August 14, 2012
Jessie Rohan was my first dog and likely the reason I do what I do for a living. Aside from the love I had for my parents, he was the first thing I remembered loving with ease and few conditions. I met Jessie when I was eight or nine years old. My younger brother Dan found him resting in the neighbor’s yard, a regular occurrence for our block. Growing up, I remember a rotation of discarded strays, some of which we temporarily took in and fed until we brought the dog to a vet’s office or shelter.
When Dan found Jessie, he proclaimed to Mom and I that he had found a lamb. The idea of this intrigued me so I followed him back to the neighbor’s house and sure enough, a little lamb was in the yard! I remember us bringing the lamb to our toy room, and my mom examined him and declared he was actually a dog, one that we could keep there until my father got home from work. Jessie ended up coming across differently to my parents. They ultimately had the final call on whether or not we could keep an animal and this one, well he apparently listened to my folks better than their own kids, so that’s how we ended up welcoming our first family pet.
The day he became our dog was the first day I really started collecting memories about my childhood. Before his arrival, I didn’t remember a lot of details about life, possibly just because of my age, but suddenly more about playing outside and leaving for school stood out. I remember visits with certain friends or close cousins better; holidays began getting more memorable; even getting sent to my bedroom by Mom and Dad became sort of fun because of Jessie. My mom quotes a lot of things I said as a kid. She recently remembered me telling her that Jessie was who I told everything to in those days.
Jessie also influenced the young adult I became. When I was in junior high, several Saturdays were spent at the only no-kill shelter close to home. My Mom or Dad would drop me there for hours. Eventually, I became a pretty annoying vegetarian, which lasted about seven years. When I was in high school, a time predating the Internet, I remember phoning PETA’s headquarters and asking to speak with one of their most outlandish advocates, Dan Mathews. I wanted to interview him for my sophomore speech class and he gracefully answered all of my silly 15-year old girl questions. The assignment was to speak on the person we admired most. (Matthews started with PETA in 1985 as their receptionist. Today he’s their Senior Vice President of Media Campaigns.)
Jessie’s last days with us were spent during senior year of high school. I was working as a bagger at grocery store then. I can remember the day I said goodbye to him very clearly. My supervisor came to me and told me I had a call. I took it and it was my Mom. She asked me to come home because, “It was time.” I remember getting in my car and driving home first to meet everyone and then following my parents to Jessie’s vet. When I got there it the family’s intention to spend a little time with him before he was euthanized. I think I was the last one to say goodbye. Jessie’s kennel, where he was resting, was one of the bigger ones fixed at ground level. I crawled inside it and laid with him, bringing him closer to me. I made sure to tell him, once more; that he was the first thing I loved. And that he was my best friend.
My parents are two of the most loving and giving people on earth but on that day they were also heroes to me. I appreciated that they didn’t let Jessie go alone. As Jessie went to sleep for good, he rested in their company with the comforting feeling of their hands on his body. That day ended his yearlong battle with Cushions disease. That wasn’t an easy day for our family but I don’t think any of us would exchange a hard goodbye for life lived without him. He added too much and positively impacted each of us in so many wonderful, irreplaceable ways.
My parents now keep a Cockapoo at their feet. I think my mom has a deep appreciation for her dog and his companionship as she moves slowly in to her first year of retirement. It’s very likely that Jessie taught her how important it is to be grateful for that.