I spent almost all sunlit hours basking in my garden enjoying the pure, unsullied melodies of the birdsong and buzzing of early bees. My partner relaxed beside me oft-times, enjoying a cup of tea and her library book. Now, that is the life... until one of the numpties in an allotment across the way got busy with a chainsaw and a bonfire. But I am far too happy to complain. I seem to have discovered my second puppyhood. My partner cannot understand it, and suspects me of imbibing naughty leaves. Most evenings, I scamper about the woods in pursuit of wily beasties for anything up to two hours. Then I complain because it is time to go home. AND I can still jump into my car seat unassisted. Privately, I believe it is because my partner has made modifications to my diet.
I had been finding it increasingly difficult to digest all of the fresh meat with vegetables, with which Maisie provides my partner for my dinners. My partner made a few, tentative forays towards explaining this to Maisie, but the overtures did not go well. So now, we keep silent. I have lovely tinned meat in jelly (sometimes I have chunks in gravy, but with the jelly is my supper of choice). Delicious - and much easier for me to eat. The Maisie-suppers do not go to waste, however. My partner leaves them close to the local badger-sett. Everyone's happy (as long as we don't tell Maisie! Shhhh!!).
My partner is delighted at my newly-rediscovered energy levels and vigour. I am happy too (I do have the occasional random bout of "disco leg", but that doesn't really bother me. I have always loved to dance). I love being able to chase beasties once more - and I believe I've almost got the drop on the sabre-toothed hippo I've been tracking in the woods for the past two years. Victory will be mine!
The reason for my partner's suspicion centres around the key fact that, later this year, I will be 12 years old. Apparently, if I was human (Heaven forbid), I would be 84.
But those are just numbers. I LOVE my life - and I don't intend to slow up for anyone.
Jasper Stafford - Puppy 'til I die! Oh yes.
No-one would ever want me. I was comfortable with that. Kipper, too, had accepted his fate (although he privately yearned for a family of his own). We were just happy to support those dogs that needed it - and celebrate with the chosen ones.
Kipper was, in fact, often chosen by visitors - being a handsome, affable fellow; his mere appearance almost oozing sense, self-assurance and geniality. But it was inevitable what would follow. Dave (or one of the kennel-maids) would take aside the visitors for "a little word" - the information that Kipper had an unfortunate genetic heart condition, which could prove expensive and distressing in the long-term, and that would be the end of that. Kipper always pretended that he didn't mind, but I was not deceived.
We were often walked together, Kipper and I, whilst our pens were cleaned and - after any incidents as outlined above Kipper was always quieter than usual. He talked determinedly on a variety of subjects - but I could tell the difference. I did my best to cheer him, but usually found that quietly listening to him and agreeing to what he said was the kindest thing. VERY occasionally I saw the moonlight, streaming in through the window above Rex's pen, glinting on a tear, which was snaking down Kipper's caramel-coloured snout. Generally, this was after he had been singled-out by visitors with children. Kipper adored children - little ones especially.
Of course, I never mentioned that I had seen Kipper's sorrow. I always saved up my best jokes to tell Kipper on days after visits involving "a little word", and kept his spirits as buoyant as I could.
There were some days, however, which generally involved Miss Smart and her sisters (as well as others), when Kipper DID get out and about to make friends with children of all ages. These were our fund-raising days.
Fund-raising days were when volunteers and staff from the shelter would take the most appealing and well-behaved dogs into the local town centre (High Wycombe), with plastic collection jars. Kipper was always involved in this (he and his human for the day usually had the prime pitch outside Marks and Spencer as well, the jammy toad) and, after a month or two, I was permitted to attend as well. At various locations around the town centre, a volunteer and a doggy-inmate from the shelter would be stationed for a few hours with a collection box. Shoppers and passers-by would come and put money in the tin, in exchange for a paper sticker and, often, a cuddle of the dog. Kipper loved it - and I quickly understood why.
We both revelled in the contact and interaction with people. We were popular and universally-loved for an entire day by a multitude of different humans - white; black (reminding me of the pretty girl amongst those who had assisted in saving my life); pale brown; all were eager to say hello to us dogs, have a cuddle and put pennies in the tins. Meeting all these different people was as delightful to me as receiving a fresh steak or special biscuit, and I knew that Kipper felt the same.
I was often paired with one of the Miss Smarts. I think they felt sorry for me because I was always a courteous, amicable sort - and yet no-one wanted me. By this time I was, after Kipper, the longest-serving resident of the shelter. Unwanted, unloved, and with no health issues to explain away my constant rejection.
Kipper and I ALWAYS got the most money in our tins, though, hehehe...
The night before it happened was just like any other.
As we drifted off to our respective sleeps, the usual sad query from little Pebble:
"Are my family going to come and get me tomorrow, Kipper?"
"I don't know Pebble, mate. I don't expect so. I'm sorry. You sleep tight and we'll see what happens, eh?"
"Yeah, OK. Good night Kipper. Goodnight everyone."
There were a few muttered variations on "Goodnight, Pebble." from those of us still awake, and we all settled down - as usual - to our slumbers.
The next day was Saturday. A visiting day.
One family amongst the other visitors stood out. They walked slowly down my corridor, looking carefully into each pen. As usual, I pretended to be asleep - despising the whole, sordid, process. Opening one eye, I did notice, however, that this particular family hovered between Kipper's and Pebble's pens for some time. From my position, I couldn't see which dog they were looking at - but it seemed to be Pebble.
The family looked nice. There was a man and a lady and two lively little boys, plus a smaller female child in a push-chair. Their scent and their eyes positively exuded good natures and contented stability. In short, Kipper's exact definition of his dream family.
On deferring their attentions to Kipper, Dave took the parents aside for the inevitable "little word". I could almost smell the hope fading within Kipper - and it fair broke my heart.
"Ah." said the man quietly, nodding. He directed the attentions of his children away from Kipper.
With one last glance at Pebble, the family moved on to the next corridor.
After dinner, and another tactfully silent walk with a more-subdued-than-usual Kipper, Dave appeared at the Door of Doors. In his hand, he clutched a prepared Red Card.
All were alert now, as he walked down my corridor, waiting to see who would, this time, be the chosen one. A feint whiff of the nice family from earlier could be detected by the sharp-nosed amongst us from the all-important card.
He stopped in front of Pebble's pen and bent down to pick up a pin, which had fallen from his pocket. And then he straightened up, smoothed-out the Red Card, and pinned it above the pen of the lucky dog who was soon to go to his new home.
And the pen - was Kipper's.