I just read – and loved – the book ‘Lost Dog (A Love Story)’ by Kate Spicer. It made me wonder why I’ve never written about us losing Jackson. Probably I didn’t want to relive the trauma. It was roughly 3 years ago now, and we’d picked Jackson (was Isak) up from a small place outside Belgrade called Jagodina. We’d met one of his chief rescuers and guardian angels, Inda, at a grooming salon, and when we came in there he was, sitting proud and handsome and good as gold up on a high table, being finished off. I’ll never forget how he looked at us, his paws gently moving up and down one by one on the table, as if he were kneading bread. I’ve never seen him do that since I don’t think. He was eager – so eager – to get down, cuddle us and start his new life. You’d have to have an extremely cold heart for it not to melt. So far, so good. This could work, I thought to myself, despite having had my reservations.
I’d known – in an abstract way – that it was a bad idea getting an adolescent pointer hot on the heels of our first one. Not a sensible idea. Pointers are notoriously energetic and demanding dogs, and their puppyhood lasts longer than other dogs, til 3 or beyond. Stevie was only 1 year and 8 months old and although brilliantly behaved and socialised, a naturally easy dog with all the advantages of having a charmed life from puppyhood, she was by no means not full on. And my life was complete, with her in it. But I’d made the mistake of taking my husband (perhaps an even more ardent dog lover than me) with me when I went to assess / photograph Isak-to-be-Jackson (in order to post him on the pointer network and find him a home). Isak had seemed docile enough, letting another dog in the place lead him around on a lead, laying down and falling asleep in the sunshine (when I posted some photos on Facebook I remember someone being horrified, thinking he was dead before reading the text!). In retrospect, he was probably just bored stiff and shutting down. He was able to run around and was exponentially better off than in the kill pound from which he’d been extracted, Dusan who was looking after him was a lovely kind man, but money and resources were tight and his freedom was contained to one yard only, and social interaction to 6 other dogs, none of whom he had an overly fulfilling rapport with.
We should have got an inkling that the calm exterior we’d seem thus far had hidden depths when he lunged across the car every time we passed a dog on our drive back to Belgrade. My husband and I exchanged looks. Strange, we thought, naively… We checked his collar was on tight, and exited the car for our first walk once we got to our local park (ten minutes from home). I don’t remember who was holding him, but I do remember it happened in a flash. Isak-now-Jackson fixated on a dog he’d seen on the other side of the park, wrenched his head around a few times like an irritated lion and that was that, we stood there like a couple of lemons with a closed circle of a collar dangling forlornly from the end of the lead. “I checked it was on tight!” I undoubtedly squeaked. I knew I had, my husband had checked too, at my request. We probably stood momentarily staring at the edge of the park and a slope down which he’d hurtled. At the foot of it, a busy, busy road. We probably then sprinted over to that place and screamed and shouted our hearts out. I don’t remember. Probably it was traumatic, probably my mind blanked it out. I only remember going back to the place we’d last seen him a hundred times in the next 32 hours, adding clothes that smelt of us, even though he’d barely had time to learn our smell. He wasn’t even used to coming to his name, how oh how could we have been so stupid not to have a slip lead on him?? A million other thoughts certainly beat us up simultaneously, and in my stomach there was – I remember that – a dark, terrifying, terrified feeling. How would we survive this guilt, this pain? We’d only just got back on our feet, even though we didn’t realise we’d been off them, after a gruelling ivf process (in retrospect I’m not sure why I ever did it as I always, always preferred dogs to humans, puppies to babies).
It was interesting how we reacted differently. Sasa galvanised his team at work to print up posters and threw himself into the physical search. Between us we put up hundreds of posters and must have walked tens of miles. I remember tapping every poster as I left it, tapping things is a funny little OCD trait that seems to hit me when I get stressed out. I tapped Jackson’s face on the poster, wished him luck, willed him to be alive. Sasa insisted that if we just kept looking, kept pounding the streets, put in the hard graft, we would find him. Sasa is an optimist. I am more of a pessimist. I just felt like we alone were looking for a needle in a haystack.
To be continued…