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Tribute to Jasper..............Sue Oakes; Dec. 8, 2003

It’s been a pretty awful day. My eyes are swollen from crying and my nose is red from blowing. I hope I can pull myself together for this coming week. We all seem to be taking turns being hysterical. I have periods of calm, and then I have to get on the phone to tell someone else the news, and it starts again. Or, I just start remembering something and this wave of sadness and grief consumes me; I am powerless against it.

The way I work through my feelings is to write about them. Following are a few of the things I will cherish, things I don’t ever want to forget, about Jasper, our beautiful, sweet Golden Retriever, who was just euthanized for cancer.

Oh my God, a thousand memories, flooding my mind’s vision. Everywhere I look in this house, I am reminded of him.

My bed- the way I’d find him lying on his back against the pillows when I’d come home in the middle of the day. And how, after his last biscuit of the night, he’d come up onto the bed, and allow me to position him any way I wanted, sometimes dragging him this way or that, to give us more room. And then I’d stick my feet beneath him and curl my body next to him, luxuriating in his warmth.

When I’d come into bed after Ken had been asleep, quite late, and the room was very dark, there was always the tail, flopping madly against the bed to greet me.

The doorbell just rang, and there was no barking following it, as there has been for almost 10 years. How will I get used to this awful silence?

The couch in my office - he would lie there while I worked, with his head propped up on one of the small end pillows. I have many pictures of him like this. They look posed.

Any furniture in the house, couches, chairs - for some reason, he got into the habit of resting his chin on the cushions when he wanted to go up, looking at us for approval. So, we’d tell him, OK, and he’d hop up.

We trained him to respond to the command, “Out of the kitchen!” when he was being pesky during meals. So he’d back out, just jutting into the kitchen only with his head and front paws still in the room. Then the symphony would begin; the whining, moaning, almost singing. After a while we’d usually invite him back in and gave him a morsel or two.

He was just so unnaturally obedient. He was not really a natural creature, but one of human engineering, judging by his lack of certain instincts (hunting, stalking, killing). He literally *lived* to please us. I could spend all afternoon outside in my unfenced front yard gardening, and he would lie between me and the road, like a sentry. Several times the kids accidentally locked him out of the backyard, so he just patiently lay down by the gate, waiting for someone to let him in. It would never occur to him to wander away.

Whenever anyone had been away for sometime, be it a day, a week or a month, Jasper would greet them with a crying reception. This usually happened when the person in question had been out of sight for some time, such as when Ken used to travel on business. When he walked in the door, Jasper would greet him first by barking, then by planting his head between Ken’s legs and crying. (Someone once told me this is how Goldens hug.) Sometimes he would carry on for minutes, as many as ten. It was so desperate, and very comical to witness. As if he had to “drink in” the person he hadn't seen in a week or so.

Ken loved to play rough with him, and Jasper would often “start him up” by taunting him; barking and assuming that universal play pose, front paws and head down, rear end up, tail wagging wildly. In the ensuing mêlée, there would be much barking, snarling, and snapping of the jaws, sometimes catching clothing and skin, but always with the gentlest of intent. Ken and Jasper had the ultimate trust in each other. Ken often put his hands in Jasper’s mouth, without the slightest hesitation. The only time there was any damage, it was completely unintentional, usually done with his nails, not his teeth.

Tonight I had to pick up some little pieces of food from the floor. When you have a dog, you never have to do that. I had a piece of chicken left over. Ordinarily, Ken would say, “I think I'll give this to my friend.” But our friend is no longer here.

Anyone who has ever had a dog can relate to this: No matter how awful the day has been, or what life dished out to me, I could always count on his unconditional love and greeting when I came home. The rest of the world would melt away in his warm furry “hug” , and cold, wet nose. This is something I want again, and I think all canines are somehow cosmically linked and programmed to provide us with this blessing. That’s no doubt why they were domesticated in the first place; invited into the cave to share the hunter’s kill and the warmth of the fire from the earliest cave people. It’s truly a sacred bond.

During my moments of calm, I remember the vow I made to myself some time ago: that I would honor his memory not by never getting another dog, but by opening my heart and home to another kindred canine spirit when the time was right. But I don’t know when the time will be right. I am anxious to fill this large gaping hole in my heart, but I know I have to have enough time to grieve and plan for the future. Actually, I have been grieving in one form or another for the past three and a half years, from the time we got the first diagnosis of cancer. We had a reprieve of three years, for which we are so grateful, and I remember always admonishing myself not to say “He *had* cancer.” But after a while I was lulled into a false sense of security. I just said to Ken about a week ago, “We can never again say ‘He *had* cancer.’ He will have it 'till the day he dies.” I just didn't know how soon that day would come.

Coming home to an empty house will be very hard. So will going to bed, or doing all the other myriad routines in which he was enmeshed. I pray for the strength and fortitude to get through the next several weeks and months, until hopefully the pain subsides and the memories become pleasant. We will be away for the Christmas vacation, and will need that time for closure. In spite of the grief we feel, I think as we begin the new year, we will be ready to welcome a new puppy. Life, like unconditional canine love, goes on and on.

 
Jasper photo
   
     
   

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