Black tail, four long and thing legs, gold coat, and horrible breath, that was how I described him. We got him from the pound in 2006, back when we thought stability meant sharing a bed and enjoying the same movie genres. The decision was quick, easier than picking a restaurant, but not as difficult as finding a parking spot once we got there. With little knowledge of how to take care of ourselves, we jumped at the idea of taking care of another living thing. Looking back, I think the decision had less to do with giving a needy dog a home, and more to do with making ours feel more like one. His friends were busy getting married, mine were having kids, and to cope with our inadequacy, we got a dog.
We named him Jetson, after the 60’s cartoon that foresaw a future with flying cars and no black people. He liked it because he came up with it. I liked it because I couldn’t think of a better name. Neither of us was very particular about it. It wasn’t about Jet, anyways.
His time in our home started as does every new pet from the pound. He sniffed everything, urinated in a few places along the wall, and found a place he could feel comfortable before quietly laying his head down to sleep. We pet him when he would let us, and tried to understand when he got too protective of his food, or his bed, or of anything he thought of as his. We loved him, or at least we loved the novelty of him, and we took care of him because of it.
I tend to think of that time as our peak. We were both distracted by responsibility, enough to feel like everything was fine, preoccupied enough to cope with any issue that arose for the sake of keeping our dog calm. Jet seemed happy, too, to have a home. It was stressful time, but we held onto the notion that it would one day pay off.
This lasted for a few months. We would train him, walk him, feed him, love him. He would play, and eat, and shit, and sleep as all dogs do. There was nothing strange about any of it. But when we took trip up to a friend’s cottage the Kawarthas, things started to unravel. To blame it on myself, or on Mark, would be unfair. We’d been looking after Jet rather diligently up until that point. Beyond that, we were on a sparsely populated island in the edge of Crystal lake, the closest neighbour was over a ten minute drive away, and the forest was thick enough that we never expected Jet to venture too far into it. So, with him by our side all night, we drank, told stories, fished, and fell asleep on the dock, too trunk to be bothered by the swarms of mosquitos biting at every exposed piece of skin they could find.
It was still very early when we awoke, the sun still barely risen over the still tops of the forest. I called out to jet, as had become habit over our time with him. Back home, he would be waiting nearby, ready to answer my morning summon with a lick to my fingers as I hung them over the side of the bed. Today: nothing. I called him again, listened close for the patter of his feet on the wooden walk-way behind me, but still nothing. I pushed Mark’s arm off my chest and sat up as he rolled to the other side of his sleeping bag. Craning my neck, stiff from a night spent with neither a pillow nor a mattress, I looked around. Our dog was nowhere to be found.
Once we’d woken everyone up, Mark, our friends, and I began searching for our missing dog. It was frantic, disorganized, but expansive. Our friends called the neighbours, we searched the woods for hours, and as a last resort, we laid a trail of his toys along the road back to the house. By nightfall we’d given up hope, and when we couldn’t find him the next day, Mark and I decided it would be best to just head home and come back after work the following Friday.
We packed up all of our belongings, left a few things we would need the next week, and hopped into the cab of Mark’s truck. We sat as usual, myself in the passenger seat and Mark behind the wheel, but it was impossible not to feel the space where Jet would sit, to my left and Mark’s right, where we could both touch him, and stroke him, and nurture him together. To close the void, I slid over, but Mark asked that I keep towards the door to keep lookout, just in case Jet was somewhere on the side of the road.
We drove for two and a half hours, back to our studio apartment in the heart of Toronto, and found no sign of him. Mark told me to hold out, to hope that we’d get a call from one of the neighbours saying that they found him sniffing around their garbage can, or at the very worst that they found his mauled corpse somewhere nearby. It would be better to know that he was taken and killed by a bear, than to think he wandered back to the main road and got hit as a result of our own negligence. Still, I hoped he would come back. Mark seemed less worried, and less distracted by Jet’s absence. Maybe he didn’t know how to show it, or maybe he just never cared as much about Jet as I did, I didn’t know. But as the week went on, he seemed to have completely forgotten Jet had ever existed. Our relationship grew strained. By Friday, he had decided that it would be pointless to go back up to the cottage to look for Jet. He was right, though I had to find that out on my own.
Jet, who so united us from the moment we’d adopted him, was now becoming a rift in our relationship. His absence bothered me wholly, but what bothered me more was Mark’s seeming lack of care about it. I soon decided not to bring it up anymore, to cut our losses and simply let Jet’s disappearance be a lesson to us both. Maybe it was time to let it go. If we couldn’t even take care of a dog, how could we expect to take care of each other, a baby, a lifetime together?
This was all I thought about until two months later, when I’d just arrived home from work and had poured myself a glass of bourbon before I heard a light scratching from my door. Though he’d only been ours for a few months, I knew the sound of Jet’s scratches by heart. I knew their cadence, the way that they would dig into the thick wooden door when he could hear us walking up the staircase. I jumped up from my seat, threw open the latch, and swung the door open as fast as I could. There he was! Dirty, weather-beaten, but alive. I hugged him as tightly as I could, picked him up, and carried him to the bathtub. After washing the dirt out of his fur, drying him, and filling his food bowl, I ran straight to the phone to call Mark.
The phone rang a few times before hitting the dial tone. I hung up and called again, but I was met with the dead ring. It was odd for him not to pick up, but not entirely inexplicable. He may have been working late, or he may have left his phone somewhere difficult to reach from the drivers seat. I sat back and relaxed, anticipating his return, imagining the look on his face when he found out our dog had returned. Only thing is, he never came home that night. He didn’t come home for days. I reported him missing, called the neighbours to keep an eye out, but nothing seemed to work. His workplace said he’d left at the normal time; there was video footage of him leaving the parking garage, and then nothing.
I did all I could to find him, but it was all for naught. The police arrived at my door a week after he’d disappeared, asked me to identify a body they’d found in a sunken car by the Scarborough Bluffs, and showed me a picture of Mark. They said they’d retrieved the black box dash-cam from his truck and could confirm it wasn’t a suicide. Rather, Mark had swerved off the road and into the water after a dog ran into the street. Once the car stated taking water, his seatbelt failed to detach, and he drowned in the cabin without ever having had a chance to escape. I asked them to describe the dog. They told me it had a black tail, four thin and long legs, and a gold coat.
This is one of those ones that I’ll have to revisit. I’ve run out of time to finish this story, and although I wish I could say I had a good ending planned, I didn’t.