Chapter 1: The Story of Jocko

I believe there are two kinds of people in the world; those that pick up strays and those that go on by. You know what I mean, you're driving down the road and you see someone looking stranded alongside the road. Do you stop? Do you keep going with a small twinge of guilt? Do you even notice them? How about animals? You see a dog looking bedraggled and worn alongside the road. Do you stop and see if you can help? Maybe check a tag, find an owner?

OK, sometimes the prudent thing to do is to keep trucking and mind your own business. But you always wonder, "what if?" This is a story about picking up strays and the consequences we sometimes face, both if we do or if we pass on by.

I pick up strays. It isn't a conscious decision; I just do it by reflex. I've tried to be objective about it, but by the time I think about it I'm usually in too deep. Take for example, Jocko. Jocko, I am sure, wasn't his name before we met him, but that's who he became.

A little background would perhaps help at this point. My name is Sean North. I am married with children. I'm older than dirt and the kids are well into adulthood now.

A brief description of my life would have to include, as a significant period, my time as a young man in the Air Force for four years. The reason I didn't serve in the Army was that I just wasn't crazy about dirt.

When I made my decision to go in the Air Force, I went about it logically. First, the draft was coming and my number was very close to being drawn. As I said, the Army was always going out and playing in the dirt. The Navy was always going bobbing around on the ocean for months at a time, without female companionship. The Marines were out of the question.

I figured the Air Force would be fairly clean, teach me a marketable skill, (electronics) and with all those airplanes I should be able to get to my female of choice easily. Well, electronics was sort of taught to me but I ended up in Intelligence. Very high clearance style Intelligence.

That's when I got an idea of how the world really worked. When you have access to all source intelligence of every type, and you are young and idealistic, it tends to remove any optimistic images you may have had. It's the on ramp to the highway to cynicism. That's when I learned that NOTHING I read in the paper, or saw on the news, was the truth. It is all washed through the sieve of politics and the self interest of the folks in power.

Next, after being discharged from the Air Force and having acquired a wife and two children, I went into the corporate world hoping to "make a difference" and provide a good living for my family. The Air Force should have cured my naiveté. After six years of being exposed to the incompetence and politics of big business in the computer industry, I couldn't take it anymore and thought I would find my values and ideals appreciated as a police officer.

That glorious career lasted eight years after I discovered that being a police officer was similar to trying to dig a large hole in a very sandy beach, with loose sand coming in faster than you can throw it out. If it wasn't the citizens making the same stupid mistakes over and over, it was the politicians within the city and police department. That could make a story in itself.

I know I sound cynical with this chronology, but thing got better. Next I decided to go back on active duty only this time I tried the Army. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that there would be more close teamwork and brotherhood in the Army than I had in my past careers. So, they took me in as prior service and I ended up in the Infantry.

OK, dirt. But, the scenery was beautiful sometimes, and I had to admit the training and opportunity to work with people who you had to count on to stay alive, brought a lot of satisfaction. I won't bore you with the details of my Army experience but lets just say that I got more training in the interpersonal interaction arts than most people, and over the next twenty plus years worked with, and survived with, brothers in arms who I respected and cared for.

I also lost some brothers, who I will never forget. If you ignored the turkeys in command and learned how to keep folks alive, while making the turkeys believe they were in charge, it was a great and rewarding experience. I retired as a Sergeant Major, and with my wife, Heather, from that point on, worked at forgetting everything but the present. No one cares about your past; the future isn't here yet, so live for today.

But, I wanted to tell you about Jocko. Back when I was a cop, I came to work one night on the Dog Watch. That's eleven at night until seven in the morning for you day people. We had a small department and there was only one officer on duty for that shift.

The officer I relieved mentioned that someone snared a stray dog that had been around town for a month or two running loose, and he had him in the police garage. After he left, I checked the garage and there was a medium sized black cockapoo tied to a pole.

He was looking pretty ratty, with debris stuck in his hair and was skinny as a rail. They hadn't even put out water for him and he had been there almost eight hours.

I walked over and tried to make friends with him. He sat there looking straight ahead, and while he allowed me to scratch him behind the ears and pet him, it was like I didn't exist. He completely ignored me, just sat there looking dignified.

I went and found an empty coffee can, cleaned it out, filled it with water, and brought it to him. He looked at me, sniffed the water and took a drink, and continued to gaze straight ahead.

Well, I had duties and rounds to make so I left him and went on patrol. I thought about him as I drove around checking the city and got that old sinking feeling. I knew he would not be claimed by anyone.

We assumed someone had moved, and rather than do the right thing and bring him to a shelter, had kicked him loose and left town. I also knew that his clock would start ticking tomorrow, when the animal hospital we contracted with picked him up and put him in impound. He had ten days left to live.

Halfway through my shift I returned to the office for a bite of my bag lunch. They closed the restaurants and rolled up the sidewalks in our town early, so if you wanted to eat you brought your own on Dog Watch.

I opened my lunch and started to eat, then started to think about the dog. I went into the garage and there he was, lying by the pole he was roped to. It dawned on me that he hadn't been given an opportunity to "use the restroom" since he was picked up the day before and it was then around 3AM.

I untied him, and with a firm grip on the rope, led him out of the garage to the grassy area adjacent to the parking lot. He walked alongside with dignity and when his nose told him all conditions were perfect, he completed his chore. I brought him back inside and left him loose. He couldn't go anywhere.

Well, I didn't get a lot of lunch eaten that night. Between him and me, we had the lunch devoured in a short time. Before leaving again on patrol, I brought him over and tied him to the pole again. He went to sleep. I wish I could have.

The next morning, I informed the day shift of the dog and his situation and knew they would handle getting him to impound. I went home and tried to sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about him and the clock ticking on his life. After I got up late that afternoon, I told my wife, Heather, about him.

She listened quietly and then said, "When are you going to get him and bring him home?"

My wife knows me too well.

I explained that he had to stay in impound for the ten days and then, if someone wanted him before they euthanized him, they could apply and pay the costs incurred by the city for impound and board costs.

In two days, we were scheduled to take the kids on vacation for a week up north, to a family cabin. We would be returning right around the time the ten days were up on the impound time. I was worried, knowing the sloppy admin practices of the animal hospital; I feared he would be killed before we got back.

While we were still on vacation, I ended up calling a friend who was a respected local businessman in town and asked him to check the hospital to make sure they didn't kill the dog before we got back. When we returned, we were surprised to learn my friend had paid the bail and even took the dog to the local dog groomer and had him de-loused and groomed.

The kids named him Jocko and he spent the next twelve years as a member of our family, before passing from old age.

But this isn't a story about Jocko.

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