The Ballad of Old Jackson

A middle-aged woman peeks into his kennel. She smiles. He wags his tail. Then she walks away.

Everyone who peeks into his kennel just walks away. Always. Nobody wants an old dog. At this shelter, most visitors end up adopting young dogs who can’t control their bladders.

If only humans could understand canine language, he would’ve told the lady all about himself and what a good boy he is. It’s a shame that humans don’t speak Dog.

He’s not sure how he ended up in this place. Once he had a family. And you’d think that your family would always be your family. The idea of them leaving you doesn’t even enter your doggy brain. But you can lose a family. He found this out the hard way.

They left him here. He waited for them, staring out his kennel door, but they never came back. His owners were simply done with him.

That was a lifetime ago. Since then, he’s been stuck in this loud room of kennels with dogs who cry all day long. Mostly, they’re just begging humans to adopt them.

“TAKE ME!” they all scream. “PICK ME! PLEASE!” That’s all they ever shout.

He’s overheard their remarks about him. “How old is THAT dog?” “He looks kind of gray.” “Mommy, I don’t want an old dog.” “Poor guy, nobody’s gonna want that old thing.”

Old. They are right. Who would want an elderly dog? The worst part is, it’s been so long since he’s been touched. When you’re a puppy everyone showers you with affection. But when you’re an old dog they just get mad when you have accidents.

But he doesn’t have many accidents. This is one of his skills. In fact, he wishes he could tell the humans about all his skills. Being old has its advantages. He can hold his bladder, he knows how to watch TV and keep a person warm, he knows how to fend off dangerous UPS men.

But it doesn’t matter. He spends his days in his corner watching people walk by. This is life.

He sleeps in this hole, he gets one short walk each afternoon. Maybe if he’s lucky the brown-haired guy gives him a bath with weird smelling soap. He knows that one day he will be led to the back room with the doctor, like all the other old dogs. And that will be the end.

The door to the main room opens. The place comes unglued with barking dogs who are probably making messes in their cages. Every dog is freaking out over the new visitor.

He pokes his nose out of his cage to get a look. He can see a little girl. She’s kind of cute, but then, all the kids are. She looks around for a few minutes.

The girl stops in front of his cage. She says, “What’s this one’s name?”

“We don’t know,” says the woman employee.

“You don’t know his name?”

“We get a lotta dogs without names, honey.”

The girl approaches his kennel. He doesn’t bother standing up. Why waste his energy? If you’ve seen one kid you’ve seen them all.

The child reaches her hand through the bars. “Come here, boy,” she says.

He looks at her but doesn’t move. She seems sweet enough, but he’s no dummy. This is the same old song and dance.

“Let’s go, sweetie,” says the woman. “He’s probably too old for you, let’s go look at the puppies.”

“Can I pet him?”

A long pause. The woman says, “But don’t you wanna see the younger ones?”

“Please?”

“Well, maybe just for a minute.”

The cage door opens. This gets his attention. His cage door NEVER opens.

The little girl steps in. He’s on his feet now. He’s nervous. Panting. Heart beating fast. Who is this child and what does she want? He backs away.

She reaches her hand outward. She comes close. He lets her rest her palm on his forehead. It’s warm. The child rubs his fur. And she doesn’t just rub him, she hugs his WHOLE BODY! Oh the rapture! He turns into a puddle.

“You’re not too old,” the girl whispers to him.

Before he even realizes what’s happening, the employee places a leash on him and leads him out of the kennel.

“What in the world?” he’s thinking. “Where are we going?”

They are parading him down the aisle. He’s leaving this place. Can it be? Is this for real? Or is it a cruel joke? All the dogs are screaming.

In a few minutes, it’s official. The little girl signs a stack of papers then takes him home. She names him Jackson. She gives him a brand new world and she even lets him sleep in her bed.

It all happens so fast that it still seems like some kind of elaborate fantasy. Yesterday; death row. Today; Buckingham Palace.

Sometimes, late at night when he sleeps beside her, he still can’t get over how beautiful this child is. This girl who makes waking up each morning worthwhile, just to see her pretty face. This ten-year-old girl who makes him feel as though he was built for her. Who taught him how to appreciate being alive again. Oh, if this kid only knew.

It really is a shame that humans don’t speak Dog.

Either way, congratulations on your new best friend, Briana.

59 comments

  1. Louise Cammack - February 8, 2020 6:50 am

    That is so beautiful! Thank you.

    Reply
  2. grantburris - February 8, 2020 7:23 am

    Congratulations to you,Sean and Briana also. What a great story. I read it several times. I like Jackson.

    Reply
  3. Leslie in NC - February 8, 2020 7:28 am

    I’m not crying, you’re crying. Love love love this sweet story! Happy tails, Jackson and Briana!

    Reply
  4. Sharon Lawson - February 8, 2020 8:20 am

    Wow. Filled my heart with love. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Sandi. - February 8, 2020 9:59 am

    Sean, what a heartwarming, delightful dog story! It should be posted on the main entrance wall of every animal shelter and kennel on the continent. What a fantastic advertisement for the humane society!

    Reply
  6. Meredith Smith - February 8, 2020 10:29 am

    Oh I absolutely feel that old dogs have so much to offer us! When my dog got up in years, by that I mean between the ages of 10-15, she became such a different dog to me emotionally. A senior dog has different needs, she looks at life in a different way. Yes, puppies are cute. They have that puppy energy. That puppy smell. That puppy saggy belly and whiptail. But seniors love you in a way that puppies don’t. You should feel honored to have earned the love of a senior dog. ❤️

    Reply
  7. Karen Jaeb - February 8, 2020 11:52 am

    No doubt about it – I’m crying, and I don’t cry easily! Happy tears for many old dogs I still miss greatly.

    Reply
  8. johnallenberry - February 8, 2020 12:01 pm

    Well, you’ve made me cry again! Happy homecoming, Jackson! God bless you, and God bless littlle ten year old girls who see things clearer than the rest of us.

    Reply
  9. Peggy Savage - February 8, 2020 12:16 pm

    I love senior dogs. They are so wise and beautiful. Over the years I have adopted only seniors. I know we won’t have a long time together, but the time we have is so special. This scenario should be an ad for senior adoption. .Well done Sean….and hugs to Jackson.

    Reply
  10. Naomi - February 8, 2020 12:40 pm

    One of my granddaughters had to have her dog put down a few years ago, but she still posts pictures of him on FB. My daughter has had two dogs that got hit by cars even though they have acres of land where they could roam and play; they preferred playing in the middle of the road. She was so upset that she couldn’t even bury him, a couple of friends had to bury him. She had just had a litter of puppies and she and her husband kept one of the puppies. This dog, named Margo, is so attached to my son-in-law that he can’t even leave the house. If he is late coming home, Margo starts pacing the floor and looking at the door. If he is late coming home, my daughter has to call him so that he can talk to Margo; his friends overhear the conversation and asked him if he was having an affair. He had a hard time explaining that he was talking to his dog over the phone. No one is going to convince me that dogs don’t go to heaven, except maybe a black Cocker Spaniel that I had when I was a child; he was demon possessed. We also had a big black dog show up at our house one day when I was a teenager. He didn’t have a collar or tags and somebody had shot him; we lived in the city and I didn’t know anyone had guns. Anyway, we took him in. What I was worried about was that we had a house full of cats and one of them just had a litter. It turned out that this dog, who looked like a bear, loved cats. He helped the mama cat raise her kittens. He would pick one up by the scruff of the neck and lick it clean, then take it back to its mama and pick up another kitten.

    Reply
  11. Susan Kennedy - February 8, 2020 12:59 pm

    My heart….😭

    Reply
  12. Noah - February 8, 2020 1:05 pm

    Well, I have to admit I am crying, and without shame. The world needs more Brianas giving dogs like Jackson the life they deserve.

    Reply
  13. Sarah Nash - February 8, 2020 1:12 pm

    This is the best column yet!! I’m a wordsmith, but I don’t even know the words to tell you what incredible emotions this brought up! You’ve captured the whole “elderly dog” in one brief span!!!

    Reply
  14. Sara Jane Howland - February 8, 2020 1:29 pm

    This is so sweet! Made my eyes leak, but so good! Thank you, you dear, sweet person!

    Reply
  15. Jean - February 8, 2020 1:37 pm

    Briana is my kind of girl!!! How or why people can give up their family pets is beyond me….apparently they have no heart. My parents taught me to love and take care of our animals. Mine will be with me till the day they die…and I am not looking forward to those days.

    Reply
  16. Cheryl - February 8, 2020 1:39 pm

    Might sound weird, but parts of this remind me of walking through the nursing home to see my 98 yr. old mom. So much wisdom in those folks who are no longer able to share, and whose families do not visit. Breaks my heart.

    Reply
  17. Alice - February 8, 2020 1:43 pm

    Dear Sean again you managed to make me cry it is so sad to think about dogs being abandoned by their owners!i wish every dog could be adopted!thank you for being a dog lover too God bless you ❤️❤️

    Reply
  18. Beth - February 8, 2020 1:44 pm

    So sweet, shed a tear.

    Reply
  19. Maria - February 8, 2020 2:04 pm

    Old dogs and old people. We have so much love to give.

    Reply
  20. Joe Patterson - February 8, 2020 2:22 pm

    Thanks I need another dog and since I am old an old one will be better

    Reply
  21. Cathi Russell - February 8, 2020 2:33 pm

    The frosted faces are the BEST!

    Reply
  22. Chuck Gerlach - February 8, 2020 2:34 pm

    Great story. Older dogs are the best. By far. About 18 months ago, we adopted a 7.5 year old Golden Retriever. The VERY sweetest dog I have ever owned. She was a breeder dog her entire life so had really never received real love from anyone. ANYONE who is thinking about rescuing a dog, pick an older one. Even if you only get to keep them 3 or 4 or 5 years, the love they will provide you is well worth the eventual loss. Actually, more than well worth it.

    Reply
  23. Teresa Tindle - February 8, 2020 2:40 pm

    I can not hold back my tears. They are for old dogs and old people who get pushed aside. If only young people and sometimes even your own children knew how you yearned for a kind word or for a visit that last more than 15 minutes. Older dogs have so much love to give. Please give onenone a try. They will love you eternally

    Reply
  24. Bobbie E - February 8, 2020 2:42 pm

    Dog stories are my weakness. God bless this little girl, for giving Jackson a home…everyone deserves a home, no matter how old you are! I’m old too. Dogs have the same needs people do…especially love and I believe they truly love on a different level than people. They don’t hold back, they don’t hold grudges, they’re not vengeful…they love with that unconditional love. I can only imagine his hopelessness day in and day out. I’m so glad this story ended well. Thank you again Sean for your heartfelt stories. Long life to Jackson in his happy new home!💖

    Reply
  25. Marge Hutsell - February 8, 2020 3:07 pm

    I can’t seem to stop my tears right now. The visual picture you. paint with your story jumped off the page and into my heart by the end of the first sentence! Thank you for reminding. us that “old” is not a bad thing. Dogs and humans just want to be loved.

    Reply
  26. Bkr - February 8, 2020 3:11 pm

    Oh wow. This story made me cry real tears. So sweet so my happy world story. Makes me want to adopt and old dog when I already have three old dogs! Please don’t ever stop writing! You are amazing

    Reply
  27. Terri C Boykin - February 8, 2020 3:25 pm

    ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  28. Tammy S - February 8, 2020 3:29 pm

    😭🦮👧🏻🥰 beautiful!!!

    Reply
  29. Chasity Davis Ritter. - February 8, 2020 3:55 pm

    I would have put on mascara today… so much for that!! I’m glad this good boy found a loving home. It breaks my heart that these older pets find themselves in shelters. Well it’s sad that any animal has to. I wish it was a place that was only necessary because pets get lost and they all get returned to their owners. But I know things happen sometimes. Elderly owners pass away and no one can take on their little furry loved ones. There’s legitimate reasons. Also crap reasons like the dog just wasn’t cute any more once they weren’t a puppy or Christmas is over or people aren’t responsible enough to spay and neuter. It hurts my heart and makes me love my fur babies just a little extra today. God bless this precious girl who could see this older dog with her heart and not just her eyes.

    Reply
  30. Berryman Mary M - February 8, 2020 3:56 pm

    My son is leaving today, taking the puppy we have all gotten so attached to. Tears flow, Sean. Thanks for a wonderful story of love and devotion.

    Reply
  31. Berryman Mary M - February 8, 2020 3:59 pm

    Yes, I thought this might be an analogy of “human” senior years. We all have something to offer.

    Reply
  32. Ginger Clifton - February 8, 2020 4:12 pm

    Posted in memory of Buster. Miss you, Buster.

    Reply
  33. MermaidGrammy - February 8, 2020 4:30 pm

    I’m not even a “dog person”, but this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read.

    I’m not a cat person either

    Reply
  34. Sharon Brock - February 8, 2020 4:43 pm

    Oh this one made me cry. What a beautiful story. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  35. Chrissie Hine - February 8, 2020 4:46 pm

    So now I am crying buckets of tears! Geez! But thanks, Sean, for reminding everyone to PLEASE look at the older dogs, too. The Best!

    Reply
  36. Linda Moon - February 8, 2020 5:04 pm

    Your title and illustration immediately sort-of braced me for what would come. So, I was able to read on without obstruction of too much liquid in the eyes. A human I know and love speaks Dog and even taught his smart dog to understand American Sign Language (ASL). Briana, thank you for listening to the old dog and taking him home. Sean, thank you for telling us the Beautiful Ballad about Briana and Jackson. I will give my two old cats, who are smart like dogs but softer and cuddlier, some extra affection today!!

    Reply
  37. Amy - February 8, 2020 5:09 pm

    What a precious story! I wish all the old dogs had some one like Briana yo love them!

    Reply
  38. Patricia Gibson - February 8, 2020 5:21 pm

    Good job making me cry but I sure agree and wish I could rescue them all!!

    Reply
  39. Connie Havard Ryland - February 8, 2020 6:50 pm

    Dang it Sean. Ugly crying. We got both our babies from a shelter. Our first was several years old and still carries buckshot in his side. He’s the best. He loves us with all his big heart. And we love him back. Our fur babies make our lives better every day. So thankful Jackson found a loving home too.

    Reply
  40. Gale Smith - February 8, 2020 6:51 pm

    Thank you for a beautiful story. My 10 year old dog and I are growing old together. I am never lonely and he will never be left behind. I would not give him up for all the money in the world.

    Reply
  41. Rebecca J Cotney - February 8, 2020 6:59 pm

    Shelter dogs make the best pets. We have three & we usually end up with an older dog. They have so much love to give & make our lives so much better. Thank you Briana . You have a good heart.

    Reply
  42. Tim House - February 8, 2020 7:45 pm

    This left me in a puddle of tears, but happy, grateful tears. You struck that part of my heart that IS my heart. A story whose gist needs retold with different people and dogs EVERY day, and many times over. Puppies are sweet, but there is nothing more beautiful than the heart of an old dog. <3

    Reply
  43. Janice - February 8, 2020 8:15 pm

    You’ve made me cry before, but you’ve really done it today. God bless Jackson and Briana.

    Reply
  44. Pat Lynch - February 8, 2020 8:23 pm

    Well, you did it again. Made my eyes leak.

    Reply
  45. Jones - February 8, 2020 9:39 pm

    ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Yet another great one!

    Reply
  46. Melanie - February 8, 2020 9:46 pm

    😢😭😭😭😭😢😭😢😢

    Reply
  47. Shelton A. - February 8, 2020 10:33 pm

    Wow…Sean, you really got me with that one in a good way.

    Reply
  48. Donna Brown - February 9, 2020 12:18 am

    Beautiful!!!

    Reply
  49. Shirley Outen - February 9, 2020 12:19 am

    Oh, my goodness! I am sitting here crying like a baby! Puppies are cute and fun, but old dogs sustain the human spirit. Thank you for sharing this, Sean.

    Reply
  50. Meredith Williams - February 9, 2020 1:28 am

    Oh, Sean, You really got to me with this one!! I foster old dogs and wish every one could have a little girl !! Xoxo

    Reply
  51. Sonya Tuttle - February 9, 2020 1:42 am

    True love doesn’t think about numbers

    Reply
  52. Beverly Wynn Bua - February 9, 2020 5:11 am

    Omigosh.. this story hit me hard 😥Just today I stopped in Petsmart, & they were having their rescue pet sale by the local lost & found organizations…. there were two dogs that really got to me…one was a scruffy looking, medium size terrier, who would jump up enthusiastically with his tail going a mile a minute.. everytime someone came close to his cage . He was like takeme, take me………& no one gave him a second glance because of the cute poodle mix next door…
    The other one was an older , war torn looking Pittie with such a defeatist demeanor, like , ” I’m not getting excited because no one will pick me”.. I turned & had to leave because I wanted to take them both home with me which was definitely not an option…
    I was so overwhelmed with sadness that I couldn’t help but sit in the car for a few minutes while I dried my tears.., that feeling stayed with me even after I got home & my KiKi greeted me with lots of kisses & I hugged her so much, she was like alright already , I know u love me, now where’s my treat!!! She made me smile… but boy reading your story tonight sent me right back to feeling sad for those two special pups in the store…. I hope they found their “Brianna”……..😔🙏❤️☮️

    Reply
  53. Janie's Jottings - February 9, 2020 12:54 pm

    I am not a dog person, been bit a few times. But I bawled all thru reading this to my husband, on our way to church. God bless you Sean, this one tore me up.

    Reply
  54. Steve Winfield - February 9, 2020 5:08 pm

    😭

    Reply
  55. Jan - February 9, 2020 8:26 pm

    Oh my, Sean, what a tearjerker. And how very true. You brought this subject to life like I have never read or heard it done before. I agree with others who say that this article should be posted prominently at every rescue organization. I hope there are some reading this that will follow through. What a heart you have, and what a wonderful ability to put this very sad subject into words that tug at our heartstrings, and hopefully make a difference.

    I am no longer physically able to take care of an animal, but I have rescued older cats a number of times over the years and they have been a wonderful joy and comfort to me. Nothing was more comforting than having one of my cats snuggle up next to me, or on me, purring with her whole body. Older cats need to be rescued too.

    Reply
  56. Carol Rothwell - February 9, 2020 10:18 pm

    I have two from the shelter. Sweet loving furbabies!
    People found them and dropped them off. Like they were thrown away.
    I have friends and family that buy their furbabies, but I just couldn’t knowing their so many wanting loving homes!
    Thank you for reminding people !
    Love ya!

    Reply
  57. Dru Brown - February 10, 2020 3:33 am

    My son went to the pound and studied the last day or never dogs. There was one, a tricolored terrier/pointer mix, that the children instantly turned from. His wagging white-tipped tail was crooked, having been broken. The edge of one ear had been torn and had healed that way. He had scarred hips and, worst of all, just one eye. The other was a sad, empty pink spot. Barrett took Atticus home, and they have had a beautiful story. He had been hungry so long that he had to learn moderation after stealing a whole grilled pork loin from the counter and eating every bite. He had been alone and scared so long that when Barrett left him in his Jeep for a few minutes to pick up something at Home Depot, he literally broke through the canvas top and raced through the parking lot to find him. After finally learning to relax, Barrett’s choice became great company, a true gentleman, our beloved granddog. Atticus is a frost-covered tricolor mix now, but he is still his dad’s happy boy.

    Reply
  58. Angela V Young - February 11, 2020 10:51 pm

    Oh, dammit, Sean, you made me cry, agsin! Every time you talk about your sister or a dog, I am a mess! Love you, anyway!

    Reply
  59. James Victor Hamilton - February 12, 2020 1:39 am

    Great story!
    We all need to speak dog…or at least understand it!

    Reply

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