Editor’s note: The following story appears in the September/October issue of Dogs Unleashed magazine. To subscribe to the bi-monthly magazine, click “subscribe” at dogsunleashedmag.com.
STORY BY MARY ULLMER
PHOTOS BY JENNIFER N. WATERS
As Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson was preparing for a recent game against the Chicago White Sox, he seemed relieved to talk about something other than baseball in general and his early summer stint on the disabled list in particular.
In fact, Jackson was all smiles when he learned the topic was not baseball, but rather one of his other loves: dogs.
For those unfamiliar with Jackson, he’s the26-year-old leadoff hitter for the Tigers. When he joined the Tigers in 2010, Detroit fans were skeptical. The Tigers gave up center fielder Curtis Granderson in a trade with the New York Yankees to get Jackson. Granderson was a fan favorite in his six seasons in Detroit, and Tigers fans knew little about the young player who was taking his place.
In the years since, Jackson has won the hearts of Tigers fans. He’s a decent hitter, with a .279 career average in almost four seasons with Detroit, and in mid-August was named the American League’s co-player of the week, sharing the honor with his famous teammate, Miguel Cabrera.
But it’s Jackson’s ability to make spectacular plays in center field that has impressed the Tigers faithful. Time and again, Jackson has gotten to hard-hit balls in the vast outfield at Comerica Park, leaping fences, running down would-be doubles and triples and making diving catches.
And while fans admire his play on the field, most probably aren’t aware that off the field, Jackson is a dog lover at heart.
He and his girlfriend, Jonna Williams, currently have four dogs at their Garland, Texas, home: a 4-year-old English bulldog, Titus; a 4-year-old Yorkshire terrier, Chloe; and two French bulldogs, 3-year-old Mia and 2-year-old Roxy.
The Yorkie was Williams’ choice, Jackson said, while he picked out the English bulldog. Both chose the two French bulldogs, who joined the family a couple years later.
Jackson said he had every intention of teaching Titus to skateboard, since he gravitated to the English bulldog breed after seeing video of one skateboarding. But getting Titus to pull off the trick hasn’t quite worked out.
“He doesn’t want to do any activities that involve him having to learn something,” Jackson said of Titus. “He just wants to play and have fun, so I kinda gave up on the skateboarding. He knows how to sit and roll, but other than that, he just wants to have fun. (Rolling over) is not something he’ll do every time, either. Treats are definitely involved.”
The baseball season is a long grind, a seven-month marathon if a team is lucky enough to get to the World Series. Half of the 162 regular-season games scheduled are on the road, for three- or four-game stretches per city.
Jackson spends most of each season away from Williams and their beloved dogs. He rarely gets back home to Garland, Texas, during the season, which starts with spring training in February and ends in October.
“When I get to go home for All-Star break, or if we go play Texas, or if I can somehow get away, I get to go there for an off day or something, that’s pretty much the only time I get to see them,” Jackson.
“My dad, he took care of the English bulldog for the first couple of years. Now, I have a house [in Texas], and she just has all four of them. It’s hard… it’s tough.”
Jackson said he’s hopeful one day, perhaps soon, Williams and their furry “kids” will join him during the season in Detroit.
“I would like to have them here eventually,” he said. “If we get married soon … and hopefully I can bring them all here and they can be with me during the season.”
Thanks to today’s technology, Jackson can visit with Williams and the dogs in a one-dimensional kind of way. The couple use Facetime to keep up, and Jackson even spends Facetime with the dogs.
“When we’re on Facetime on the computer, it’s fun to get to see (the dogs), and they can hear my voice and see me,” Jackson said. “Just last night we were doing that and Titus was all excited. He heard me talking and he came into the bedroom and jumped on the bed. [Jonna] turned the screen around and he could see me and he was all excited. I seen him waggin’ his tail real fast. It was cool.”
Jackson said Mia, the French bulldog, isn’t as impressed with his face and voice on the computer. She’s too busy watching television.
“Jonna turned the screen around to Mia and said ‘Look what your dog is doing’ and Mia was sitting on the floor watching TV,” Jackson said. “I said her name and she looked at me and then turned right back around to watch TV. Literally, she watches TV, it’s not a joke. She’ll memorize commercials. She knows when there’s some type of animal on a commercial by the sound. As soon as commercial comes on …”
Jackson snaps his head in the other direction, mimicking Mia’s reaction when she hears a familiar commercial or show on TV.
“We’ll be messing with her and she’s laying down not paying attention, and as soon as that commercial comes on, she just snaps right to it,” Jacksons said. “She looks at it and just waits for that dog or squirrel or something to run across and she darts off the couch and she jumps up on the TV.
“It’s funny ’cause one night we were looking for her, we hadn’t seen her with the other dogs, and she’s sitting on the couch. I walked in, she saw me and she looked at me, and turned right back around and started watching her movie. She would sit there for hours to watch TV. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Jackson and Williams aren’t much different from any other dog owners. While he doesn’t exactly approve, little Chloe, the Yorkie, does sleep in their bed. And as most English bulldog owners can attest, Titus’ snoring can be an issue.
“Every once in a while, we have to put him in the cage so we can get some sleep because he gets loud,” Jackson said, chuckling at the thought. “He snores like a human.”
And like many pet owners, Jackson and Williams – especially Williams – tend to spoil the dogs.
“My girlfriend, she buys them outfits and they have these special bowls to eat out of,” Jackson said. “They’re not just regular bowls, but nice bowls to eat their food out of. And their leashes and collars are nice and everything.
“She (Williams) came down here to the ballpark and went to the ‘D Shop’ (the merchandise shop at Comerica Park, where the Tigers play),” Jackson said. “She sent me a picture of the two Frenchies and Chloe and they had on Tigers shirts and Chloe even had on a little ‘D’ hat. It was hilarious.”
So, would Jackson go as far as saying his dogs are pampered? Well, not quite.
“They’ve living the good life, put it like that,” he said, grinning. “They’re definitely living the good life.”