On September 22nd 2013 Mrs R, the kids and I were returning from the country. It was sunday, and tempers were frayed as kids had homework assignments the next day and we had to get some chores done when we got back to the apartment. I had planned on cycling back the 44km or so, and up until departure I was under the illusion that I had clearance to do so. As we loaded the car, a blazing row ensued, and it was made clear to me that I was going to be accompanying the family in the Volvo. Ten minutes later, on a blind corner, the snake of traffic was driving erratically, swerving around an unseen obstacle. As we neared I could see it was a little dog, lost, dishevelled, hungry and desperate. He was in the road almost pleasding with every car that passed to help him. I got Mrs R to stop the car and went to see the little fellow, who immediately shied away. Some gentle persistence followed on my part, with Mrs R yelling out the window that another car was going to come around the bend and rear end us any minute. I got the dog to come to me, and put him on Lucera's lead.
I had a look at his collar, and there was a hand written number on it which I dialled. The person on the other end of the line hung up. I persisted, and said that his dog was just outside Vence and he should come get it He hung up again after saying "leave him there". I called again, and after a couple of hours the little dog's owner arrived, clearly infuriated that I had interrupted his day. We had spent the intervening time giving him water and food from our own doggy supplies, which he hungrily and thirstily availed himself. The little dog did not want to go to him, despite there being kids in his car. He put his tail between his legs, and resisted my pushes towards his owner.
A few minutes later we were en route to Monaco once again. The car was filled with pregnant silence, so I suggested to Mrs R that we couldn't leave the little sweet dog and we agreed that I would text, saying that I had been looking to adopt a boy dog for some time (with my house being full of girls including our existing dog Lucera), and that if he wanted I would adopt his little dog. Within seconds of receiving the text, he called back asking me what time I could go and pick him up. I took some wine with me in exchange for the dog, and a few hours later he was in the bath at home being defleed, deloused, washed and loved.
And of course he loved any sort of walk, especially runs. When I was training for the double Cro in 2014, Jack accompanied me the whole way, even making the round trip 50km to Venitmiglia. I would generally have him on the lead on our runs for the first few kilometres so I could keep an eye on him whilst he did his ablutions, and then after that I would let him loose. He never strayed more than a few metres from me, and hated lorries and fast cars such that he would go between my legs and the hard shoulder when we were in traffic. He went after the odd cat on occasion, but only when in the country as there aren't so many cats in and around MC that survive the roads.
Jack was the happiest pup in the world. Every day to him was like an unwrapped present and he greeted everyone with enhthusiasm. He even loved coming to work to sleep on his cushion all day, and would be devastated if I left him at home. When I was travelling for work the kids used to send me photos of Jack depressed, sleeping on a pile of my dirty laundry, or on my chair where I keep my running stuff, just to be close to me. I spent way more time with Jack than I did with my kids or Mrs R. x
He wasn't a coward though. One day we went running on the trails in Vence, and came upon a berger who was clearly a bit loopy, despite not having any animals with him. His dog - a huge, grey dredlocked thing, apprached Jack and I with bared teeth and a growl, and was going directly for me. Jack grabbed hold of his back leg between his teeth and wouldn't let go, despite the other dog's twisting round and round to try and shake him off. When the other dog had had enough, he squealed and headed for the safety of his master. Jack, tail up, let go and trotted happily along beside me.
Last Thursday 21 April 2016, we went out as normal for a 5km run. I wasn't planning on running, but I had some meetings and a lunch and I thought I would give Jack a bit of exercise before I guiltily left him at home. It was my daughter's birthday so I went out a little earlier than normal so that I could get back when she woke up for presents.
We did our normal routine, with him on the lead for the first half, and then I released him at half way. He was sticking with me, until we went past the little layby - parked cars either side of it - that marked the old petrol station since converted to flats. Jack got off the curb to have a sniff - which I allowed as the camber of the pavement there made it easier to run on the road anyway, so he was following my lead; the cars gave protection, and the layby itself was slightly back from oncoming traffic. Two seconds after I had seen him leave the curb, I heard a woman scream out her window of her car at me. I turned around, and Jack was lying crumpled and broken exactly where I had seen him. No cars were in sight, noone had stopped.
I ran the few metres back to him, and cradled him in my arms. I wanted to turn back time, to shout at him to get back on the pavement, to put him on the lead and yank him back on the pavement, to push him out the way of the car - anything. The only explanation I could think of is that a car and motorbike came around the corner too fast, making another car swerve into the layby to avoid them, and Jack was in the firing line.I hoped he was just unconscious, anything.
I picked up his lifeless body and put it on the wall at the side of the road. His eyes were open and glazed, his tongue against his teeth. I called home with the most awful news. Not only was I devastated, but I was to blame. It was my fault If I hadn't gone running that day. If I had had kept a closer eye on him. If I had taken a few seconds longer to stretch....anything,
I slowly walked home cradling his still warm body in my arms. When I arrived I was greeted with 4 wailing girls. We put his body on his blanket, numb with shock and grief. He was still warm, he looked so peaceful. Just a couple of grazes where the vehicle had hit him. In every other respect perfect.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. A headstone was ordered from the internet. Father Walter came around with some kind words and a prayer. #2's presents were opened and immediately offered in exchange to bring Jack back. We drove to the country, to bury him in the garden, but on the way there we changed our mind - in case we ever moved, and decided to have him cremated. We can keep the ashes with us that way A tearful visit to the vets ensued where this was organised. Fittingly, Lucera, left to her own devices in the car, had located my emergency Jack food supply and eaten the lot. She had always bullied him at meal times, and was subsequently put on a diet to lose the three kilos that she had gained during Jack's stay. I took a last paw print so that I could arrange a way for Jack to stay with me forever. #2 will always remember her 14th birthday, and not for the right reasons.
I went to work the next day, expecting Jack to come bounding along the pavement to the office door ready to greet everyone. I kept apologising to him when I got up for something as if I had disturbed his cushion. Washing up his office food and water bowls and putting them in a cupboard were some of the hardest things I have ever done. #2 came home from school and stated miserably that the physics teacher had asked why she was crying in class. When she responded the teacher had stated that we could just get another dog. I shall be having some words with him at the next parents' evening, particularly after the experience we had when she was diagnosed T1 diabetic.
Two days later it does not seem any easier, although people reassure us the pain will ease. The incessant tears have given way to just periodic bouts of sobbing, in a sort of rota, so that one member of the family can comfort another member who is having a tough moment. We have been overwhelmed by the support from others, as Jack was such a happy and friendly little chap that everyone knew him. Not to mention that he and I were joined at the hip.
I can't help but think "What if" all the time. If I could change it, I would. I am just not sure I would have done anything differently if he had been on the lead. He always had a sniff there regardless. And I was close enough that he would have been at the extension of the lead anyway. Nothing changes the guilt that I feel for somehow robbing our family of one of its members.
We must remember to enjoy the happy times we had with Jack rather than the terrible way he was taken from us so prematurely. We must continue to love and cherish the dog that we still have. We have each other and must be thankful for that. And Jack will never be forgotten.
Today's run was the hardest run I have ever done despite only being 15km. It was lonely, so I ran with music, something I would never have done when I was with Jack, so that I could hear his little claws scurrying across the pavement. I kept passing places pregnant with memories, not just the place where he left me forever - but where he chased the pigeons in Parc Des Oliviers, where we would stop for water on long runs, the old man with the massive German shepherd that used to want to play with Jack on Cap Martin. Each one triggering a crushing sob.
We are trying to keep busy and keep to some semblence of normality - #3's diving test today to go up to the competition level took our minds off it for a little while. Mrs R made a huge cake for tonight's festivities as we finally get round to celebrating #2's birthday.
I know it won't feel like this forever, but at the moment it is difficult to imagine ever smiling again.