For nearly 12 years I worked out with our dog Jack. I say nearly 12 years because we got him at 8 weeks old and his workouts for the first 6 months were playing while I worked out.
From the time he was able we walked, power walked, jogged, ran, did calisthenics, did core exercises, and more. When the weather was intolerable we worked out inside side-by-side with Jack on the treadmill while I was on the elliptical. What joy he brought to our sessions.
Jack body was born broken, his joints were not put together right so exercise was a huge part of keeping him pieced together along with weekly to monthly chiropractic, laser, and acupuncture.
Jack's heart was strong and generous. His life of service started when we brought him as a pup to our local American Legion where he brought happiness and joy to those in physical and emotional pain. When he was a year old he obtained his first certification as a therapy dog and began visits at the VA Hospital. He visited nearly every week and had a huge impact with the veterans suffering from PTSD. His next certification was as a DSRD (disaster stress relief dog), he was one of a very few dogs certified to do disaster therapy work “behind the tape” working with victims, their families, and first responders.
Jack walked every step with me while we helped with long days of police dog training and he stepped up and did cadaver search work along with those same police dogs. Then he was called to do "live find" for Illinois Task Force 1 Search & Rescue and we certified him and as a team in "live find" just 4 months after beginning the training and he became one of a limited number of dogs in our country with Type 1 certification.
Jack deteriorated physically and mentally and in early November it was obvious that we had to put him down - or as my friend says “lift him up.” We could not let him lose his dignity as the happiness and joy left his days.
A few days after Jack was “lifted up” I went for a walk and it broke my heart to be working out without him. I cried. I have not worked out since until this week. Finally, I took a power walk alone, listening to a podcast, as I always do, holding back tears. I enjoy working out but working out with Jack was joyful. He always pushed me to do better. We laughed together frequently during workouts. I had a hard time finding my pace since Jack always set the pace.
I know life goes on. I have survived tragic losses since I was a child but the loss of a dog is deeper. A dog touches your heart and soul in a way that nothing else does. When you allow in that kind of connection you know that your heart will be broken when that dog dies but it is worth all the pain to feel that compete love. As an old friend put it, “It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch.”
How lucky we are to have loved and been loved unconditionally.
I wake every morning to find that a bit of the debilitating sadness is replaced little by little with gratitude - how did I get so lucky to have been able to be by Jack's side for his entire life? Why me, why him, why then? The hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives he touched humbles me. In many respects I and so many others are alive today because of Jack. I learned so much, laughed so much, stood in awe of him so much, and I now, as the raw sadness starts to ease, I am filled with gratitude.