We have five animals… 3 dogs and 2 cats… and there’s a story behind how each one became a member of our family. As I write this, Jeter, one of our labs, is staring at me, with his face pushed up against the glass door. “Can you see me? Hey, can you see me?” He’s outside, looking in. He loves to be in when it’s cold out. No, he loves to be wherever we are, in or out.
Jeter hasn’t always been in the immediate family. I first met him on “Dog Beach”. That’s a stretch of surf and sand in Southern California where humans can bring their dogs to frolic in the water and play with other dogs (that’s the idea at least). Rich, my brother-in-law, said “Watch this!” He threw a tennis ball as far as he could into the Pacific. Rich loved baseball (his favorite player was the Yankees’ Derek Jeter), and could throw it a long ways. I lost track of the yellow ball, and I’m pretty sure Jeter did too. But he took off after it anyway. The waves knocked him backwards, he would briefly disappear under the water, then re-surface and trudge on. He would always find that tennis ball, dog-paddle back to shore, drop it at Rich’s feet, and bark until the ball was thrown back into the ocean.
Jeter is still staring at me through the door. We’re cooking breakfast. He loves food. And I’m not talking about dog food. We’ve learned to push food away from the edge of the kitchen counters. We learned the hard way. He can stand tall on his back legs and snatch a sizzling steak or fresh-baked cookies or a stick of butter and eat it in a matter of seconds. We don’t always remember about his weakness for food. One evening we left a whole chicken, the type you buy at Sam’s Club or Walmart, within paws and jaws reach on the counter. He devoured it, bones and all.
Jeter’s poor table manners aren’t his fault. That’s how he was raised. Rich spoiled and pampered him. If he were an actor (and a female), he’d be called Lohan (get it?). His teenage years were spent growing up in SoCal, near Hollywood, Disneyland, Angels Stadium and the beach. Rich, who was single, would always fix dinner for TWO. One steak for him, one for Jeter. Rich loved a good beer (that explains the picture to the left). On birthdays (both Rich’s and Jeter’s) each would get their own cake. There were avocado trees in the backyard that would drop dessert 24/7. Rich loved Jeter. He was pampered. He was a star. He was living the life.
“Would you be willing to take Jeter?” Oklahoma is not anything like California. It’s hot. It’s cold. There’s snow and ice, with no slopes to enjoy it. The only stars here are above us. And there’s no ocean. But when Dave, my father-in-law, asked us that question, there was no hesitation. Just days before, Rich had suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 44. Gone that fast. The only witness to this tragedy was Rich’s loyal companion, who was at his side to the end.
That was four years ago. Jeter’s ocean is now our swimming pool. His favorite day of the year is when we open the pool in the Spring, and we sometimes catch him staring at the cover after we close it in the Fall.
We’re Yankees fans now, and hope Derek Jeter will play forever.
I took a picture of Jeter (the dog) sitting in front of the TV during one of their playoff games. What do you think that means? When he grabs food off the counter, I yell at him and my wife yells at me. ”Don’t you be mean to my brother’s dog”, she growls. Yep, Jeter may be one of our five animals, but he’s special. He always will be. By the way, today is Rich’s birthday. Looks like Jeter is getting some cake tonight.