Old dogs and children and watermelon wine…
Although I have never tasted watermelon wine and having children has not been on my radar, I have had the good fortune to share my life with several old dogs and so, I can wholeheartedly attest to their worthy inclusion in Tom T Hall’s list of the three most worthwhile things in life. And it is only now that I can bring myself to type the words, “My dearest Jaspar, fare thee well.”
For many who have visited Edgar’s Mission over the years, the sight of dear Jaspar loyally sitting outside my office, waiting to join me on sojourns about the farm would be all too familiar. You will then understand my heartache when I walk to the door now and see a bed devoid of a greying black kelpie cross with a gammy leg, eyes poised for what would be my next move.
Jaspar has been a part of my life for so long that I have to search my memory for his arrival. And when I do I am halted by the day a kind hearted stablehand entered the office where I then worked to relay the story of a very smelly, frightened stray dog who had sought refuge in the yard.
Wherever I go, my love of animals always seems to precede me and this job, despite being an office job, was no different. It was Christmas time, and knowing full well that the overflow of pounds’ lost, abandoned and unwanted cats and dogs at that time of year is in inverse proportion to the chances of a frightened, black, undesexed, smelly mixed breed dog finding its home (or any for that matter), I asked the kindly stablehand to, “Please give him a bath and find me a towel to put on my car seat.”
On the off chance there was someone out there desperately seeking my new friend, I called the local pound but turned up nothing, save “Look we are really full at the moment, take him home, call back in eight days, if no one has claimed him he is yours. To be honest if the dog comes in here and even raises a lip, he will be history.” And so my life with Jaspar began.
I actually think Jaspar could well have been a cat because he truly seemed to have nine lives. His first rebirth was the day he chose to wander through the gates were I worked, the next was to come when he was desexed for after that most routine operation, we nearly lost him through blood loss.
Whilst he was nine parts kelpie, he was one part German Shepherd (a breed most commonly known to suffer haemophilia, a debilitating and life threatening condition) and sadly that one part carried the haemophilia gene.
We were then faced with the dilemma; do we wrap Jaspar in cotton wool and never let him leave the house or do we let him be a dog? Tough question, but at the end of the day, I firmly believe it is the quality of life, not the quantity that matters. So my task was to give Jaspar a life truly worth living.
Along the way, dear Jaspar took a couple of knocks, some from the business end of a horse’s hoof. I was to become very skilled at pressure bandaging dear Jazzy and making post haste to the vet, thanking donor dogs for their assistance in Jaspar’s blood transfusions. And my skills at applying silver nitrate sticks to the little bleeds Jaspar took in his mouth, I must say became quite impressive.
There was the time Jaspar came limping over, “What have you done this time dear buddy?” A gentle whimper as I placed my hand on his awkwardly held back leg saw the only time in his life that this incredibly gentle dog ever snarled at me.
A veterinary examination later showed that Jaspar had somehow dislocated his hip and while the simple option was to place the hip back in the socket it was to prove not that simple. So stretched were the ligaments that the joint kept slipping out of place, leaving the only choice to remove the top section of the bone. Functionality to the limb was greatly reduced as the joint later fused.
But this didn’t stop Jaspar. He became legendary for the way he would, ‘come hell or high water’ race up the driveway upon seeing our vehicles arrive home, as his gammy leg, which morphed into a helicopter propeller, would carry him.
And there the lumpy growth that took hold of Jaspar’s tail. Our first plan was to wait and see, but when the lump took on a rapid growth spurt and grew, immediate action was warranted and dear Jaspar said ‘goodbye’ to half of his tail. He came through, with yet another life down.
Someone once said, “I hope one day to be the person my dog thinks I am.” If I were to be a quarter of the person Jaspar believed me to be, I would be truly amazing. That he thought the world of me was something I never lost sight of; he was happy and selfless and an inspiration for the way he enthusiastically and happily greeted each new day with his toothy open mouthed smile. “So where will we go today?” was his unspoken message, and wherever I was to go I knew that Jaspar would always be there, up for the challenge, rain, hail, sleet or sunshine.
Jaspar was indeed a selfless dog, always so willing to take a step back for whatever new creature passed through our farm gates, not a jealous bone in his beautiful body. And outside that stable door he would wait, sometimes for hours on end while I tended the ails of the latest rescuee. With the words, “Come on Jazzy,” he would bounce up and down on his three good legs and we would head on down to the house once again.
While a puppy at heart, Jaspar could not deny the ravages of old age and I will be forever haunted by his last moments.
We knew Jaspar’s time was not far off, but he gave no indication it would be that day. It was never in his nature to be a bother, but as he raced into a photo shoot we had set up for chickens and fell to the ground, both he and I knew it was the end. Whilst I rang the vet and sent for our medical kit, I knew I was going through the motions of the inevitable.
I held my dear Jaspar one last time, told him I loved him and promised I always would. The look in his beautiful eyes said the same right back at me. I held him there in my arms, until his heart beat no more, but mine even stronger. That death will happen to us all is a given, it’s how we honour that passing that matters.
What I will remember most of dear Jaspar are his eyes; tragic, happy, pleading, loving, trusting, full to the brim of love unconditional and loyal all rolled into one. And I will never see them again.
If I have one regret, it is that I didn’t love him more, that I didn’t hug him harder, that I didn’t linger that little bit longer – if you have a special dog in your life, please go out now and tell them you love them and that you always will. Cherish the moments you have together, because you never know when they will be gone.
But Jaspar’s life didn’t end that day – his legacy began. His ashes will come with me to our new forever farm, where they will be scattered across the fields, they will float through generations and remind us all that it is the connections we make with others that matter most. Jaspar made those connections and if your eyes are filled with tears as are mine now, you are living proof of those connections.
Of old dogs and children… dear Jaspar my life is truly richer for having known you. (Damn me, I said I wasn’t going to cry).