Love Laugh Woof Dog Stories: Jake and the Scuba Mask
By Lynn Stacy-Smith
Sussex County, New Jersey is hands down the hidden gem of New Jersey. Most people from outside the state do not believe me that it exists since the stereotype is that the state is a giant toxic waste dump. That stereotype could not be farther from the truth. Located in the Appalachian Mountains, my hometown of Andover was an outdoor lover’s paradise. It was also a fabulous place to be a kid or a Labrador Retriever.
When we needed to move to the Chicago area for Dad’s job, my parents did substantial research to try to find something even remotely as secluded and wooded as the home we were selling. Fortunately they found a house on a large wooded lot with a stream running through the backyard and promptly installed an in-ground swimming pool to make up for the fact that we no longer lived lakefront. It wasn’t quite as awesome as our lakefront paradise, but it was close. Snoop loved frolicking in the stream as did Cinder when she joined our family as an energetic little puppy.
A few years after we moved our beloved Snoop passed away, leaving Cinder an only dog. The next autumn, my father was bird hunting at a hunt club that had a litter of puppies that were old enough to run around the club and explore the world but not yet ready to go to their new homes. For three weeks in a row, one particular little yellow Labrador puppy followed my Dad around every chance that he got. On the fourth week, when the puppy was eight weeks old and ready to leave his litter, Dad could not resist the little pup and Jake headed home to meet the family he had selected for himself.
Jake was another of Dad’s heart dogs and was a natural bird dog. Cinder was more attached to my mother and did not have the same drive, trainability or temperament to be a hunting companion, so she was happy to stay home with Mom and me while Jake and Dad went on their adventures. Just like Snoop before him, Jake was an absolute sweet dog who loved to swim and play fetch with my brothers and me, chill out with us in our bedrooms or hang out in the family room when our friends came over, but the moment Dad came home, Jake was by his side. If Dad went outside, Jake went outside. When Dad went to bed, Jake went to bed. Dad was clearly, without a shadow of a doubt, Jake’s chosen person.
Jake loved the swimming pool and walked down the stairs of the pool several times a day all summer, swam a few laps back and forth, and then walked back up the stairs. Cinder usually only jumped off the side when we threw a ball or a dummy to her, but Jake got in and out using the stairs like a human, very nonchalant and relaxed, just a dog going for a quick swim. If we were in the pool he would swim up to us and let us hold him in our arms like a child until he decided he was done.
An avid scuba diver, Dad adopted the practice of using his scuba mask and snorkel so that he could swim around to vacuum the pool instead of standing on the pool deck. It was extremely smart because the visibility was so much better and he could make sure he had vacuumed up every last bit of dirt or leaves and also free dive down to get any dirt at the very bottom of the pool.
I have seen a lot of people wearing scuba masks and snorkels throughout my lifetime, and essentially everyone looks bizarre in them. Dad’s mask was a full face mask, black and Darth Vader-ish, and Jake was about as much of a fan of the mask as Luke Skywalker was of Darth Vader. The first time I saw Dad put on the mask and snorkel in the pool, I could hardly breathe I laughed so hard at Jake’s reaction.
As incredibly smart as he was, Jake could never figure out that Dad was still Dad when he put on the mask and snorkel. He would bark and growl with his hackles up until Dad put his face in the water, and then watch him the entire time he vacuumed the pool. Sometimes we would look out into the back yard and see Jake laying on the pool cement, front paws dangling over the side of the pool with his blocky yellow head cocked to the side as he stared down at my father. If Dad moved to another area, Jake followed, watching his every move until he surfaced and Jake started his barking and growling all over again. As soon as the pool was clean and the mask and snorkel put away, Jake was his happy self again.
Each week, Jake had the same reaction. Freak out, watch Dad’s every move, then express huge relief in the form of a wiggling Labrador body and super fast wagging tail when Dad emerged from the pool. He never jumped in to save him or went in via the steps like when he wanted to take a swim, never tried to attack the mask, he just watched intently from the edge. Sometimes Cinder watched along with him and sometimes he did his pool patrol on his own.
I wish Jake could have communicated what he was thinking, if he was afraid something was attacking our father like a sea monster or if he had no comprehension that it was still his all-time favorite human in the entire world under that big scary mask. I can’t imagine what Jake would have done if Dad had worn an air tank!
Flash forward twenty years later and my husband has sometimes adopted this same method of vacuuming our pool, although ours is just an above-ground and takes a fraction of the time. Jackson and Tinkerbell have seen my husband and the kids in a variety of different goggles and masks and haven’t cared one bit, although ours are just for casual swimming or snorkeling, not professional scuba masks. They just glance at us and go back to doing their thing as if odd behavior from their humans is nothing out of the ordinary. If only Jake were still with us to tell them otherwise.
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