One Last Ride for Nemesis

Rob Chapman

I met Nemesis Chapman for the first time at a farm somewhere in the middle of Nowhere, Florida, just outside of Jacksonville, Florida. I found him through the classified ads in the Florida Times Union Newspaper. He was a great listener, an unbelievable athlete, and my constant companion for almost half of my life. If he didn’t get fleas, or shed, he would have been perfect.

I grew up without a dog for most of my childhood. Why? Simple. My dad said they were way too much work, a pain in the *rear*, and we (the 4 Chapman kids) wouldn’t take care of one. He was completely right on all accounts. But, on Christmas Day 1986, a purebred golden retriever puppy from the Freidman’s prized litter, literally jumped out of a Christmas present, and I was in love.

I still remember the first night when he whined and yelped in that crate all night long, and my dad was furious that he wouldn’t shut up. His frustration never ended, and my love never ended. Buddy grew into 90-pounds of pure alpha male that loved (substitute what camels have on their back) everything in site. He would run away, jump on furniture, not listen, dig, run away some more, chew, shed enough to fill a dumpster weekly, run away again, all while at the same time being my pillow at night, swimming at pool parties, licking (kissing) anyone he met, and being a big, overgrown teddy bear. We ultimately moved and gave him to a home that helped special need adults. It was for the best for us, and for Buddy.

Nemesis as a puppy, Rob as a College Junior

Fast forward to my first Spring Semester at Jacksonville University in 2001. I was studying for my Bachelor of Fine Arts, and decided I wanted a dog. I’m still not sure exactly why. It took basically 4 years to figure out my College major, but on a whim I was making a decision that would play a factor in the next 18+ years of my life. But, what kind of dog? I loved Buddy, and golden retrievers in general, but they were too big, and not practical for a full-time college student who was still living off his meager summer earnings. I figured a golden retriever would potentially eat me into bankruptcy.

2 things happened almost simultaneously that helped me make up my mind. I rented (Many years ago you could actually “rent” movies) ‘My Dog Skip.’ I watched as that perfectly behaved Jack Russell Terrier won over his family, critics, audiences, and more importantly – myself. During the movie I had flashbacks to my friends (The Robinson’s) JRT (shortened Jack Russell Terrier acronym) named Jackie and how awesome she was. They would yell “Yaaaaappppperrr” like a shrieking pterodactyl, and that dog would hit fast forward and run a thousand miles an hour while jumping over couches, leaping down flights of stairs, and then finish it off by grabbing a rope 6-feet in the air while hanging on for what seemed like hours. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen, and I wanted a 12-pound whirling dervish as an entertainer…and more importantly – a wingman.

I was pretty sure a JRT would be a good fit, and ultimately could travel anywhere I wanted to go easily. I was always on the road, from fishing and hunting, to visiting my future wife and family – this dog would be a road warrior. I was going to get a JRT. I found a breeder in the classifieds section, and when I showed up it was like a swarm of bees after you aggravate their nests – except these were JRT’s, everywhere, running and yapping. It was comical and terrifying at the same time. The thought crossed my mind: “What are you doing getting one of these barking machines on speed?”

We walked over to the littler of puppies, and all of them had fairly traditional markings, except for the biggest one in the litter. He had a black right ear, and a black left ear that carried all the way down to his jaw with some brown mixed in. His parents were typical size, no more than 15-pounds and short, but he was different and large – just like me. He was the last available puppy in the litter, and I didn’t wait around. He was going to be my dog.

I still remember the first 2 minutes of that ride home, as he hopped in the passenger seat, and stood there like he owned it. As soon I turned on the radio he turned his head like an owl at the craziest angle trying to figure out what that noise was, and where it was coming from. Little did I know this was one of his many bizarre traits that I would soon come to know, and ultimately led to his perfectly appropriate name, Nemesis.

I wasn’t going to let Nemesis train me; I had read “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Choosing, Training, and Raising a Dog” so I was ready for anything. You’ve heard of book parents that read every book under the sun for their babies, well this particular book was my pet bible. To be fair, it had a lot of great points, and I passed it on to many other first time pet owners. It’s not rocket science: either you train your dogs (or kids), or they train you. Or, so I thought…

The first night I brought Nemesis home I made the decision I’d let him sleep in my bed. He was too small to be my pillow like Buddy used to be, so I figured he’d curl up at the foot of my bed. The good news was that he didn’t whine, but the bad news was he thought he owned MY bed – on the first night! He propped up against me like I was his personal basketball backboard, and if I even barely twitched, he growled. It was a growl similar to one of those velociraptor’s from Jurassic Park, and within hours of buying my brand new, purebred, $500-ish Jack Russell Terrier I had second thoughts.

We made it through that first night, but I think I slept a total of 17 minutes, because I was sincerely afraid that he was possessed, and might attack me in my sleep. That next morning I noticed something unusual with Nemesis, which ultimately helped our sleeping situation. He was literally nursing on the blanket. If there had been milk in the blanket he would have guzzled an entire T.G. Lee Dairy. This wasn’t a puppy thing; he never stopped nursing. In fact, every Christmas I’d buy him a new pair of animal slippers that were his designated “nursing toys”.

He’d carry them everywhere, and he was very protective of these slippers. Eventually they’d rip (or disintegrate), they’d break down into small pieces (I called them shrapnel), and he’d bury them around the house. Yes, I repeat, “bury IN the house”. He’d hide these pieces under pillows, inside bed sheets, in between couch pillows, or anywhere else that he could simulate moving dirt, and then he’d whine more than a pack of coyotes. This was not covered in the book.

I made the choice to crate train him, because I figured we’d stay on the road, and that way I could take him anywhere. I started by taking him everywhere I went around Jacksonville University. He went to the baseball field, golf course, dorms (my sister was a Freshman soccer player), JU’s private fishing dock, and to my classes. I have to say I had a great teacher in our design classes. Professor Jack Turnock is still a friend 20 years after I sat in his class with terrible facial hair and never ending questions. And, he let me bring my puppy to class. Seriously, how cool is that? I was pursuing my Bachelor of Fine Arts with a backpack full of design pencils, paintbrushes, paints, sketchpad, and a pudgy fur ball that never left my side.

As I began to explore the surrounding St. Johns River and Atlantic Ocean (without a boat), Nemesis and I discovered several National Parks – with our favorite being the Timucuan National Ecological and Historic Preserve. I was able to bike (and he would run) down a path that winded over a mile through the woods, and opened up to our own Flounder Paradise. There were many a nights where I would load up the bike, a fishing rod rigged with a gold spoon, a small cooler, and we’d catch a few big flounder – and sometimes a slot redfish – that we’d invite home to dinner. I don’t think there’s a finer eating inshore fish than a flounder that was swimming an hour before it’s grilled. That’s the definition of fresh fish!

This was our weekly routine, and he was absolutely fearless like most JRT’s. He wasn’t afraid of other dogs, no matter the breed or size. I sincerely believe that in a JRT’s mind that they are the size of a grizzly bear; it’s like Napoleon Syndrome on steroids. If they were humans there wouldn’t be enough Ritalin in the state of Rhode Island to calm them down when they get amped up. If they decide they want to catch something, chase something, eat something, scratch something, kill something, smell something, then whatever that “something” is will happen. It doesn’t matter if they have to run through a mountain. This lack of fear and determination almost cost him his life one night during a fishing trip on the St. Johns River shoreline. 

I would park at a public ramp, walk about a half mile in either direction, and he would run in and out of the water chasing crabs, birds, and anything else that moved. On this particular night a pod of bait was moving down the shoreline, and attracted a huge crowd of seagulls and pelicans. This particular part of the St. Johns had a relatively shallow bank for about 75-yards, and then it dropped off to extreme depths for the massive ships that were constantly visiting the ports. These extreme depths caused big tides and huge water flows that pushed the water in and out with a lot more speed than a typical river.

On this night I’ll never forget looking back and seeing him take off into the water, start paddling, and not stopping as the water began to sweep him away. I know I must have screamed at him like he was my own child, but he wouldn’t stop, and he probably couldn’t hear me anyways. I ran down the shoreline to get well in front of him, kept yelling, and then got as deep as I felt safe – it would have swept me away as well. At some point fear kicked in as he turned towards shore, started a frantic doggy paddle, barely kept his head above water, and I was able to luckily grab him and get him back to shore.

After this scare, he never attempted another swim like that, from land, or boat. I wanted him to be my wingman, but not if he was going to be a kamikaze pilot. He loved being outside and playing, but he wasn’t a natural at fetch. In fact, he was downright terrible. I would travel to Gainesville to visit Andrea (my girlfriend/future wife), and I would take him to the local ball fields and “practice”. I always assumed fetch just naturally happened for dogs, but I literally had to bribe him with treats. After a few weeks, he loved playing fetch, and then it got to the point that he wouldn’t stop playing fetch.

He was obsessed with fetch. So much so, that I had to hide anything that resembled a ball. I had a roommate learn this lesson the hard way a few years later. Derriel Cribbs bought some brand new furniture for our house – so new that it still had the tags on it, and he was playing fetch and tossed it as he went out the door for the night. I received a call from Derriel a few hours later asking if I had been home, and if I had any idea what happened. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when I arrived home it looked as if someone had taken a knife to his brand new couch set. We eventually figured out that the ball became wedged under the couch, and Nemesis was so determined to get that ball that he scratched, clawed, and destroyed his couch (for hours) trying to get the ball.

Because we limited his fetch to outside only, he learned to self-fetch (Is this a term?) with anything that had a string or rope, and he would thrash so violently that whatever object was on the end of the rope would whack his face. Anyone that ever witnessed it would laugh initially, and then worry about his safety as it looked like he was getting madder and madder at the rope/toy/object as it whacked his head. So, what did he do? Some times it would fly away and he’d pounce on it, and do it all over again – self-fetch. Most times he swung harder and harder, wearing himself out, and then he would stammer away like someone who had just fought Mike Tyson in his prime.

I never stayed home on the weekends. We were living the song “On the Road Again”. We made trips from the Florida Keys for fishing and diving, to Georgia and South Carolina deer and turkey hunting. A few times he actually went on road trips without me because my friends saw how much he loved the water, and I’d get photos of his exploits. He was a fish magnet, and a lady magnet. At one point he spent a few weeks in Islamorada with my buddy Nate, and the locals nicknamed him Marlin.

We took frequent trips to Bradenton where he’d entertain us while fishing by barking and attacking baitfish like they had personally offended him. He’d stare at the live well like a newborn with a mobile, and then react like a ninja. His reaction time was freakish. His teeth would mash together so fast it sounded like a chatterbox in fast forward, and then he’d pounce like a honey badger. It was funny when it was fish; it was NOT funny when it was a raccoon, armadillo, squirrel (which he caught a few), or an opossum.

He was so prepared to travel that on Friday afternoons after my last class I would get home and rattle my keys, say, “Want to go for a ride?” and he would sprint out the door, go to the bathroom, and jump into the passenger seat with his tail flapping 100MPH. One Friday I came home, walked inside, unloaded my books and supplies, and was ready to go. He was sitting in his spot (I’d leave the car door open), but I couldn’t find my keys. I looked through pockets, bags, couches, inside the car, under the car, on top of the car; they had disappeared. It turns out he was so excited about hitting the road that he had taken the keys, carried them to the backyard, and dropped them against the fence. Pavlov would have been salivating at the way this dog was trained.

Sometimes I’d have to sneak him into places on road trips! 🙂

That wasn’t the only unique thing about Nemesis. He was an absolute giant for a Jack Russell Terrier. His parents were the size of Spud Webb, and he was bigger than Shaquille O’Neal. He grew into a 25-pound muscle bound barking machine that was better than any home security system. Anytime someone (friend or stranger) showed up at the house he would erupt on them like a Tasmanian devil. If they knocked our big sliding glass door, it would look like he was going to come through the glass to attack them, and then as soon as they walked in, he’d lick them to death.

He never hurt, or bit anyone, but if you didn’t know him, he was more intimidating than a 200-pound German Shepard. This was important because one night while I was gone, we had some shady characters show up at the house (while Andrea was watching and Lilla was playing inside) and as far as we know they literally tried to walk into our house, got to the door, he sprung into guard dog mode, and they bolted. It turns out they were out of their minds on drugs, were robbing houses and vehicles daily and nightly, and were ultimately arrested when they attempted to rob a man and fired shots at him. This one story alone made him worth his weight in gold.

As tough as he acted, when lightning and thunder started he turned into a scaredy cat. On one road trip to fish for tarpon off Egmont Key we had to pull over on I-75 during a gully washer with lightning popping like popcorn, because he would not get off my lap and quit shaking. He was terrified to the point I had to pull over, and the fear was tangible in his eyes. It’s the same feeling I get today when my daughters get scared, it rips your heart out. He just stared right through me, whimpered, and shook. I didn’t think it was possible to feel so much compassion for an animal, but this dog was more than just my dog. He was a part of my family.

When Andrea and I married we moved in together, combining our possessions, paychecks, and our dogs. She brought “old man smelly”, aka Dallas, her mini Schnauzer to live with us. He was on his last legs, had a wild goatee, a playful personality, and an absolute love of his “mother” (Not his biological mother). They grew up with each other. She loved Dallas like a son, and probably more than me – at least on a few occasions. By the time he moved in he could barely see, had a skin condition that gave him the pungent odor of a landfill, but he still had his spirit. Nemesis would playfully bump him, scoot around him at full speed, and Dallas would yelp non-stop with a piercing shrill.

He eventually went completely blind, and Andrea would yell “Bump Bump” anytime he was about to run into something, which happened about every 30 seconds. If we left on a trip, we’d block off a part of the house so Dallas couldn’t bump his way into any trouble. It never failed; somehow Dallas and Nemesis overcame every piece of furniture, gate, and roadblock ultimately gaining free roam of the house. Either someone continued to play a joke on us for years, or Ren and Stimpy continued to outsmart us. Eventually Dallas took a trip to Rainbow Bridge, and the only thing that saved Andrea from a broken heart was the fact we had a new baby in the house. Nemesis wasn’t quite the same either. They had spent several year’s together wreaking havoc, marking and re-marking bathroom locations in the yard, and playfully harassing one another.

The years flew by and as our family grew, Nemesis grew less patient. That’s a kind way of saying he was turning into a snappy old man. We eventually feared with Molly (our youngest daughter) that he might snap at her, and that premonition proved to be true, because once Molly started crawling she turned into a 12-pound human wrecking ball. She grabbed and pulled everything, so I had to make the impossible call to find another home for Nemesis. Luckily I had a good friend, Seth Lane, who offered to take him in while he was away at the University of Florida. So, just like 11 years earlier, Nemesis was going back to college! Seth couldn’t have been a better fit, as it was like looking into a time machine. I let Seth know that anytime he couldn’t keep him, I was available.

Over the years he’d come back to visit, and it became a little more depressing each time. My puppy and road warrior was breaking down. He never looked different; his hair never grayed, he never lost his muscle, and that tail still fluttered, but when he’d get out of Seth’s car he moved slower, couldn’t see as well, and he’d lost the spring in his step. I remember the first time he couldn’t even jump on to his spot on the couch. He struggled over and over again – you could see the frustration on his face, and he’d whimper from the pain in his hips and back legs. But, once he finally made it up, time stood still.

I found my same spot on the far left side of the couch, kicked up the recliner, and he knew what to do. He found his spot on my lap, I rubbed his ears, his tail wagged, and we were right back to two best friends ready to see what life’s final chapter had in store for him. This was how our last few nights together were spent, it was truly bittersweet. Eventually he found a new final home with another buddy, Kyle, and his family,The Rhodes. They loved him like their own brand new puppy, even though they only knew him in his beyond twilight years. It was his perfect final chapter as they gave him better treatment than any Ritz Carlton and treated him like a king.

Nemesis’s 3 dads!

Kyle would bring him by the house and every time it was slower, tougher, and sadder. Eventually he was almost fully blind, deaf, and had a hard time simply standing. The freakish athlete was now freakishly old and after a few laps and some smelling around we loaded him up for the last time. Instead of leaping into the car like a bullet at 100MPH ‘wanting to go for a ride’, I picked him up, hugged him, and set him down like he was priceless piece of art. He didn’t wag his tail at my high pitched YAPPER, probably because he couldn’t hear it, and he didn’t climb up to the window to stick his head out of the window.

He just laid there. Blissfully unaware of everything around him. Completely still. Content. That’s when I knew it’d be his last ride.


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