'A monumental motivator' — Remembering the life of Dr. Jack
For more than a decade, Jack was perhaps Mayo Clinic's most beloved doctor.
It didn't matter that Jack wasn't a real doctor. Or even human, for that matter. At 13 pounds, Dr. Jack had a larger-than-life presence on campus.
"He made an impact on everyone he met — patients, nurses, doctors," said Marcia Fritzmeier, Jack's longtime companion, in a phone call Monday morning. "Jack was a rock star."
Dr. Jack — as he was known to the more than 6,000 patients he worked with — died peacefully this past Saturday at the age of 15. According to Fritzmeier, Jack's final moments were spent in her arms.
Up until his retirement in 2013, Jack was Mayo's only facility-based service dog. On any given day, he would visit up to a dozen patients, many of whom he would get to know over the course of several weeks, or even months.
Sometimes patients would take him for walks. Other times he would lay in bed and comfort them for hours at a time. Whatever the need, whatever the patient's condition, Jack would rise to the occasion.
"He was a monumental motivator," Fritzmeier said, trying hold back her tears. "Sometimes a dog can do things that people can't do any longer."
An extraordinary moment
Fritzmeier recalled one terminally-ill patient who got to know Jack well over the course of several months. In his final days, the man would find comfort in Jack's presence — just laying with him, petting him, talking to him.
"His face lit up every time," she said. "You could just see the peace and pleasure he was getting from Jack's presence."
Then one day, she and Jack walked into the patient's room and saw family members and a priest by his bedside. The man wasn't responding to any of them.
Fritzmeier put Jack on the man's bed for a moment and stepped away. When it was time to go, she walked up to the bed, picked Jack up and began to walk away.
Then the unexpected happened: the man sat up and waved goodbye. "It caught us all by surprise," Fritzmeier said. "We all were gasping when this happened. He had the most beautiful smile on his face."
The man died the next day.
Known around the world
Jack was revered by patients from across the world; he was blessed by the Dalai Lama; and when a children's book came out about him, former First Lady Barbara Bush wrote the foreword.
The miniature pinscher was so popular, he even had his own Beanie Baby.
So when news of Jack's death first surfaced over the weekend, it impacted a lot of people. Fritzmeier said she has been overwhelmed with support, already receiving more than 500 messages mourning Jack's loss.
"The peace and joy and the companionship and comfort that only Jack could offer made his last days so much more beautiful."
About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.
(Cover photo: Kelvin Andow Photography)