MAN'S BEST FRIEND

 Jake, circa 1996.

Jake, circa 1996.

This is a (true) story about a dog and a boy. If you have ever loved someone or something, I hope you'll read this.

It's probably safe to say that I've always been a dog lover, that it's just one those things I was born with...but I can't say for sure. What I can say for sure is that I know exactly when man's best friend became the truest words I've ever heard.

I was around ten years old when I convinced my parents to get me a dog. I agreed to feed him, water him, bathe him — all the things that kids promise to do when they want a pet, but have no earnest intention of actually doing. It was late fall when we went to pick him up. He was a black lab mix and my mother wasn't too fond of the choice because of an incident with a black dog when she was a child, but this was my dog. I named him Jake.

The winter had come and gone, as had Jake's puppy phase. Some dogs stay puppies forever and some just have an old sense about them, a certain maturity as though their souls have seen lifetimes of knowledge and grit. Jake's soul had been around a time or two. I like to think that in another life he might have been a Civil War general by the way he commanded himself around our neighborhood.

The following summer was one to remember. Before technology was a fixture in every child's hand, kids played outside all day. Jake and I roamed the neighborhood from dusk until dawn, just looking for adventures. I could have ridden my bike across the entire state and he would have followed, not missing a stride. Jake was my dog and I was his boy.

One afternoon we were playing in the backyard with all of the neighborhood kids, a typical summer day of running through the sprinklers and organizing ballgames where we made up the rules as we went. An intense game of wiffle ball usually assembled just after lunchtime and lasted until dinner came calling or until a fight broke out. Jake usually watched from behind home plate, going unnoticed until his moment came to fetch the occasional stray ball.

My younger sister, who couldn't have been more than three years old at the time, was no exception to being outside all day with the big kids. She typically tried to keep up with whatever we were doing and that day was not unlike any other. She was too young to swing a bat, but it didn't keep her from roaming around the yard that had been serving as our baseball field since lunch. Like most days, a dispute erupted over a pitch being a "strike" or a "ball." This typically resulted in yelling, pushing, shoving, and an occasional black eye. We were assembled around home plate and headed for the usual course of events when all of a sudden there was a piercing screech. It suspended all arguments, our threats halted in the summer air. It was like a bomb had just gone off. We ran around the yard to investigate the possible neighborhood bomb and there in front us, stood a scene unlike any other.

Standing in the middle of the street was a still truck, my young sister, and a brazen, barking Jake. In the midst of our running amok over strikes and balls, my sister wandered off from the pack of children into the street. Jake's knowing eyes had seen all of this unfold and he followed her into the busy street, protecting her like a general over his soldiers, barking to let us know that something wasn't right. My mother arrived to the scene simultaneously to discover what we too had seen as she rushed to rescue my sister. The dog that she hadn't been fond of was responsible for saving her own child. Jake won my mother over that day. He was our dog and we were his humans.

Jake and I spent many great summers together until he passed away while I was in college, but none of those summers were as memorable as that one. Many years have passed since I lost my childhood best friend and I now have a new sidekick (Crew, our goldendoodle model) who is my new best friend. But to this day, the story of how Jake saved my sister is retold annually. Some stories are like that. They grow into tall tales as time passes, but not this one. An exaggerated tall tale based on a true story couldn't have made Jake any more heroic than he was that day. That's how I know that I'm a dog person. That's why I'll always be a dog person. Thanks, Jake.

If you are a dog person, even if you're not a dog person, we have a special shirt for you. 50% of the sales from our Man's Best Friend pocket tee will be donated to one of our favorite animal shelters, Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, that fosters senior dogs to live out their elder years. My old pal, Jake, lived his whole life in a loving home, but not every dog is so lucky. That's why we love this sanctuary that is a real home to senior dogs. We hope you'll think of the Jake in your life every time you wear this shirt that will help so many senior foster dogs.

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