jessica became a Mountain Dog for the duration.

What this meant was she had room to roam, squirrels to chase and deer scat to roll in. It also meant she was in the realm of ticks, those small bloodsucking arthropods that flourish in California. It became a ritual to feel her coat for the tell-tale bump of a tick fastened to her and to remove the offensive beastie. Jessica seemed to understand that tick removal was a necessary thing. Once I saw Kevin remove one from her upper eyelid which, if you think about it, was a marvel of trust on Jessica’s part, to hold steady while Kevin approached her eye area with the tick tweezers.

She learned hand signals as time went on which was a good thing. It made dealing with her less disruptive when customers were around and it also helped when she started showing her age. She lost her hearing over time but she was still biddable because of the hand gestures. Still, age creeps up on us all and she became arthritic to the point where going to the store wasn’t all that important to her anymore.

A poignant thing happened just before she “retired” and became an ‘old lady’ stay-at-home-dog, preferring to avoid the bustle of the store.

On that day, at the store, Jessica went missing. No one had seen her slip away. Kevin started driving around looking for her. Just on a hunch he drove over to where I used to live when I ‘baby sat’ her. The building was gone. Razed and now replaced by an office structure but there she was…looking a little lost, waiting for me to turn up. The trip involved a lot of dangerous street crossings. We never could comprehend how she found the place but there was a welling of sadness and tenderness that she made the trip after not having been there for well over ten years.

Kevin got her a kitten for company at home which she dearly loved. She would pick it up and carry it around from time to time; never hurting the little thing and the kitten of course grew up learning dog/cat manners like no cat before her or probably since.

I missed daily contact with Jessica after I left Gelb. I would stop by once a while to see her and the guys in the store but when she “retired” there was no Jessica to see. One day I called Kevin asking him if I could stop by his house and visit Jessica. He thought that was a great idea so I went to do just that.

I knew about where he lived but I had only been there once or twice. When I got there the houses all looked the same and I was unsure what to do about it. While I was figuring this out I looked down and there she was! She had obviously smelled me and had come down to the sidewalk to get me. I followed her to her front porch and sat with her while she crooned away at me telling me what she thought of life and the world in general. I sat with her for about an hour. I remember tearing up as I hand signaled her to ‘stay’ when I left. I think we both knew we’d not see one another again

Eventually old age’s frailty caught up with her. Kevin called me one day and said “I’m sorry but, after talking to the vet, she’s just in too much discomfort…I’m going to have to have her put down. I knew you would want to know.”

He had her cremated and gave me a small portion of her ashes which I still have, sealed up in a pretty plainwood box that has a carved leaf on it.

It was a bad week, nay, a bad month when she died. And she wasn’t even my dog…

She’d lived for about 17 years. She was one of the best friends I ever had and I miss her deeply and even today I still see her out of the corner of my eye when I walk in certain areas of town, loping easily to the next crossing and back or walking by my side and always when I visit Gelb Music.

I never thought seriously of getting a pet, particularly a dog. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to give it what it needed but there was more to it than that.
I don’t think I could endure such a loss again… and she wasn’t even my dog…


2 thoughts on “Jessica Dog”

  1. Norm, you have given Jessica a beautiful tribute. I am sitting here with tears as I recall how loving and friendly she was. I am very touched by your words.
    Love you!

  2. Ah, Jessica.
    I remember her well.
    I’ve had a few dogs since those glorious Gelb days, back in the 70’s.
    Jessica was always a high standard to hold them to.
    Great story. Thanks Norm.

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