We are all abused: The inspiring story of man’s best friend’s relationship is more human than before

There is this song titled “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” by an artist named Jim Croce. Every time I hear that song, it reminds me of this tattered face of a man that used to be my neighbor, who is also named Jim. He always has this look that makes you think of the scene in Dirty Harry where Clint Eastwood asks, “Are you feeling lucky, punk?” He is a tall, tattooed, greyed man with sun-beaten skin. He can always be seen with blue jeans, a wife-beater tank top, a leather jacket with a box of Marlboro’s in the pocket, and he is always riding his motorcycle. Well, almost always. 

He also has this dog, Layla; who I later found out is named after the Eric Clapton song. She is a small pug, with an ironic scar over her left eye. Jim loves this dog and does nearly everything with her. He even made a special saddlebag for his motorcycle that she can ride in from time to time. Layla is a perfect metaphor for Jim. With her scar, she may look mean and tuff, but deep down, she is still a sweet little pug. Jim may look like the kind of man that you don’t mess around with, but he is one of the most caring people you could ever meet. I think he is living proof of the saying that the most caring people in life know what it’s like to not be cared for. 

I decided to call him up one day and spotlight his life, and possibly even his loyal companion’s. He has moved away to Wyoming since being my neighbor, to live a simpler life. He owns a 30-acre ranch with trails for little Layla and him to run around in together. When I called him, the first thing I noticed when he picked up the phone was the television was on. “Hey Jim, this is Halen Hubbard, I don’t know if you remember me, but I know you have done business with my dad in the past when we were neighbors.”

“Oh, hey bud. Yeah, I remember you. Tell your dad that I say hello, would ya? Uh, what can I do for you?” His voice is raspy and deep. It’s almost like he could play the voice of a cartoon devil in a television show. It’s something that I find really cool. I tell him that I want to interview him about his life and possibly even his dog’s. I can tell it surprises him, which I would expect from a humble person like him. He asks me why, and that is what I was afraid he would ask. I take a pause and say, “I feel like you and your dog are a great example of what it means to find companionship and love that doesn’t know boundaries between different species.” I can hear him breathe through the phone, and then he begins to talk. 

He starts with Layla’s story, with who she is and how he came to know her. After his wife left him, Jim couldn’t stand living alone any longer. That is when he went to find a dog at the animal shelter. At first glance, he tells me, they felt a connection. It may have been the scar, the cuteness, or maybe even the friendliness of her, but he knew that she was the one for him. He found out from the operator of the shelter that Layla was used to fighting other dogs a few years before he adopted her. The scar over her eye was from a bite that supposedly came from a pit bull. It was a fight that she was expected to be killed in for entertainment. The shelter acquired her when her previous “owner” was arrested for animal abuse. 

It is thought that dogs used to fight are all mean and aggressive, but this is not always true. Layla has a deep love for humans, but a deep fear for other dogs, and that is the true scar from her past. Layla is known to still dream about fights, or at least, that is, what Jim thinks she is dreaming about because she will wake up sobbing and shaking from a nightmare. He was trained to rub her chest in order to help calm her down. 

“Why, Layla? Why do you think you have such a strong connection?” I asked him. I could tell I struck a chord with him asking this question. His voice starts to tremble just a little as he starts telling his story now. 

Jim was also abused, for pretty much his whole life, and to this day is still abused from his past. His father left his family when he was only three years old, only to be raised by an alcoholic mother. Many times his mother would bring home men that would physically and verbally abuse him, with his mother doing nothing to stop it. When he grew up, he left that hell only to join another one. He joined the military during the Vietnam War. He thought it was the only way that he could escape the abuse of boyfriends and alcoholism. 

With sparse detail, Jim told me of his experience in Vietnam. He talked about the napalm with heat that could be felt from miles away. He talked about crawling in holes the Vietnamese dug to potentially use to ambush soldiers. Lastly, he briefly mentioned how many friends he saw brutally killed in the war. Both his childhood and his wartime cause him to have PTSD to this day. Just like Layla, some nights he will wake up shaking and screaming, only to be comforted by his canine friend. 

With that, he tells me that Layla is the only one that has loved him back, and never left him alone. His ex-wife cheated on him and was always gone when Jim was home. After the war, Jim got a job working night shifts, so whenever he was home, his ex-wife wasn’t. However, it wouldn’t be Jim if things didn’t end on a happy note. He wanted me to know that he has been very happy living with Layla and spending his retired life riding his motorcycle across the state of Wyoming. It’s never too late to find what you’re meant to do in life, and he says this is where he is meant to be, and what he is meant to be doing. 

I end the call thanking him for his time and smiling to myself. Love comes in many different ways, but with effort and patience, love will come in the right way. It is humbling to me to think of Jim and Layla to this day. It truly doesn’t matter what species a living thing is. We all have experiences and feelings that we can use to help strengthen and lift each other up. After talking with Jim, I sat with my own dog and thought about all the memories and experiences we have shared over the years. I think about Christmas when we gave him a big knot to play with, and he untied it within just an hour. I think of all the times sharing my popcorn or chips with him while I watch television. I also think about how every time I rub his stomach, he sticks out his paw and acts like he is doing the same to me. He is more than just the family pet, he is a part of the family. 

The next time we think of the important people in our lives, I urge that we might also think of the important animals we have had in our lives. I believe they play just as much of a part in our growth and experiences as humans do. Jim would not be the person he is today without Layla. He may not even be around and find life worth living without her. She makes things worth it to him, and he makes things worth it to her. We may all go through abuse or hardship within our lives, but every species also goes through love and care and it is important to remember just that.