The Fostering and Adoption of Jax
By Sara Donadei-Blood
Photos of Jax in Rescue © 2006
I got the call on a dog show weekend, so my faithful husband Ed, who got me into Rescue in the first place, went to Miami Animal Control to identify, evaluate and possibly pull the two “maybe-Malinois” I was contacted about. The phone call I got later that afternoon from Ed assured me that they were indeed Mals. He had just finished bathing them to rid them of the infamous “Miami Muck.” Good, I thought, they must’ve been super-sweet for my “cat-person” husband to have pulled them, and I was confident about our ability to place them.
That confidence evaporated the second I walked into the house later that day and saw the larger of the two Malinois. My heart stopped. Literally. First off, he was HUGE -- a visit to the vet later confirmed his wiry body was 90 lbs – Great Dane huge – with ears tattered from fly bites giving them a ragged, lacey edge. He had a distinct appearance of a disreputable junk-yard dog. His short “mole” coat was in no better shape. He apparently had a tremendous tick infestation and obviously spent a great deal of time exposed outdoors to the brutal South Florida weather conditions. He was also obviously an older dog. I sighed and shook my head. We would have him a long time, I thought. No one would want this dog.
With great dignity, the big boy made his way over to greet me following the rest of my “pack.” He deferred to them with great dog-manners. Definitely a point in his favor. He also completely ignored the Siamese cats who had also come to the door to greet me – they mistakenly think they are part of the pack, too. Another selling point. I was already desperately formulating marketing ploys for him to make up for his appearance.
First thing was giving him an appropriate name. First we thought of Kahlua. I have a thing about naming a dog after alcohol – smacks of frat parties to me (no offense to all the Golden Retrievers named after beer) – and immediately the Greek God Ajax came to mind – influenced by his size, no doubt. As I didn’t want people to think of household cleaning products, I shortened it to “Jax” and as I greeted him personally, I crooned it, looking deep into his wise eyes. Ahhh, no wonder my husband pulled him – the wisdom in his eyes was magnetic. I could see the goodness, the heart and the strength in him.
To my surprise -- and I don’t think it was due to my PR spin in his bio -- a family contacted me within that first week about Jax. Huh? Really? I wasted no time getting them home visited and approved ~ they checked out perfectly. My only concern was that this is a family. Children. Young ones. I had NEVER adopted a Malinois to a family before – honestly, I am always worried about a high energy, high prey drive dog with children. I don’t have any children of my own to test them with on a 24/7 basis, and the brief “meetings” with kids on the street don’t count.
Ed mentioned that a family had wanted to adopt him initially and the children loved him, he was just too big for their apartment. He was fine with the kids in our neighborhood, too, but that’s not the same as living with kids. Sigh. What to do? I ended up talking at great length with the mom – about the breed, about my concerns, that the dog and children ALWAYS had to be supervised, etc., etc… And crossed my fingers. To be honest, the decision tipped in their favor when the mom told me she had posted Jax’s Rescue Site picture as her computer wallpaper so she could look at him whenever she sat at her desk. My hearted melted that someone already loved the big guy – ratty ears and all.
So far, Jax had been through the mill since his liberation from Miami – a tick-borne pathogen had left him in enough pain that it made getting up to relieve himself difficult, so he was on antibiotics and buffered aspirin for 14 days, but still no complaints from the big guy. He was polite on a leash, calm, quiet and sweet. I knew the family was getting a super dog, despite his raffish looks.
What I didn’t know, was HOW super he really was… Jax went to his new home via a brother-in-law who was visiting the Fort Lauderdale area. Jax was reportedly perfect on the long car trip to Alabama according to the phone call I got from the family when he arrived there a day later. Whew. Well, a good start to, hopefully, a good ending.
Of course, the next day, my heart nearly stopped again when we got a panicked call from the mom demanding to know if he “had any rescue training.” What? She sounded upset and related an incredible series of events that cemented Jax’s place in their home… The first incident involved their oldest son, age 6, who was riding his bike in their driveway. Jax watched contentedly until the child headed towards the street – and then the big boy sprang into action – preventing the child, on his bike, from riding out onto the street. Jax blocked the bike with his big body – the child lost his balance and fell, bike and all, onto Jax. This happened several times, apparently – Jax was insistent that his child NOT wander away and into trouble.
The second incident, that prompted the panicked phone call, happened in the pool area. Both their children, the younger one a toddler, were in the pool with their father, enjoying a swim. Apparently Jax was convinced they were in danger of drowning – perhaps the childrens’ excited squeals were interpreted as fear by Jax -- whatever the reason, Jax immediately went about pulling them out. First the older child and then the toddler were grabbed by the arm and pulled from the pool by Jax. It initially terrified the parents to see this 90 lb dog grab their children by the arm, but neither was hurt – just surprised. His grip was gentle enough that all it left was a little bruise the day after.
Needless to say, I was shocked. According to the shelter, he was basically a “backyard dog” – neglected and ignored. This hero stuff was not trained – it was JAX. The mom and I discussed some of the things that she needed to do to channel his behavior – some obedience training classes – as she didn’t want to dampen his instinct, just control it. What if one of the kids wandered out to the pool without their flotation vests? She was comforted by the fact that Jax was so protective – she just didn’t want him pulling them out when they were OK in the pool.
I thought about the fact that if I had been the one who had gone down to Miami, rather than my husband, I don’t know that I would have pulled him. He was so disreputable-looking I figured his adoptability was low. There were so many other, more attractive and YOUNG Mals in Rescue, who would want a rough-looking old dog? I am glad fate took a hand in Jax’s life and that my generous-hearted husband went that day to identify him. I was also glad I took a chance and finally adopted a Mal to a family, and I am delighted that Jax is Jax and found a wonderful forever home where he can be a hero and be loved despite his tattered ears and combat-boot feet. It’s a good thing.
There you go . . .