More verve, less blue notes for Jazz

Herbie Hancock once said “Jazz is about being in the moment.” If that’s the case and dogs could play instruments, there would be some stiff competition in the jazz world. Dogs have a real knack for belly-up basking in the NOW – especially Jazz the dog.

Even when it appears he’s not doing much of anything, the 13 year-old yellow Labrador retriever excels at idleness one melodic minute at a time. Perhaps he follows the philosophy of Miles Davis: “If you don’t know what to play, play nothing.”

Boy, can he play.


After two failed relationships, Jazz has finally found his place in this world – third time’s the charm! Not that he should ever regret the past, mind you. Miles Davis also said, “Do not fear mistakes, there are none,”… at least not when it comes to Jazz.

At 8 years old, Jazz was rescued from a neglectful owner by a well-meaning young lady. He could still play his tail like a drum stick back then. I’m sure they enjoyed a few swinging jam sessions at first but good intentions are never enough on their own. His second owner’s pregnancy led to her find a new home for a dog that had become a heavy burden on her, figuratively and literally. Jazz had lost the music in his heart.

As his walks became less frequent, Jazz became the poster boy for a dog without exercise. At the time of his rescue, Jazz was grossly obese. This likely caused the painful swelling of one of his ankles clinically known as osteochondritis, common in overweight Labs. The condition is often followed by severe arthritis. Jazz was headed in that direction. Growths on his eyelids had seriously compromised his vision. To top it off, an ear infection made it impossible to hear even the softest music.

Upon his arrival at Catherine Pokrywa’s Sheba’s Haven Rescue in January, 2013, the music played sweetly for old Jazz. His previous owner wanted to make good on her original intentions. She raised funds so Catherine could buy him a ramp and to help cover his initial veterinary bills. Thanks to certified prosthetist Janice Olynich, who established PawsAbility in 2007 to offer prosthetic and orthotic services for animals, Jazz was fitted with a rescue-discounted brace to stabilize his ankle.

Nevertheless, there was another consequence to his obesity. One of a myriad of fatty lumps came back as a malignant mast cell tumour which needed to be surgically removed. Catherine also had the growths on his eyelids excised giving him a crystal clear view of his heavenly haven!

Lumps and bumps gone, things were just dandy for Jazz until this past June when he suddenly stopped eating. An ultrasound revealed a bladder mass and an increase in the size of his adrenal glands. It either meant Cushing’s disease or stress from an unknown cause. When Cushing’s was ruled out, exploratory surgery led to the discovery of ulcers, likely resulting from prolonged use of anti-inflammatory medication prescribed for his arthritis.

Jazz spent five days at the emergency clinic recovering from surgery while Sheba’s Haven spent the most money on one dog in its entire history. This big loveable boy incurred $8,000 in medical expenses, but he’s worth every dollar. As soon as he got home, he knew just what to do to lighten the mood. Making a bee-line to his sprawling backyard, Jazzy took a relaxing mud bath in the stream and then painted his best mud masterpiece on the kitchen floor.

But that’s not really the story that needs telling. The real story is about two extraordinary people who keep the band playing at Sheba’s Haven.

I took a lesson from Jazz this summer when I visited Catherine, her husband Bill and all their fur-clad, multi-talented musicians. I lived in the moment. It’s really not that hard to do when something takes your breath away.

There’s one particularly breathless moment I’d like to share, even if words can’t quite do it justice.

One of the other haven waifs stood out for me on my visit despite the fact he actually can’t. His name is Baxter and he’s paralyzed from the waist down. Catherine was told he had a bad fall.

Baxter is a happy boy. The haven set him up with a custom-made wheelchair built for speed. He’s got the puppy-powered energy to prove it. He also likes free-styling on the freshly mowed grounds at the Haven. That’s what he was doing when we visited, until he wanted up on the deck to meet everybody. Bill heard his request before any of us, immediately stopped what he was doing and came to little Baxter’s rescue.

In that moment, watching Bill gently place Baxter in his arms and carry him up the stairs like he’s probably done a million times before, the hands of the clock remained perfectly still for me.

Later, I asked Bill about Jazz. He teased, “He admires me! Every night before bed, he comes up to me and says – I want to be just like you – then he curls up on his favourite bed in front of the TV and accidentally turns on the VCR with his bum.”

And the band played on…

Jazz is a 13-year-old Labrador retriever making beautiful music at Sheba’s Haven Rescue (!

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