Many of you who know me probably knew our Golden Retriever, Jake, who recently died of liver cancer at only seven years old. Jake had a pretty big fan club. It always amazed me how he attracted attention everywhere we went and people I didn’t even know seemed to know him. Jake was a very social dog, and spent nearly the last year of his life as a therapy dog. But it was a long road to get there.
We got our little bundle of joy at eight weeks of age and from the very beginning he was socialized a lot, I used to take him to work with me where he was always lavished with love. He was always the center of attention everywhere he went, so Jake naturally believed that the world revolved around him. For most of his life he had an exuberant energy that was hard to control, especially around people. I think Jake was not only the happiest dog I’ve ever known, but the biggest “people dog”. I’ve never seen a dog with so much love for people, often to the point where he just could not hold it all in.
Jake had basic obedience training as a puppy but it wasn’t until he was five years old that I started thinking seriously about training him to become a therapy dog. To this day I’m not sure why I decided to do that, with his energy level around people he was quite an unlikely candidate to be in a situation where he had to remain calm. But I knew that his love for people had to be put to good use somehow and I always had a compassion for helping people, so it seemed like something to try. But it was totally contingent on whether or not I could get him trained to keep his overflowing joy under control.
So we signed up with Hamilton Dog Training Club once again for more training, ended up joining the club and went faithfully to class every week for over a year. It was a challenge to say the least. Jake had five years under his belt of being pretty much his own boss and he didn’t like this switch of leadership one bit. We went through a period of several months where it was his will against mine. Even though he understood many of the things we were working on he often would just decide not to do anything I said. He would either do the exact opposite, or he would blow me off and look at me like “Make me!”, and then he’d spot a smiling face out of the corner of his eye and off he’d go, bounding over to them to say hello. After all, everyone only had one purpose in life and that was to receive Jake’s love. If you were in any classes with me you will remember very well how Jake was. I often left there in tears, so frustrated and almost wanting to give up. I was actually embarrassed to tell people we were working on him becoming a therapy dog, I knew they’d probably laugh at me.
Training Jake became a personal challenge to me. Little by little he gave over the leadership role, and in the summer of 2008 he took the Canine Good Citizen test and actually passed it the first time! That fall we signed up for a 6-week class with Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati and at the end of that class Jake was tested and he passed that also (squeeked by but passed)! He was officially a registered therapy dog! But in my mind it was still crazy, I was convinced they were wrong and really didn’t know how he could be. I thought he just had a good day the day of the tests.
Jake and I went everywhere as part of his training. Any store that would allow him in, parks and other outdoor activities, I just took him all over the place and worked on keeping him calm around people.
We started officially visiting a nursing home and Hospice in November of 2008, and it was challenge to say the least. Getting past the staff was a little hectic. Jake was so overjoyed his entire body would shake and wiggle. But once we got in with patients he became a much calmer submissive dog. It was amazing to see the transformation in him. And we discovered that he was extra calm and perfect around children. So he had a sense of when he needed to be good.
With each visit Jake got calmer and calmer and he adopted into his job very well. I felt so proud of him time after time, with every smile he brought on. We had some amazing experiences touching the hearts of people who just needed a little joy in their lives. Jake was still wild and crazy at other times, like in class still, but when that vest went on him and we went to work, he just became an incredibly calm and wonderful dog. We had achieved our goal and were able to take his love for people and channel it into a controlled and positive gift. I know everyone we visited felt loved by him, he had a way of connecting with people through eye contact, giving them his paw, leaning into them, and lots of kisses, tail wagging the entire time. We never ceased to get a smile out of people. We visited elementary schools too whenever the group would go there to visit the children, and Jake was always so good with them, they absolutely loved him.
In January of 2009, Jake was diagnosed with a very large tumor on his liver. So large that it was inoperable. When I asked the vet how big it was, he held out his hands like the size of a dinner plate.Dr. Pfister didn’t expect Jake to live very long at all. We actually thought it was on the spleen at first, and took him in for surgery to remove his spleen, but that was when we were told the devastating news. So we took him home that day from the vet assuming we only had a matter of days, possibly a few weeks at most. I was paralyzed in my sadness and at the same time felt angry. It was too soon, he was too young. And we just got started with the therapy work. I had plans on him becoming the best therapy dog in the world. But I was happy that we accomplished the goal of giving his gift of love to those who needed it, in a calm way. And for the most part the issues with his defiance in training were behind us and our bond was stronger than ever. So I felt very proud of how far we’d come.
I started to do a lot of research regarding cancer and diet/nutrition, etc., and I learned a lot of things about how important diet can be in connection with cancer. So I came up with a game plan and started Jake on a totally healthy holistic diet. I changed his food to a premium food and began to watch every single thing that went into his body. You can read more about this in the article I wrote. Within a week he started looking better, and acting like he was feeling better. In fact, he put his weight back on and became like a normal dog again.
We continued our therapy visits and weekly training classes. Everyone who I told about his cancer was amazed because he showed no signs whatsoever of being sick. In fact, he was thriving! He seemed healthier than ever before. This continued for over six months. Even Dr. Pfister was amazed at his condition. This was a dog that was not only living despite the odds, but he was thriving and happy and loving life!
Jake’s cancer became a tool in our therapy visits, helping those with cancer to feel a connection and giving them hope. I think it made him even more special in a way.
During the sixth month after his diagnosis, Jake began having appetite issues and losing weight. I started cooking for him to get him to eat. I joked that I was cooking more for him than for my husband! But slowly, week after week, his appetite and energy level declined more. The Monday before he died we attended a Hospice staff and volunteer get together, and it is probably one of my best memories with Jake. The moment we walked in the door everyone’s face lit up and smiles came across their faces. His tail was wagging and he smiled right back at them. We walked around the conference table meeting and greeting each person one by one and he was absolutely perfect! Couldn’t have been calmer and more loving. He was the center of attention just like always, but he was under control. I had to keep my tears back, I was so proud. That moment summed up all that we worked so hard for. We made it! We took a crazy wild dog who didn’t want to submit to me, and a woman (me) who was never very social or comfortable in clinical environments, and we turned them into an awesome Pet Therapy Team! Who would have ever thought?
That Friday, exactly seven months from the day of his diagnosis, we knew it was time. Jake was having a lot of issues with his balance, had developed a nose bleed and was not eating at all. From the way he was acting we think the cancer had begun to affect his brain. We made the horrible decision to put him down. We knew he would not get any better. As soon as Jake saw the vet he was all happy and wiggly and loving again just like always, then he laid down and totally surrendered. He knew it was time too, but I will always remember that last burst of love and joy. All Jake ever wanted in life was to love and be loved. And we were able to touch a lot of people with that love. I am so thankful God allowed us those extra seven months. What a blessing it was. Jake changed the lives of me and my husband, and changed me as a person beyond words. He was a true one-of-a-kind gift that will never be forgotten.
This website is dedicated to Jake and all he taught me — to love life, live your dreams and never give up. Below is our tribute to Jake, hope you enjoy.