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BARB SWEET: A dog named Jill

Jill smiling at the sights on Government House grounds in St. John's. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
Jill smiling at the sights on Government House grounds in St. John's. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM - Barb Sweet

Her time came too soon, and generated an outpouring of support on social media

Journalists in The Telegram newsroom — like much of the working world — came home to work in March and a funny thing happened with my dog Jill.

Back then, most people or places I photographed to go with stories or as feature photos, were outside. So I would often take my English setter with me in the car. It got so that the sight of a camera bag would send her running for the door, her whole body — not just her tail — wagging. And then she'd have a pouty face if it was somewhere I could not take her.

Then there was the time I strapped the Telegram Go-Pro camera on her in August 2019 and took her to the Paradise K-9 Fit Club class in Paradise. That dog loved going on assignment.

That was Jill all over — anytime I came home or she saw someone she loved, her whole back end would twist in a wagging motion.

Jill, then a 14-year-old English setter, checked out the K9 Fit Club at Paradise Animal Hospital and Wellness Centre in 2019. She wore a Go-Pro to get a dog’s perspective on the class.
Jill, then a 14-year-old English setter, checked out the K9 Fit Club at Paradise Animal Hospital and Wellness Centre in 2019. She wore a Go-Pro to get a dog’s perspective on the class.

Now I glance at the camera bag that she was always so happy to see and I burst into tears.

You see, I lost Jilly Bean — “The most beautiful dog in the world,” as described by one esteemed colleague — on Sept. 16.

The evening before, her two moms — now living in separate households — took her for her last walk in Bannerman Park. The next day she leaned her forehead into mine at the St. John's Veterinary Hospital. Her other mom, Sharon Cummings, and I had done all we could to save that precious pup and though I know she wanted to stay, her body could no longer handle life on this Earth.

Jill was 15. She had been abandoned on barrens around Ferryland at the age of one.

Jill with Barb Sweet in Bannerman Park. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
Jill with Barb Sweet in Bannerman Park. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM

But it wasn’t Jill who was adopted at the SPCA.

No, she picked her family, and even got out of an adoption with someone else to be with her chosen humans.

She came right out and climbed onto my lap — a very un-Jill-like thing to do unless she knew you really well — the day she was picked up. Jill put her paws on the desk, as if to say, “They’re here, thanks and goodbye.”

She took right away to her cat brothers, one of whom liked to knock stuff on the floor to see what would happen. Jill wouldn’t touch anything anywhere else, but the floor was where toys lived.

Jill the English setter, dressed up as Queen Jilly for a Halloween pet costume contest one year. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
Jill the English setter, dressed up as Queen Jilly for a Halloween pet costume contest one year. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM

Once, before the advent of smartphones, I had to bring in a chewed-up, slobbery cellphone in a plasic bag to the assignment editor and say “sorry.” Fortunately the phone was eligible for a free upgrade.

A liver Belton, she had a white lightning bolt on her forehead that hinted at her love of running — in her prime she could outrun any dog.

At a garden centre one rainy day, she managed to escape the backseat of the car — squeezing through a narrow space as I opened the passenger door to get out — and ran through the place, clearing wide flower beds like a steeple chase. Like something out of a Marmaduke cartoon, with two moms chasing after her, it went on for about 45 minutes. There were signs plastered all over the place: “No dogs allowed.”

To this day, I have never returned, figuring there are posters from CCTV footage barring us for life.

If I turned my back on her for a second in the woods, she might roll in moose poop, or on dead capelin at Middle Cove beach.

Jill being photographer's assistant in Petty Harbour. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
Jill being photographer's assistant in Petty Harbour. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM

In good times and bad, Jill was by my side. A few years ago, that meant us shivering, huddled together against the harsh February wind up on Pippy Park golf course, as I lay on the icy ground with an ankle broken in three places. I tried to flag down a car that had pulled into the parking lot but they refused to stop. I’d been hoping they’d get Jill in the car, out of the wind, and keep a look out for the help that was on its way but might not spot us over the high snowbanks. Thankfully, help eventually found us, though they had to convince Jill to leave my side.

Initially, I never wanted a dog, but I feel so lucky Jill picked us. My heart was broken in a million pieces when her time came.

How many times had friends, family and neighbours lost beloved pets and I felt guilty and lucky that I still had Jill. But I knew my time would come, and it has.

What helped tremendously was the outpouring from family, friends, media colleagues and contacts, people we met on walks, but also the many, many touching comments from people who did not even know Jill.

Jill the English setter looking out over the waters of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY LAURA ROGERS
Jill the English setter looking out over the waters of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY LAURA ROGERS

My Twitter post about Jill’s passing reached more than 50,000 people around the world, and nearly a thousand direct engagements through comments and likes. There was not a mean, nasty comment among the bunch.

The Facebook reaction was also monumental.

Jill on a snowy winter walk. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM
Jill on a snowy winter walk. BARB SWEET/THE TELEGRAM

 

I mention this only because it is a demonstration of the power of social media at times when we need support. We all know social media can be stressful and hateful, but it can also be magical.

I saw comments and likes from the United Kingdom, the United States, Perth and many, many other places, and it really helped to know I was not alone.

I felt the universal love that binds us all for our pets — cats, dogs, horses, goats and all the others.

And the price of that love is that we all come to a point when we must grieve their loss.

I remain forever grateful to Jilly, my sidekick on all my adventures.

Barb Sweet is a senior reporter at The Telegram. Email: barbara.sweet@thetelegram.com. Twitter: @BarbSweetTweets

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