In the Suburbs: Patches - always in motion, always loving and sorely missed

I arrived home from work last Thursday, expecting to see my 17-year-old old buddy Patches, a once cantankerous and mischievous Jack Russell Terrier, waiting to greet me in our sewing room. That room had become his resting place for months, but that day after he had passed quietly in his sleep, his familiar resting rug was empty. While I could feel Patches’ presence everywhere, I had to reluctantly accept that my buddy had crossed the rainbow bridge and was finally able to run free again with millions of four-legged friends..

Wiping away tears, I walked around the sewing room and the rest of our home, reflecting on his life and visualizing the old days when our white, brown and black ball of fire would race through the house chasing another dog or forgetting to pee outside. He truly lived to the fullest.

While the end of Patches’ life was physically painful for him, mainly with arthritis, his 17 years were filled with experiences and antics that could make us laugh out loud, frustrate us completely or make us only temporarily angry. But alas, that’s life with a Jack Russell Terrier — ever unpredictable.

From the moment my wife put that barely eight-week-old puppy on her lap in the car after we adopted him, he never stopped moving and rarely stopped running. Just trying to imagine what training Patches would be like, especially to walk and not just pull us everywhere, we just didn’t know where to begin.

For instance, every Sunday, when I tried to walk Patches and our miniature Jack Russell Terrier Sadie at St. Mary’s in Black Rock, he would drag me all over and whenever another dog approached, Patches went berserk, barking and growling. I did all I could do to control him. Regular walkers along the path just laughed and said I would never be able to control that dog. But I remained determined.

One day, I asked our dog walker Diane if she knew of any trainers so that we could at least try and get Patches under control. Fortunately, she recommended Carol, an amazing trainer who came down from Vermont every weekend to work with dogs in the area. Diane said she was the best. And she was.

From the moment Patches set eyes on Carol, he sensed his disobedience days were over. Not only did that woman put the fear of God in him whenever she arrived, she also put a miracle called a prong collar around his neck and, voila, little Patches suddenly became the best behaved dog at St. Mary’s. A lot of folks hate prongs, because if the dog pulls the points in the collar quickly dig in. But that dog needed a prong and it was the perfect fix.

But on the first Sunday when I walked in Black Rock, Patches quietly at my side, the regulars just stood there in shock like statues. I said good morning and something like, “Isn’t my dog awesome the way he behaves?”

Carol was amazing and Patches really came around with commands. But for some reason, he really hated having people leave. And whenever she left or anyone else did, that dog chased them to the door barking and growling. Carol was never able to break the habit.

One of my favorite Patches’ stories was just before one Passover. My wife had just finished making about five pounds of chopped liver for our Seder and Sadie and Patches were wandering around my wife’s leg like a couple of sharks on all fours.

I heard the crash and my wife’s shriek, followed by several epithets. When I arrived in the kitchen I found Sadie and Patches gobbling up chopped liver, carefully avoiding the shards from my wife’s gorgeous glass bowl that we’d received as a wedding present. Patches, probably egged on by Sadie, the manipulator and alpha female, had literally jumped five feet to the counter and swept the bowl off. My wife and I were aghast.

Another Patches situation — almost life threatening for my wife — came close to resulting in our giving Patches up and my groveling to hang on to him. In our last Fairfield house, my wife always did the last walk of the evening. Once again, I was in back doing some straightening where I could rarely hear anything going on in the front of our long ranch house.

I finally heard my wife was faintly calling for me and when I reached the den, I found my wife prostrate and the two dogs sitting above her.

My wife had been walking up the three back steps to the porch, when Patches heard something and immediately yanked the leash. She thought he had pulled her down one step, but it was actually two steps and we later learned she had broken her ankle in three places. She had literally dragged herself up the steps, across the porch and kitchen into the den. Patches almost chewed up one of the EMT’s pants when they were trying to lift my wife onto the gurney.

Her recovery took two years after the ankle surgery. And after all that, Patches’ prison sentence was just time off for bad behavior.

Three years later, as if the ankle break hadn’t been enough, my wife was walking Patches again in the yard, the dog saw a rabbit and managed to break my wife’s wrist when he pulled forward on the leash.

On the warm and fuzzy side, in later years when we adopted rescues like Queenie, a sweet dog who was abandoned in New York, Patches welcomed her as if she was a member of the family. His only problem was trying to steal her food. There was blood everywhere, but both dogs survived.

Patches and Truffie, our cocker spaniel who we inherited after our friend Hazel passed away of cancer, were inseparable until Truffie’s death at home just under a year ago from cancer. And Patches became a wonderful older brother to Blake, our beagle hound rescue who joined us last August. Until the very end, Blake and Patches slept peacefully on our bed like bookends.

Hundreds of other stories about Patches and his experiences and antics, like seizing every opportunity to escape from the house, the car or whatever, with my poor wife or me chasing him down streets or roads, would fill a book.

But at the very end of Patches’ beautiful life, his legs could no longer hold him. On his last night, my wife and I gently cleaned his limp, sweet body to prepare him for his last trip to the vet in the morning. My wife choked back tears as she tried to remember the good times and said, “I know now why the simple act of cleaning a dying soul is so important.”

When I suddenly woke up at 3 the next morning and reached over, I knew Patches’ long journey was over at long last, and he was at peace. We will always remember him with love and laughter.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.