Jacob was a foster child. He grew up in the Foster Pinball Machine. Birth to graduation. He was never adopted by a family.
He and I weren’t close friends, but we knew each other. I lost track of him at age fifteen. He moved away to a group home.
We got in touch a few years ago and I expected to learn he had a wife and kids, but that wasn’t the case. Instead Jacob has animals.
Six dogs, three cats.
I don’t think Jacob would mind me saying that he marches to the beat of his own tuba.
He’s had little choice in the matter. His childhood was spent bouncing from family to family, looking after himself, remembering to eat regularly. It was a hardscrabble childhood.
Today he leads a good life. He’s a restaurant cook, he likes to hike, camp, and he’s had the same girlfriend for ten years.
Yesterday, we talked about all his animals.
“I dunno,” he said. “Just love animals.
Growing up, I was never allowed to have any. And I had so much love I wanted to give.”
Jacob found his first dog after work one night. It was late. A stray black Lab was sniffing trash cans behind a restaurant. The dog bolted when it heard footsteps.
So Jacob tried to coax it with food. The dog wasn’t interested. Then Jacob resorted to heavy artillery.
Raw ground beef.
No dog, not even Benji, can remain civilized in the presence of a raw hamburger. Jacob left an entire package on the pavement then backed away slowly.
The dog still wouldn’t come. So Jacob gave up and piled into his car to leave.
But before he wheeled away, he glanced in his rear mirror. The dog was eating a pound of sirloin in one bite.
“Started feeding him every day,” Jacob said. “I just wanted him to know somebody cared.”
And you already know where this tale is heading. For two months, Jacob ”cared.” He fed the dog from a distance seven nights per week—even when he wasn’t working.
And on one fateful evening, a breakthrough happened. The old dog walked straight toward Jacob and had a seat at his feet.
“You shoulda seen how he was looking at me. He was like: ‘Can I really trust you, man?’ I was like, ‘You can trust me, dude. Just please gimme the chance to be your friend.’”
Jacob pet the dog. They carried on in the parking lot until they both fell asleep. And if you’ve read this far, you can figure out the rest.
It wasn’t long before that animal was wearing a personalized collar and scratching on the back door to go tee-tee. He slept at the foot of Jacob’s bed and ate in the kitchen. The dog showered with Jacob. Jacob named the dog Pat.
Pat soon had his own fluffy bed, his own chew toys, his own room. Pat won the canine lottery.
But nothing lasts forever. Six years later the vet discovered Pat had cancer. It was quick. They put the dog to sleep in the vet’s office while Jacob rubbed the animal’s head, speaking in a soft voice.
Pat’s eyes rolled backward. Jacob cried—and you won’t see a man like Jacob do that often. Jacob’s tears don’t fall easily.
“When I was a kid,” said Jacob, “all I ever wanted was a home that I could say was all mine. That’s what I did for Pat. Pat knew he had a real home with me. He wasn’t unloved like I was.”
Pat had more than a home. And he received more than mere love. In fact, for once in that dog’s life he knew what it meant to have an honest-to-goodness brother. And so did Jacob.
Some might wonder what my point is here. And the truth is, I don’t really know—I’m not good at points. What I do know is this: no matter what anyone says, a dog is not just a dog. A dog is blood kin.
Just ask Jacob.