Jocko was seven years old when Topo gave him a puppy of his own. Topo had bought a pup from a farmer on the outskirts of the town that they were performing in. The pup was a pure breed border collie and she was mostly white with some black patches. Topo told Jocko that the pup was his to raise and train, and to love and care for. Topo would help all he could but the pup would be Jocko’s responsibility. Topo had already talked to Cora and Gus, and they had no problem with the pup being raised in their living quarters. Topo kept all his dogs with him and not in cages. He wanted Jocko to do the same with his pup. Topo felt you could bond better with the dog if the dog ate and slept with you. Topo was a very good trainer and loved his dogs. He knew that Jocko could be a good trainer but needed to find out if he really loved the dogs. By giving him this pup, it would be a test for Jocko. Topo would know soon if Jocko would be his replacement. It was easy for Jocko to name this little girl. He would call her “Patches”. No other name would fit her as well. There would be no training for a few weeks. This would be a period for Jocko and Patches to get to know each other and learn to trust one and another. Patches would learn that food, water and comfort would be provided by Jocko. Jocko would find out if Patches would come to rely on him or if she was an independent dog. As the weeks passed, it was easy to see that Patches was totally dedicated to Jocko and that Jocko was doing a great job of gaining the pup’s trust. Patches was always at Jocko’s side. Whether it was in the cook tent, or if Jocko was just taking a nap in the hay.
If you saw one of them the other was not far away. Topo was very happy that Jocko showed he was a responsible person. Topo decided it was time to help Jocko start training Patches. Topo hoped in a few years Jocko would be able to take over the act. Topo knew that he and his dogs were getting too old to continue performing. The circus always had dog acts and Topo wanted that tradition to continue. Topo thought about when he was young and when he started out as a dog trainer. He had begun with horses but switched to dogs because he liked their companionship. Circus life was lonely and the dogs were his family. He thought about how much he and Jocko were alike. Topo lost his parents when he was young too. They were both animal trainers and were killed in a freak accident when an elephant got loose and trampled both of them. But before they died, Topo had learned much from them. He knew they would be very proud of him and his dogs. Sitting there thinking about how he would start with Jocko and Patches, Topo became excited and emotional. He knew his time with the circus would soon be ending and Jocko’s time would soon be starting.
Within a few years, Patches was the star of the show. Jocko was the assistant trainer and really enjoyed being in the ring at show time. When the spotlight came on, Jocko and Patches shined. Jocko even convinced Topo to retire a few dogs and get some younger ones. They would check out the local animal shelters in the towns they played. The older dogs that were retired were given to the other performers in the circus. The dogs they got from the shelters were always small dogs. It just seemed right that Patches remained the biggest dog in the act. Patches helped Topo and Jocko train all the new dogs. She was a terrific performer and a natural leader. Topo helped Jocko teach Patches tricks that no other dogs could perform. Patches was getting a reputation in the circus world as the best performing dog ever.
As years passed, Topo’s and Jocko’s dog act became world known. Circus owners came to Topo and offered him large sums of money for Patches. Topo would tell them that Patches belonged to Jocko. Jocko who never had much money in his young life always refused to sell Patches. Other dog trainers came to Jocko and asked if they could breed their male dogs to Patches and keep a puppy. But Jocko felt that Patches was already a mother to the other dogs in the act and refused to breed her. Things were going very good for Jocko and Patches when tragedy struck the circus again. There was a large fire in the cook tent. The performers ran to help put the fire out. When Topo got there he saw Patches dragging Jocko out of the flames. Jocko wasn’t breathing and Patches dropped to the ground, not breathing herself.
Jocko went to her and hugged her. He whispered into her ear “thank you for saving my life”. He then broke down and cried. Seeing that Jocko was embarrassed, Topo and the vet left him alone with Patches. Jocko stayed with Patches the whole night mourning the loss of his adopted parents and talking to Patches. He also prayed for Patches to fully recover. He knew he could not stand to lose her too. The next day, the vet allowed Jocko to take Patches to Topo’s living quarters. Jocko assured the vet that Patches would get plenty of care and rest. Jocko showed no physical affects from the fire but it was not the same for Patches. Her breathing was very weak and she would not eat much. Topo would tell Jocko to give her time and she would recover. But the vet was more realistic and he told Jocko that Patches probably would never be able to perform again. Jocko knew how much Patches loved to perform but didn’t care if she ever performed again. He just didn’t want to lose her. Several weeks later, Topo announced his retirement. Jocko was upset but knew this would come. Topo was going to live and work on the farm where he had purchased Patches. He would take several of his older dogs with him. After Topo left, Jocko was the head trainer and he continued the act. Patches was not well enough to perform but stayed by Jocko’s side during the shows. Jocko thought he could see Patches getting better but the vet and other circus people knew she was not improving. Jocko was slowly adding new dogs to the act. He found them all in shelters and they were all smaller than Patches. Patches would look after them but could no longer compete with them or help with their training. It broke Jocko’s heart to watch Patches lying down while he trained the new dogs. When he wasn’t training or caring for the other dogs in the act he spent every free moment with Patches. Most of the time, he would just sit and talk to her. Due to the damage done to her lungs and heart, she could not exercise for long. But once in a while Jocko would let her do a few tricks. Patches really enjoyed this and Jocko would make a big fuss over her even when she performed a simple trick. There was a great bond between Patches and Jocko.
In three weeks, the circus was going to be in a big city. Jocko knew there would be very big crowds. He worked real hard training the dogs for their act on opening night. Jocko felt that Patches knew something big was about to happen. If the circus was a success in this city there would be more bookings in the big cities and this would benefit all the circus performers. The big night finally came and it was opening night under the big top. It was the largest crowd Jocko had performed in front of. It was time for the dog act. The lights under the big top went out and a spotlight shined on Jocko and his dogs. The ringmaster announced “Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, tonight’s performance is dedicated to the memory of the greatest performing dog that ever lived Patches”.
Stories by Frank Rescigno. All
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