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June 01, 2007

Saying Good-Bye to Jasper

By: Anne Skaradzinski

He didn’t do super fancy tricks. But he could entertain family and friends un-wrapping presents with his teeth or play with a paper grocery bag like it was the hottest toy on the market. He wasn’t a trained agility dog either, but his agile tongue could lick a plastic peanut butter jar spotless right down to the very bottom, then strut through the house with it in his mouth like he won a blue ribbon in a Skippy® eating contest.

Jasper was our dog. Everybody in our life knew him and 99% of them were smitten with him. He was the dog next door that greeted you at the fence with a furiously happy tail. The dog that could play tug-o-war for hours with his red rubber bone and our niece Samantha gleefully holding onto the other end. “Come on buddy!” she’d always tell him. Jasper was one fine dog; he was family.

I heard Jasper before I saw him. It was the littlest of puppy barks. Barely an audible sound but I begged my husband to go downstairs in the duplex where we then lived to investigate.

He was a 7-week old mixed breed puppy that our landlords agreed to take care of temporarily for a friend until a permanent home was found for him. The first time I laid eyes on his absolutely adorable face I knew he was home. He would be ours.

We could have never imagined the impact that he would have on our lives. He gave us pure joy.

As far as puppies go he was not one to be held or picked up a lot. He was an independent spirit with a whole lot of spunk. It seemed he could play, run, walk, swim and romp for hours on end. We had illusions of putting him in an empty backpack to give him a rest during a long hike or cradle him until he fell asleep, but he would have none of that. He’d rather be getting belly rubs, or be where the action was. We’d laugh when he fought off sleep. He’d be lying down with his head up but his eyes closed. Then his head would slowly droop, then pop back up. When the fight was over he’d exhale a big dramatic sigh and down went his head.

Thunderstorms frightened him and little kids thrilled him. Give him a photo op at a weekend camping trip or a family picnic and he sprouted the cheesiest of grins with a relaxed pink tongue, bright eyes and perfectly perked ears. Never moving or squirming as nieces and nephews tugged on his collar or pushed into his personal space to get as close as possible, ‘Paparazzi Pup’ should have been his middle name.

He was a lover of people and lover of food. “Where there was food there was Jasper,” was what we always said. His nose would be on the edge of cocktail tables, next to the Weber grill, at the pantry door, or resting on your lap during dinner. Most family and friends in the presence of food with him declared these two words to Jasper at least a dozen times each, “No begging!”

Back then I took him to an old school dog obedience trainer. The trainer’s name was simply Frank. He trained hundreds, if not thousands of dogs in his career. Jasper was frequently the dog in class not doing what the rest of the dogs were instructed to do and my frustration started to show. A man of few words, Frank simply told me not to worry. “You have a very smart dog, just give him time,” he said.

And give him time we did. We watched him grow from his fuzzy soft, stick-chewing self to a young lanky dog into a handsome blend of charm, loyalty and charisma.

At the age of 14 his pace actually started to slow. So did his need to chase tennis balls or rabbits out of the yard. His deep brown eyes began to fail him and the nose that faithfully guided him for so many years lost its sense of direction. The sound of our voices calling his name mostly went unheard unless he was right in front of us. At times, he didn’t seem to recognize us.

It was painful to watch his pride be chipped away when he looked to us for help in holding up his back legs to get up the stairs, or on occasion, to carry him down them.

His tail slowed as well. It pretty much stopped. It appeared only to wag involuntarily, not from his soul like it used to. It seemed broken and it was breaking my heart.

His usual confident and happy self moments were being outnumbered by fearful and uncertain ones. Despite our vigilant care and respect for his dignity, the quality of his life declined.

It was an agonizing decision for us to pick a date on the calendar for the “time” to say good-bye to him. What gives us the right to choose when? I prayed and cried that Jasper would forgive us and then somewhere amidst all of the tormented thoughts and sadness we gained the courage we needed…

I held him in my arms and methodically stroked his still pillow-soft head as we drove to his last vet appointment. We believe he knew. We talked to him between sobs and when we arrived at the clinic we were silently and respectfully led into a quiet room.

Before his final breath I cradled Jasper’s face in both my hands as I had done every night for 16 years. I bravely told him I loved him and to go to sleep sweetie. “It’s OK Jasper” we both whispered. “We love you so much and we will miss you.” My heart was pounding. And then his stopped. He very calmly and very peacefully went still. We laid over him and cried.

Good-bye sweet Jasper, good-bye.


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