In Loving Memory of K-9 Jari

I have always maintained that there are few, if any, coincidences in this world. That everything happens for a reason. I believe that K-9 Jari is an example of that.

When I first met him, he was already considered a "Trouble Dog". He had gone through three handlers in two years. No one seemed to be willing to tell me why, and there was nothing in his record to explain it either.

First impressions were that he was one of the most handsome dogs I had ever seen. He was built tall and thick for a Malinois, and as soon as I leashed him up, I felt 90 lbs of solid drive nearly yank my shoulder out of socket. He was fast. He was raw strength and determination.

Trainers and handlers exploit a number of a dog's instinctual drives to motivate them to perform desired tasks. Obviously, not all dogs are equally as driven in all aspects, but most Military and Law Enforcement dogs are generally selected for service based on their level of what is called "Prey Drive", which is basically the need to chase, catch and dominate. Jari had it....a lot of it.

I vividly remember every thing about every single dog I ever worked with, or even around. All of them hold a place in my heart. All of them were truly special. All of them very different. And, while I'll always remember my very first K-9 as the perfect balance of everything, I will always remember the last K-9 I will ever work, Jari, as the most extreme at everything.

He was also completely detached. He didn't have a friend in the world, and didn't appear to want one either. He didn't care who was holding the leash. It was like he viewed any handler as nothing more than a nuisance, an obstacle. For the first few weeks we worked together, Jari never once even looked at me whenever he was on leash, except for the few times he decided to test the waters by coming back at me. He also lacked direction. People would just stare wide-eyed at the Tasmanian Devil as he exploded from his crate, ready to take out the world. If you were in the way, you were going to be eaten.

I was beginning to understand what had happened to his previous handlers. This could have been the most difficult dog to work that I had ever met. Except, he did his job. As ugly as it was, he did what he was supposed to do. 

The fact that we were able to certify together has nothing to do with me being a better handler than my predecessors. I'm sure that I wasn't. Just like people, sometimes there's chemistry, sometimes there's not. And, that gets back to my belief that things in life are not simply coincidence.

I could relate to this dog, as I was detached as well. Returning to the everyday world after a period of time in a completely different one leaves a person feeling disconnected. The priorities of the people around you now seem shallow and meaningless compared to that of those around you in combat. Some combat veterans begin to feel an inability to relate and even a certain level of resentment for the world around them. That's where I was. And, whatever reasons Jari had, he was there too. There was an odd sense of comfort in our dark comradery.

It wasn't too long after we certified that Jari began to change. Was he becoming more manageable? He began leaning in to me ever so slightly when he would sit. Then one day, as I was putting him up for the day, instead of bouncing all over the kennel, he turned and licked me, then sat and stared at me. It was so unexpected and uncharacteristic that I honestly wondered if I needed to take him to the vet.

That was the beginning of what would become the closest bond I have ever had with any dog, in any capacity. What had been indifference had become complete trust and loyalty. Whatever I asked of him, Jari was only too eager to comply. We began working together nearly intuitively, with almost nothing needing to be said. And, while he still had an abundance of Prey Drive, it was now tempered with his drive to please.

Out of the blue one day, Jari began to look like he was having coordination issues. The vet said that Jari had Congenital Myopathy. He said that the average life expectancy after diagnosis was about 6 months. We immediately began processing him for medical retirement. In the couple of short weeks the process took, Jari had gone from running like an Olympic athlete to barely staggering like a drunken sailor.

Where I worked, we had to house our K-9s at a contracted kennel. Jari had never been to my house. I was nervous. While he and I had bonded, he still wasn't a dog anyone would want to just walk up to and pet. I wasn't sure, even in his condition, how safe things were going to be with my family. But, Jari relieved all of my concerns when he melted at my son's feet. I had never seen such a passive stance.

I took Jari to my own private vet for a second look, and was given the same diagnosis. He could now barely walk. I made him as comfortable as I possibly could and waited for the inevitable. 

But, an odd thing happened. I don't know if it was the lack of stress, the love of family, prayer, or a combination of all. But, Jari began regaining his strength. Slowly, he began walking to the point where we would go for a very short walk. Then he began running...then playing...then... He was nearly back to full health.

True to Jari's hard driven nature, he spent almost another 3 years putting as much effort into being a member of our family as he had put into his previous career, loving all of us. He was calm and gentle, and often appeared deep in contemplation. He explored the forests and swam the streams of Northern Idaho. He ran and played, slept and sunned himself like every happy dog should.

Sadly, even a dog with all of Jari's will can not stay with us forever. On the day that Jari had to leave, he rested his head in my hands and looked at me as if to say he was ready. I thanked him and cried deeply.

I thanked him because this is not a story of a troubled dog who found redemption. It is the story of the dog I needed. The dog, who in his ability to learn to trust, relate, please, love and enjoy life, helped me find mine.


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