84 Years a Best Friend

New year’s day 2015, I arrived home to a sad realization. It was the first time in 12 years that Jet would not be waiting for me on the other side of the door. I finally understood what man’s best friend was teaching me; about being a man, about being happy and about being in love.

A Place we Called Home
I had just returned home from burying Jet at his favorite spot along the bayou. It’s a serene stretch of Buffalo Bayou in Houston’s East End. A quiet and abandoned industrial area. It’s the kind of place where you can spend a whole day sitting on the banks, walking the trails and exploring the woods. I grew up in the area, so I consider it home. Jet knew it as the place we walked to every weekend. The place where he could be himself, jump in the water, run free and not have a care in the world. Sharing that time with Jet will be with me forever. I can’t imagine another place to call his final resting spot. It will always be home for us.

A man without a place to call home,
will never be able to share it with anyone.
Jet on the banks of Buffalo Bayou in the East End.

Sit. Stay? Explore!
Jet could sit. He learned that first. But he couldn’t sit still for long. He had a wonderful affinity for exploration. In fact, it’s probably the reason I had him in the first place. A friend of mine found Jet wondering the parking lot of the gym where I used to work. When I showed up for work, she held up this little black pup with huge paws and said, “You should give him a home!” So, that’s what I did.

And, for 12 years I got to see just how much Jet loved to explore. His curiosity was what led him to me. It’s how we discovered new things, it’s how we made memories, it’s what made us happy. Jet loved to explore so much he even snuck out from time to time to take himself for a few walks.

Explore. You just might find what you never knew you were missing.
Taking time for a “Jet hug” photo Lupita Cardenas

Lessons in Loyalty
I had such a difficult time trying to keep Jet in the yard. So much so, that I began to question his loyalty. But those were the naive thoughts of a young man. I soon realized that Jet always came back home. I thought, “Who’s loyalty is being tested here, his or mine?”

He was unique in the sense that he was so indpendent. But he was just like anyone else when it came to love. Jet needed me to love him for who he was. Not for who I thought he should be. I didn’t know what I was getting into at first. I learned that the role of a pet owner, much like that of a leader, a brother, a father, wasn’t going to be easy. It was in fact, my duty to give him my unwavering loyalty. Just the way he did. The way it should be. Without conditions. Without expectations.

Loyalty is not for you to expect, it is for you to give.
It is the greatest gift you can ever give someone.

Fearless and Friendly
I don’t know how our personalities had so many similarities. Maybe I got it from him, maybe he got it from me. But in every sense of the word, Jet was fearless. Each year, on the first weekend of summer I used to head down to Galveston. I’d try to surf and often ended up paddling more than standing on the board. When Jet came along I thought for sure he’d freak out at first sight of the waves. Wrong. He ran for the water, jumped in and was as comfortable as could be. He even hopped on the board a few times and was instinctively better at balancing than I was.

When it came to people and other animals, Jet didn’t know a stranger. He didn’t fear other dogs he just wanted to play with them. But at 74 pounds and with his stoic looks he might have seemed intimidating to some. When we walked around the neighborhood dogs would bark their heads off and Jet just seemed to keep his cool the entire time. When we passed people walking, they’d ask if he bites. I’d always inform them that he didn’t and that he probably wouldn’t even notice them. (Too busy exploring) On one occasion, during one of his “self-guided” walks, an unbelievably kind person picked him up and drove him across town to our former veterinarian. Turns out he still had some old tags on. It was hilarious to get a call from the vet saying, “Guess who’s here?”

I can’t fault Jet for being so friendly, and I strive to be as fearless as he was.

Fear is what allows us to survive,
facing that fear is what allows us to thrive.
Jet “posing” near downtown in the EastEnd, Commerce St.

Always Learning
I didn’t realize it at the time but while I was trying to get Jet to stay or teaching him how to “shake” he was teaching me patience. It’s a hard lesson to master even to this day. But it’s very rewarding, reassuring even. I felt like I could teach him anything so long as I was willing to give him my patience.

As Jet got older I realized it wasn’t that you couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks, it just took a bit more patience. Late in life, Jet learned many things such as his left from his right, the ability to drop what he retrieved and even potty training. (He was mostly an outdoor dog early on.) He was a very intelligent dog that put in a ton of work for just a few treats and a belly rub.

With a little patience, you can even teach an old dog new tricks.

One Final Lesson
Jet had been battling several “old doggie” problems since we moved back from South Carolina in October. One was pitting edema, which caused his hind legs to swell. It moved so fast that even with medication and therapy, it was just too much for him. Towards the end he could no longer walk. For several days I had to carry him outside to do his business. But I felt proud to care for him. Happy in fact, that I could be there for him, as he had been there for me all those years.

His final night was New Year’s Eve. I chose to stay in, not knowing if he could make it through the night. Thirty seconds before midnight Jet let out a howl I had never heard before. It wasn’t loud, it was painful. It brought me back to one of those early lessons. Once again I had to question myself, “Who’s holding on here, me or Jet?” The time had come for me to let go. Midnight came and went and Jet was still holding strong but at about 2am his heart rate began to slow. As I laid next to him I kept my hand on his heart trying to feel for any more changes. I woke at 6:30 and he was gone. His heart of gold gave so much until it just couldn’t give any longer.

You can only hold on to something for so long. You can spend your entire life wishing and hoping that things could be different. But when the time comes you have to learn how to let go. It’s often the most difficult thing to do in life. But I know now it’s the only way to truly be happy.

Sometimes you just have to let go.

I might have taught Jet a thing or two. But it took me 84 dog years to understand what Jet was trying to teach me. The greatest leaders lead by example and Jet was a shining example of leadership, loyalty, love and life.