Return to:
Windy Meadow Farm
    Horses and Riding
  Farm Life
List of other articles on by:

The Last of the First Ones

Michael Hillman

While the passing of each of the ‘First Ones’ took a piece of me, I always found solace in the fact it wasn’t PJ.  Deep down inside of me, I had always hoped that PJ would be the ‘Last of the First Ones.’

He was.

I got PJ as a mature puppy. He was given to me as a Practical Joke by a girl friend, hence his name. Her parents we’re furious with her when she adopted ‘Max’ a mutt, from the pound. Being a horse person, she had also planned on adopting a Jack Russell, but was unwilling to risk further wrath from her parents. But when a friend called her a few months later about a Jack Russell puppy needing a home, she was unable to refuse. To pacify her parents, she told them he was my dog.

‘I’ was PJ’s third owner. He lasted only a week with his first, being deemed unsuitable for apartment life. He lasted two months with his second, but the insecurity of how he would react to a new baby sent PJ packing once more. By the time he left his mom for the last time, all his litter mates were long gone.

PJ and Max took to each other like Mutt and Jeff. Our residence in the countryside was doggie paradise. The two were forever playing, hunting together, or on ‘sniff patrol.’ When they slept, they slept together.

A few months after he came to live with us, PJ disappeared. At first we thought nothing of it, for surely he would be home for dinner. But when dinner time passed and night fell, dread quickly took hold of me. For five days I looked for him, hacking the countryside calling his name, all to no avail. On the sixth day, just when I was beginning to give up hope, a neighbor called saying they had seen PJ in a development a few miles away.

I rushed over to the development, and sure enough, there was PJ, the center of attention for a gaggle of children. The parents offered to buy him from me and the kids cried when he left, but in the five days he was gone and I feared him dead, I had made up my mind that if I ever got him back, I would do everything in my power to ensure he lived a long and happy life with me.

PJ’s first real scrape with death came just a few months later when he received a severe laceration on a hind leg. Upon returning from work, we discovered him sitting on the front steps in a pool of blood. However, a few stitches and some blood were all he needed and off he was again with his buddy Max.

PJ and Max went everywhere with us. One evening, while eating dinner at a steak house, we asked the waiter if they had any table scraps. He returned a few minutes later with a doggie bag stuffed with fillet mignon, sirloin, and T-bones. I placed the bag on the dashboard of the car, assured it was out of reach from the dogs and returned to my dinner.

Unfortunately, I underestimated PJ and Max’s capabilities. When we returned to the car after dinner, we discovered the doggie bag empty, and two very happy dogs stretched out on the back seat with stomachs ready to burst. Needless to say, I never made that mistake again.

While Max and PJ were inseparable, the same could not be said for my girlfriend and me. As things between us became strained, we increasingly spent more and more time apart, each taking their ‘own’ dog with them. Eventually the split became permanent, and PJ became a full-fledged bachelor’s dog, a life from which he never fully recovered.

My first order of business was to figure out what to do with PJ while at work and on business trips. Having spent the first year of his life running around on a farm, he had no intention on submitting to being locked up in an apartment or in a kennel. Fortunately, the barn where I was boarding my horse at the time had other boarders with the same problem. PJ happily joined the ranks of the other dogs that were dropped off in the morning for ‘doggie day care’.

After a long day of flocking with his buddies, he would greet me as I saddled up my horse, then join me for my hack in the countryside. Then it was off to a dinner of hamburgers and fries and a visit with a few friends and then an evening nightcap of nuts and ice cream. But the best part of all was that he got to share my bed, snuggling up into the small of my back or curling up on the pillow next to my head.

Whenever we could be together, we were, and driving was always quality time. He would always beat me to the car, and the door would no sooner be shut, then he would sit on my lap, and drape his front legs over my left arm. From that position, he was high enough to see out the window and perfectly positioned for long scratches.

For PJ, summer always meant time with my brother Bill. Upon sight of Bill, PJ would break out in a whole body wiggle, squealing in sheer delight. Bill reinforced PJ’s response by showering him with love and praise.

Every summer, PJ would join Bill, a master carpenter, at his job sites. No one ever objected to it. PJ charmed everyone, be it the staff of a restaurant who prepared PJ a breakfast of eggs and bacon every morning, to the owner of an old house brought to tears of laughter at the site of PJ’s head sticking out of a hole in the second story.

Bill’s and PJ relationship was symbiotic to say the least. Bill gave PJ a seemingly never-ending string of adventures. PJ provided Bill the perfect ‘babe magnet.’ Bill would sit down next to a tree, tie a long string to PJ, irresistibly puppyish in his size and mannerism, and let him wander away, pulling him back occasionally to see the girls he had attracted. PJ was such a good lure that unbeknownst to me, Bill soon began to lend PJ to his friends.

Life for PJ got even grander when I moved out of my apartment and rented a farm near where I used to board my horse. Or at least I thought it was better. PJ didn’t take well to being alone, and I would no sooner head off to work, then he would head off across the country to the old barn and his buddies. On more than one occasion, I received a call from the local police that they had ‘apprehended’ PJ. Sure enough, I would find him behind bars, patiently waiting my arrival.

I tried everything to keep him at home, cages, chains, fences, but he quickly escaped them all. Fortunately he was so well liked, that even the police soon let him wander their offices.

Having been brought up around horse, PJ had no fear of them. On the contrary, in spite of his small size and my very vocal shouts of disapproval, chasing them seemed like great sport. One day however, he got too close, and I watched in horror as my horse connected with a swift kick to his head. PJ went flying head over tail, hitting the ground with a sickening thud.

As I rushed him to the vet’s, I hung on each breath, sure it was to be his last, but by the time I got the vet’s, he was sitting up, albeit very wobbly at best. For the next few days he kept a low profile, obviously nursing a headache of monumental proportion. Unfortunately, the kick obliterated any memory of itself and, like a typical Jack Russell, he was up chasing the horses again as soon as he was able.

The arrival of my future wife, Audrey, into my life, and my decision to move further out into the country to be closer to her, opened a whole new series of adventures for PJ. Every morning, I would drop him off at the stable, where he would join his buddies in a day of cat chasing, long sunny naps, and mousing.

PJ was a great mouser. The words "Mouse! Mouse! Mouse!" would bring him sprinting at a pell-mell pace. He would dig for hours, or even tear apart wood with his teeth, to get at a cornered mouse. In no time at all, the new barn was mouse free thanks to PJ, and he worked tirelessly to keep it that way.

But PJ’s greatest love was joining me on hacks in the country. In spite of his short legs he managed to keep up, or at least keep within sight. The courses of hacks were planned around water supplies, where PJ could drink and, if necessary, cool himself. No matter how separated we became, I was always assured that I need only backtrack and I would soon see him bounding through the tall grass. In the thousands of miles we hacked, never once did he lose me nor stray from my track.

On hot days he would linger at streams along the way, submerging himself fully till cooled to his taste. On truly hot days, he would park himself at the stream, and hunt on its banks, awaiting my return, no matter how long it took.

My marriage to my wife brought a whole new raft of adventures, and for the first time, challenges, into PJ’s world. Initially, PJ didn’t take well to the new arrangement. Having only known the life of a bachelor’s dog, he found sleeping on the ground hard to take and being spanked for chasing my wife’s cats seemed down right rude. The move into my wife’s apartment following our marriage, put PJ further on the defensive. He was an unwanted dog in a cat’s domain.

As a bachelor dog, PJ had never experienced such things as ‘house plants’, which he saw as indoor plumbing. He assumed that the plant on the table was Audrey's way of making him feel welcome - no need to go outside to pee any longer. How confused he was to be spanked for doing what he thought was proper!

Yet in many ways, it was the best of times for PJ. Feeling sorry for his lonely predicament, I would take him on long nightly walks through the neighborhood, and engaged in scratches of unsurpassed quality. Countryside sniffs were replaced with urban sniffs, feeding times became regular, and the quality of food, while no longer peanuts and ice cream, became more suited for his kind.

Soon after our marriage, we moved to our farm, where all the best parts of PJ’s prior lives came together at one time. On our farm he had all the territory he needed to hunt and play away his days and, with Emma as buddy, to tussle and play with, or curl up with to rest. Meal times were always regular, as were the soup bones and treats.

In spite of all of Audrey’s efforts, PJ still very much remained my dog. As the afternoons wore to a close, he would wander to the driveway where he would sit and await my arrival. He would greet me with a wiggle once reserved only for my brother. I always made sure it was he I first patted.

We continued our tradition of hacks in the country and in the summer added in long trips to the creek. There, once cooled, he would hunt along the banks. While the Emma and Charlie would frolic in the water, PJ would explore the holes under the trees, though he was never quite courageous enough to enter them fully.

The move to our farm brought me a renewed interest in competing and, until the end of his life, he was my constant companion at lessons and shows. Each lesson offered fertile land to roam and explore, each show offered endless opportunities for attention and food. A fit little dog, PJ walked every course and when hot submitted willingly to being dunked in a bucket.

When time caught up with him I cannot tell, for in my eyes he was always a puppy, and always will be. Nonetheless, slowly but surely his hair began to turn white. Long hacks, once his love, required some help, and more often then not, he got rides back.

Yet PJ still wiggled like a puppy every time he saw my brother Bill, cherished rides in cars, and sneaked cat food. In the evening, he would lie by my side as I studied or read. He would signal when bored by scratching my arm and refused to accept being ignored. When he wanted to play, he wanted to play. No was not an option for him.

All plays ended with scratches which he freely enjoyed. A scratch to the neck, where the prongs of the invisible fence collar pushed, always brought a twitching of his left hind foot. A scratch on his back would cause him to stretch and curl, as if to maximize the scratching surface area. Lastly, he would always nibble on a font paw, every time he was scratched at the base of his stubby tail.

As time crept upon him, he slept more and more. His tolerance for cold, never much to begin with, went completely out the door. The addition of a fireplace was much to his taste, and soon even a "Mouse! Mouse!" couldn’t coax him out of place.

By the time he turned fifteen, his hearing began to fail, or as my wife once claimed, became ‘selective’. While he would fail to hear me when called from twenty yards away, he could hear ‘Dinner!’ two fields away!

In October of 1999, PJ was diagnosed with Liver cancer and given six weeks at the outside to live. I was devastated. In spite of his advanced age, in spite of the graying of his once brown nose, I still thought of him as a puppy. Chemotherapy was offered as an option, but at the most, given his already advanced age, the best I was told I could expect was to extend his life a few months, during which the quality of his life would be dubious at best.

Since PJ was mine, the decision was mine. I opted against treatment, hoping that the vets were wrong. In making the decision, I promised myself that I would do everything I could to spend as much time with PJ for what remained of his time with me. I keep that promise.

In the spring of 2000, PJ, resumed his role as an "Eventer’s dog." He would keep a sharp lookout for my entering the barn, and never failed to appear as I tacked up my horse. Sitting within eyesight, he would await the removal of his invisible fence color and the hack that would follow. His face and mannerism reflected the confidence that he was going. For to PJ it wasn’t merely a privilege, but his right to always accompany me.

Throughout the spring and fall, PJ accompanied me to every event a horse show, just as he had all his life. Too old to walk the cross country county course anymore, I carried him. When not out on course, he would sit by the trailer, holding court as fellow riders, aware of his age, stopped by to marvel at the fact he was still alive. PJ reveled in the attention that was lavished upon him by friends new and old.

As the summer advanced, PJ found it more and more difficult to complete hacks, and once he learned that when too tired he would be carried, life got even better. Unfortunately, carrying PJ did have a negative impact on my ability to work my horse, so eventually, I stopped the hacks, and instead concentrated working my horse in my field, which suited PJ just fine.

Now instead of having to run to keep up with me on the road, he could meander in our field like in days gone by, and sniff and dig to his hearts content. As I circled and passed by him, PJ would pick up his head, his nose covered in dirt, smile, wag his tail, and return to his hunt. It was everything he wanted. When done he would amble back to the barn, and after quenching his thirst, he would seek out a sunny spot and rest till supper’s call.

On the last day of his life, PJ, as tradition dictated, joined me in the field. As in the past, each time I circle by, he would raise his head to acknowledge me and then return to his task, his tail wagging continuously.

Too tired to fight his way back through the tall grass anymore, he sat and waited to be carried back to the barn. There he drank from his water bowl as his tradition dictated and stretched out for a sunny afternoon nap, and nap from which he never awoke.

Unwilling to bear the thought of him outside in the cold, or moving away and leaving him alone, I had his remains cremated. One of the last requests I shall have when my time comes, is that I be buried with his ashes placed in an envelope next to my heart.

With the passing of PJ, a major chapter in the lives of Audrey and me has closed. Each of the ‘first one’ brought something special to our lives, and the passing of each, took something away that can never be replaced. While we are filled with sadness at the loss of each, we are filled with joy at the thought that each was greeted at heaven’s gate by our infant son, where they frolic and play till once again, we are all together again.

"Farewell, Master, Yet not farewell
Where I go, ye too shall dwell
I am gone, before your face,
A moment's time, a little space.
When ye come where I have stepped
Ye will wonder why ye wept."

Part 1: Charmer's Story
Part 2: Emma's Story
Part 3: Willie's Story
Part 4: Tony's Story

Read other stories by Michael Hillman