Love at first sight. It can happen when you least expect it, and the object of your affections may surprise you.
Just ask my yellow Lab, Jake.
When he was a younger guy, he dallied a bit — a few kisses on the muzzle of Gracie, his yellow Lab doppelganger we called his “girlfriend”; snuggling up nightly next to Angie, an older, experienced, voluptuous Australian Shepherd we were babysitting for a friend; trying to get a tad too friendly with his best pal, Moses, if ya know what I mean.
But no one caught his interest long-term. That is, not until one day when we were walking by the bison field at Golden Gate Park, a few blocks from where we live near the beach in San Francisco. We were enjoying a brisk morning outing when I felt someone’s eyes on us. Not us, really, but Jake.
I turned to see if there was anything to it, and right next to us – well, separated by two chain-link fences and eight feet of unkempt grass — was a lone bison, and she was staring right at Jake.
She was big, burly, boxy, and brown, and when he turned his head and saw her, he was clearly awestruck. His nostrils snortled her for an inhale that lasted at least a minute, then a quick exhale, and he drew her scent to him again in one staccato, seemingly never-ending inhale. His soft yellow ears lay back on his head in an odd way I’d never seen before — not fear or submission, but more pure awe. He stared at her, unblinking, and would not budge when I gave a little tug on the leash after several minutes of this.
For her part, the buxom bison seemed equally enamored of her little blond beach boy. She looked down to his level and gazed serenely, almost like she already knew him. It was as if she’d finally gotten to meet this handsome, happy fella she’d been checking out for the months we’ve been taking this route. (What, me anthropomorphize?!)
I didn’t want to break up these star-crossed lovers, but eventually I had to move things along. Jake left with a sigh, but kept looking back until his new friend and all her pals were out of sight. That night as he was dreaming, his tail wagged even more than it usually does in his sleep.
Jake and his winsome ungulate met like this four of the next five times we walked by. A couple of times I brought along my daughter, Laura, who was about 8 at the time, and she was also taken in by this scene. She named Jake’s significant other Sheila, which suited her well.
The reality is that Sheila may well have been a different bison each time, because they don’t exactly walk around wearing giant bison ID tags. But I’d gotten kind of familiar with some of the girls (they’re all females), and I thought I could identify her pretty well by her size, fur, and interest in Jake. Besides, Jake usually ignored the other bison and engaged with only one.
This was getting pretty serious. Jake was no longer kissing Gracie or attempting maneuvers on Moses. He had become a one-bison dog, and we figured it was time for them to make a commitment. Call it an arranged marriage if you will, but without opposable thumbs, they weren’t exactly going to be dialing the wedding hall to book a reception.
Since Jake couldn’t get down on bended knee and present her with a ring, we simply set a wedding date. It conveniently coincided with two of Laura’s good pals visiting for the weekend.
On the day of the nuptials, the kids made a pink wedding cake and created special cards. We headed to the field, excited for the festivities. Jake didn’t wear anything special for the occasion because it wasn’t like Sheila was going to bust out of the enclosure and go to Kleinfeld’s to get a drop-dead gorgeous wedding dress. So he just wore his birthday suit.
But when we got to the usual part of the field where they normally met, Sheila was not to be found. Did she get cold hooves? Turns out she’d just moved on to greener pastures.
Fortunately for Jake, that was literally, not figuratively. We found her in a back corner of the paddock, with what seemed to be a couple of bridesmaids in attendance. They were all eating this seriously lush grass when we came by, and were pretty much mesmerized by their riches.
But Sheila stopped grazing when she saw Jake. I quickly got on with the brief ceremony, lest she go back to eating in the middle of things. A tuft of mangled grass clung to her lips while I read the vows. Laura said “I do” for Sheila, and her friend Tim said “I do” for Jake, and before you know it, they were hitched.
There was no kissing the bride and/or groom, no crying mother, no celebratory rice to get stuck in thick fur. Just a lovely spring day, and the sound of the bridesmaids grinding grass in their mouths. We celebrated with cake, Jake hoovered up the crumbs that fell to the ground, and Sheila and her friends just hung around on the other side of the fences from the party, eating the grass (they do this a lot). Every so often, Sheila and Jake would lock gazes, which thrilled the wedding guests to no end.
Theirs would be a platonic marriage. It has lasted seven years. It seems to work well. Opposites attract, and can be magnetized to each other for life. Sure, at least half the time we walk by, Sheila doesn’t look up from her grass breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack. And if there’s a whiff of feral cat poop anywhere within a quarter-mile, Jake doesn’t notice his wife, either. The fiery gazes of their youth could not maintain that initial level of energy, and they both seem perfectly fine with this arrangement.
But there are those times when their eyes meet, and they stop and stare at each other just as they did when they first caught each other’s gaze. And on those days, you could add their names to the long list of other world-famous lovers who also live(d) in two different worlds.
Romeo and Juliet
Tony and Maria
Anakin and Padme
Jake and Sheila
Image Credits: Most photos courtesy Maria Goodavage, Bison photo up top via shutterstock.