Everything's Jake: Watching dog stars

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A handsome two-year-old British lab barreled his way into my heart after I resisted our getting another dog. It was a relationship made in heaven.

Rescued from a shelter in St. Louis, where he not only was picked up a happy but homeless stray, but named Gunther by a well-meaning staffer who might have been a fan of a 5th century Burgundy king (or of the love-struck barista on TV's "Friends").

Anyway, he came home and immediately extended his sturdy puppy frame out to pee in a freshly mown yard, like some canine version of the rubbery Stretch Armstrong toy.

"He's not Gunther," I said. "He's Jake."

Jake then tossed a rubber ball into the air, caught it himself, ran to me, and jumped into a greeting – his front legs strategically on my crotch.

"Whatcha think?" he seemed to pant-smile.

"Oof," I replied.

He made himself at home, soon learning to effectively communicate in ways such as dragging his empty water bowl with his paw, growing to 100 pounds and carrying a good nature around more than his size.

A local cop and a school crossing guard started feeding him dog biscuits on morning walks, so he gets very alert when a patrol car passes or kids with book bags approach the street.

Inside, he's my couch-potato companion.

I always heard that dogs are color blind and can't smell pictures on television sets, so they ignore TV.

Not Jake. He watches television more than my wife, who even when next to us on what used to be "the good couch" before two years of doggishness, usually reads.

Jake pays attention. He likes Bullet from "The Roy Rogers Show" and the title character from "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," plus, OK, almost any stray horse, cat or other animal that wanders across the screen. But he especially gets interested in the white terrier mix in the silly Travelers Insurance commercials.

I may introduce him to Lassie, which makes me wonder about Hollywood's other "dog stars."

There was Eddie from "Frasier," of course, but also Tramp from "My Three Sons" and the little terrier named Higgins who starred not only on "Petticoat Junction" but "Benji," too.

Also on the big screen, there was Asta from "The Thin Man" films, Daisy from all the "Blondie" movies, Disney's Big Red and Old Yeller (which I'm never going to screen for Jake, I don't know how he'd react to that tragedy – or me weeping), John Wayne's mongrel Sam from "Hondo" and some animated stars, from Tramp (and most of the cast) in "Lady & the Tramp" to Pluto (and Goofy? I'm still confused about him).

For now, I'm still thinking about what's in the house on video as I walk Jake and watch him romping in the snow, savoring a Kong filled with peanut butter, and fetching/retrieving a holiday squeak toy like it mattered.

About the Author
Bill Knight recently retired after a couple decades teaching journalism at Western Illinois University. Now, you might find him strolling through the streets of Elmwood with his wife and fellow writer, Terry Bibo, along with their son, Opie, and his beloved collie, Lassie.* *Actually this last bit isn’t true. Not to mention the fact that our writer got “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Lassie & Timmy” mixed up.