As I approached the top of the common (a regular haunt of young local ne'er-do-wells), I happened upon a most bizarre sight. Fixed to a tree was a very large wooden cross with decorative edging. All around it were photographs, little paper windmills, mirrors, baubles, etc. At the foot of the tree was an odd assortment of paraphernalia and a number of candles. A few garden chairs and other bits of furniture/baggage were srewn randomly about. There was no obvious evidence of someone living there. Most peculiar. I turned to glance back at my partner.
"I think we've got a bit of a 'Big Fat Gypsy situation' going on here." I muttered. She nodded and we looked at the odd, shrine-like arrangement in silence. As we turned, we met the young family and mentioned the strange site. The mother replied that she thought it had been put there by the friends of a young local man, killed in a road accident recently.
The fellow had lived in the same street as me, though I did not know him or his family. As tragic as his untimely fate had been, it had been entirely self-inflicted. In the wee small hours one night, stoned out of his gourd and drunk as well, the lad decided to drive to his girlfriend's house, eschewing the inconvenience of a seatbelt. Alas for his family and friends, the inevitable happened and his end came swiftly and suddenly (although I understand that the lack of a seatbelt was ultimately the deciding factor). That is the trouble with those who live life on the edge - one can all-too-easily topple too far and fall off.
After musing that it was, perhaps, fortunate that at least the late fellow had not taken innocent lives along with him, we bade each other compliments of the season and parted company. As I trotted off, it occurred to me that, when I am ultimately claimed for Heaven myself, I would rather have a tree planted in my memory than have items nailed into a living tree at a local countryside site and surrounded by what is not far removed from fly-tipping (and I am certainly intending no disrespect whatsoever to the deceased, nor to the no doubt well-intentioned efforts of remembrance - but the place on the common really is a litter-strewn, sordid, foetid eyesore). Yes. Plant me a tree then, against which generations of dogs can gratefully download their weemails. But do not befoul the coutryside with items which pose a very real threat to the welfare of England's wildlife.
Only a short walk then; but interesting nonetheless. I did not want to get back into my car at the end. I procrastinated by drinking deeply from every puddle I encountered - a draught of chilled puddle water is my very favourite tipple, after all.
And, barking of procrastination, it is long past time that I posted the final instalment of my "Evolution of Jasper" series. I must apologise, particularly as the last instalment concluded on something of a cliff-hanger (here: previous episode) and even more so, as the final part has been complete for some time now. But I have been putting-off sharing it. I have very much enjoyed sharing the story of my early life with you and I suppose that I did not want that enjoyment to be over. It was almost as though my posting of this final episode completes a certain purpose to my life - and I have never been fond of endings and goodbyes (unless Peaches the cat is involved...).
But what would have been the point to completing the last instalment and then keeping it to myself? That would have been foolish indeed. So it with the greatest pleasure that I share with you now:
I felt utterly wretched. Not only had I been abandoned by my partner, whom I now loved more than anything, but I couldn’t understand what I had done wrong to deserve such a fate.
“Excuse me…” said a little voice beside me.
“Go away.” I sniffed. I was in no mood to be comforted.
“Are you alright?!” said the voice . I was about to make a sharp and rude retort, but my nose told me that the voice was female. I lifted my head and looked around. A pretty caramel-coloured spaniel bitch in the next pen along was looking at me with kind concern. “Why are you crying?” she asked, in a gentle bark.
“Because I’ve been abandoned here for being naughty and I don’t know what I’ve done!” I replied in a shaky voice.
“No you haven’t!” beamed the spaniel, wagging her tail. I looked about me again, and began to wonder if they’d put me into some kind of psychiatric block.
“Um…” I began warily, “I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but…”
“You silly dog!” yipped my neighbour, “You haven’t been left here! This is just where you stay when your people are away for a bit – your person will come back and get you soon!”
“Really?” I whispered. I allowed myself to feel hope whilst keeping also in mind the lesson of Pebble – a worthy young friend from my rescue-kennel days who had been cruelly abandoned by the humans he trusted and who, for many months, persisted in the tragic delusion that his family were coming the next day to fetch him.
“Of course!” smiled my lovely new friend. “This is just a boarding kennel! I’ve been here a few times before. I don’t usually come here, it isn’t terribly nice, but the one I normally go to was full up. My name is Pepé. My people have gone on holiday but they’re coming back for me on Monday. How nice to have a neighbour to talk to! There was a
Labrador in there until a few days ago, but he wasn’t very chatty.”
I sniffed about me. There was a distinct whiff of
Labrador in my pen – and everything about the spaniel next to me smelled honest and sincere. I decided, therefore, that Pepé was to be believed and stood up, feeling immeasurably better.
“I’m Jasper.” I said, sniffing at the pretty lass through the bars. “I’m sorry to have blubbed. It’s just that I used to live in a rescue home and I thought I had been left at a different one.”
“That’s OK.” Pepé smiled. “I’ve never been in a rescue kennel before. What’s it like? There are two dogs from a rescue home in the next-door house to where I live. I go to shows where I have to win prizes for being pretty and some of the other bitches at one of them said that I oughtn’t to play with those dogs because dogs from rescue homes are dirty and bad.”
“Well, you SHOULD play with them.” I said, trying not to sound annoyed. “I’M not dirty or bad, am I?”
“Actually, no.” replied Pepé. “For a handsome Staffie you are remarkably clean…”
She said one or two other things, but I stopped listening after she said I was handsome. Eventually, however, my good manners overcame my vanity and I realised that Pepé was still barking.
“…so I’m glad that you have said it’s not true because they are both very nice dogs and I have often thought that I would like to share my toys with them.” She concluded.
“I am sure that they would like that very much.” I replied, hoping against hope that she was still talking about her two ex-rescue neighbours.
I went on to tell Pepé all about my time in the rescue home (though prudently keeping the tale of “The Night of the Isolated Bitches” to myself), how I had arrived there, and my various escapades since being adopted by my partner. We had to stop halfway though, as the man (and his cigarette) brought us our dinners and then let us out, one at a time, into the field for brief exercise and lavatory.
Pepé was an excellent listener, laughing and gasping in all the appropriate places. She even shed a few tears when I related the death of poor Kipper. She asked plenty of questions and, in turn, she told me all about her life as a “show-dog”, her regular grooming and pampering sessions and all the prizes that she’d won. I have to bark, I didn’t envy her this life, but she was clearly loved for who she was as well as how she looked and performed by her partners and she enjoyed her showbiz life. It was almost sunrise the next morning when we stopped chatting.
My delightful friend helped the time to pass quickly and enjoyably, which was a mercy, as nothing about the boarding kennel itself was remotely enjoyable, nor even particularly quick. The staff were surly and brisk, exercise was limited to the field, and the cleaning of our pens left a great deal to be desired. I understood why Pepé had only been placed here because the other place was full.
Come the Monday, my heart leapt within my breast as I heard the familiar sound of my partner’s car turning into the driveway at the bottom of the field. I jumped up and dashed to the door of my pen, my tail wagging nineteen-to-the-dozen.
“There you are!” beamed Pepé, “I told you she’d come back for you! My people will be back in a few hours, when it starts to get dark.”
“Oh, thank you Pepé!” I yipped, beside myself with joy, “You were right all along!” I jumped and strained for the earliest glimpse of my partner, which couldn’t come quickly enough for me.
At last I saw her. My partner was clearly equally eager to reunite with me and beamed broadly as she heard my yelps of delight. The chain-smoking proprietor trudged up and fixed the lead to my collar. As he grabbed my beanbag and my chews, I bid a hasty farewell to Pepé, thanking her for her barks of comfort and wishing her well for the future. Such was my eagerness to get to my partner, the smoking man couldn’t withstand my strength, and I raced down the hill, the lead trailing behind me, and jumped into the open arms of my partner.
As overjoyed as she was to see me, I could see shock registered in her eyes. She noticed that I’d seen this and explained immediately.
“Jasper – you reek of wee!” As my beanbag was handed over, my partner was astounded to find that my bed was damp and also smelled strongly of my urine. She began to apologise straight away. “I’m so sorry – so, so, sorry. I promise I will never leave you in a boarding kennel again.” Of course, I forgave her instantly.
Finally, and yet for the first time in my life, I realised that I was safe. I knew that I was home. I knew that I was loved.
I had become the me that I was always destined to be. I was then, am now, and always will be, finally Jasper.
So how does one end a series such as this? Beginning was easy enough - but how to conclude a story of such a life saved? How two such diametrically-opposed individuals came to be together, to survive their initial mutual dislike, to become two souls united as one, to the point where each saved the other in so many ways? But alas; there is where my voice falls silent and my paws cease to tap at the keys. I possess not the skill necessary to put into barks how much my partner has come to mean to me. I have endeavoured to repay her love and faith in me; I hope I have succeeded. To the words of another, then, I turn - and I realise that I am straying dangerously near melodrama here, but this beautiful song by Kate Rusby is all that I want to say. If I was clever enough to be able to write a song for my partner, these are the words I would choose:
Something of a rollercoaster early life then. But I would not change a single thing - it made me the dog that I am today. It made me Jasper - and for that, I will always be grateful.
Well... I am not quite sure what I was expecting to happen when I uploaded that final instalment. I suppose I thought that, as soon as I had barked "The End", a bolt of lightning would crash down and eliminate all mortal trace of me from this Earth. But here I still am! Granted, I may not be destined much longer for this World - but here I still am...
I wish you a very happy Christmas and every conceivable happiness for the new year and beyond.