by Murray Dunlap

As much as I hate to admit it, Dad had a dog. A fine dog. A good dog.

All right, an amazing dog.

One of those once in a lifetime dogs who will look you in the eye and understand not just what you say, not just the command, but what you mean. A dog who takes in the more complicated, human tonalities, and converts them into action.

Dad named Jake, like all good southern dogs, for an aspect of hunting life. In this case, a young male turkey. A seasoned hunter will let the Jake pass. It is considered preferable to kill an old gobbler, one with a beard long enough to spot at more than fifty yards. The signal flag for a proper kill. Dad's Jake was an American Labrador. Tar black coat with tar black eyes. By breeding standards, he was too big. One hundred and ten pounds. By southern hunting standards, Jake was the best thing on four legs in all of Alabama. Dad told stories about Jake. Jake and ducks, Jake and turkeys, Jake and whitetail deer. From the sound of it, Jake could recite hunting laws to the game warden by case number while gumming a mallard and tracking a ten-point buck.

Jake was a dog who would walk with you, not ahead of you. Who would wait for you at the bottom of a flight of stairs, or the top, depending on which direction you were headed. Jake was a dog who could smell the verve in your voice and know in advance if he would be going along in the car or staying behind to guard the house.

Jake did not whine.

If Jake needed to go out in the middle of the night, which was only if Dad forgot his evening walk, he sidled up to bedside and stared, willing you awake to open the door. If that didn't work, he looked for an exposed hand and gave a gentle lick. This would be enough, he knew, to animate Dad into action without anger.

Following the afternoon hunt, Jake would lie at Dad's feet. His ears perked at all the right moments, listening to the story of the day build, link by link, forming a chain of events so unlikely that no one would believe a word had it not been for Dad's hypnotic charm. His unbearable, seducing charm. Jake panted over muddy paws, and, as was demanded of all southern hunting dogs, held a perfect poker face. Even when the story w