Jack and I brought Chesty home as a six week old pup. He was about ten pounds then – a small, black, yellow-eyed whirlwind of mischief and energy.
Within hours Jack and I looked at each other and said, “What have we done?”
We lived in the Arizona desert at that time. Each morning we sat on the back porch, sipped coffee and watched the rabbits, roadrunners, horned toads, and the occasional snake hop, run, scoot and slither across the yard. Within hours of our first morning with Chesty there was not an animal, bird, or reptile to be seen. The dog had the prey drive of a deranged wolf and the single-mindedness of a heat-seeking missile. All any animal, wind-blown-newspaper, or raptor had to do was move and here came Chesty, tongue flopping, eyes gleaming in hot pursuit.
Nothing to chase? No problem. He found a plastic bucket, rammed his head inside and ran in circles at top speed until colliding with a mesquite tree or cactus. Rescued, he immediately found the bucket, leaped up onto the table to retrieve it, and promptly stuck his head inside again.
Each evening at 9:10 sharp, he woke from a nap and ran through the house at top speed, skidding at corners, biting Jack’s toe at each pass around the recliner.
On a walk, he jumped in circles, bit the leash, attempted to chase anything that moved faster than a dead tortoise. When he was about a nine months, he and I were on one of our five mile hikes – an attempt to burn off a smidgen of his energy – when he began his routine of jumping up and biting the lead. I forced him to sit. To down. To stay. Waited for his eyes to lose their mischievous sparkle. Began to walk again. He jumped up and bit the lead just below my hand. I stopped. Made him sit. Lie down. Get calm. We began again.
Twelve times we did this routine.
I began to be frustrated and angry and this, of course, fed his energy.
In desperation, I tied his lead to a cyclone fence and walked away, turned my back on him. An attempt to get control of my own emotions as well as to teach him that his disruptive behavior would be ignored. Chesty, of course, immediately jumped up and bit the lead, hanging a foot or so off the ground by his teeth, all four feet churning the air as he twisted from side-to-side.
Until a load of prisoners being transported to jail saw the squirming dog, and pounded on the windows of their bus, drawing the attention of the driver – a county sheriff. The sheriff pulled the vehicle over, strutted back to me.
“You! Did you hang that dog from the fence?”
Chesty, his focus now shifted to the big guy with the gun on his hip, dropped to the ground and, stubby tail wagging in tight circles, eyes sparkling, made ready to leap upon his newest prey.
“No,” I said, “will that make him behave?”
Readers of Boogie with Chesty and Clueless Gringos in Paradise know that, with much love, and training, and persistence, Chesty became Jack’s Post-traumatic Stress service dog. The dog saved Jack’s life. Simple as that. If you don’t believe me, read Boogie with Chesty.
We had three female cane corsos as well over the years. Velvet and Rocca and Lacy. All three girls bossed our boy around most of the time, though Chesty would get between the females and give a look that generally calmed things down if the three got out of hand. When the girls hit puberty, Lacy, the smallest and most dominant of the three, decided the other two should recognize her rule. Velvet and Rocca had other ideas. There came a day when, Chesty outside in the front yard, the girls in the house, Lacy physically attacked Velvet. Jack, in an attempt to break up the two females, got his hand between snapping teeth and was bitten.
Chesty barked and leaped through the single-pane window that separated the front yard from the living room and broke up the fight. Jack had several stitches and we gave Lacy to a wonderful older man who loved her so much he told us, “If she could cook, I’d marry her.”
Service dogs are usually retired at about six year of age. Chesty walked beside Jack for almost twelve years before he finally gave up his job. His last couple of years, he grew slower. His girls both died of bone cancer. A year ago, I looked out the window and watched a rabbit hop past him, saw Chesty turn, catch sight of the bunny, calculate his chances of catching him, and simply let the furry hopper go on about his day. Last year, for a month or so, an armadillo took up residence in our backyard. Chesty would lie beside the lumbering Hoover hog as the animal clawed at the grass, ripping up bugs. I figured Chesty missed his girls and enjoyed the company.
Last Wednesday night, Chesty, at the ripe old age of fourteen, fell and that was the final blow to his old hips. The vet came to the house Thursday morning and, with me stretched on the floor beside him and Jack in a chair with his hands on Chesty’s head, we held him as he died.
I promised him his girls, Rocca and Velvet, were waiting for him, asked him to be there for me when my time comes to cross over.
Jack cussed the vet for not bringing enough medication to put him down along with his best friend.