Saturday, 31 March 2012

Saturday 31 March 2012

This is Betty.  She has been teaching me how to live again.

Please don't get too excited - she isn't mine.  I am dog-sitting her (in addition to my voluntary work for The Cinnamon Trust) on and off for the next seven months.  This is helping me financially as well as emotionally.  Betty was described to me initially as "a complete nightmare".  The reason she needs a dog-sitter as opposed to being boarded in kennels is that she does not get on well with other dogs, children or walking independently off-lead.  In fact, she is an utter delight from snout to (docked) tail.  It is true that she does not "mesh well" with other dogs - there have been many altercations with pretty Westie neighbour, Rosie, who, it may be recalled, was in love with my beloved Jasper.  Poor sweet, simple, Rosie cannot understand why her sweetheart Jasper should have inexplicably transformed himself into a large, hairy, non-spayed, slightly hormonal bitch.

Betty might be a BIT of a handful, but she has done (and will continue to do, for the next six months at least) me an immeasurable wealth of good.  She is sparky, intelligent, affectionate, energetic, funny and - above all else - her chief strength lies in the fact that she is not even REMOTELY like Jasper.

Jasper cannot ever be replaced in my affections.  He truly was a dog like no other.  But Betty is so unlike Jasper that she could never be even accused of seeking to supplant him in my eyes.  Sometimes, I wonder what Jasper would have made of Betty.  She is an incredibly attractive and physically desirable bitch (to a dog - canine-friend Ewan and workplace neighbour Mac have proved that!) and for that reason Jasper would have adored her.  But Betty, like Jasper's late wife Isolde and Ewan's wife (and Jasper's sometime paramour) Fizzy, will brook no male foolishness.  Therefore, I think Jasper would have positively adored Betty - and possibly she him - as long as they did not have to permanently live together.

When Jasper's health began to noticeably deteriorate, some 5½ months ago, well-intentioned colleagues began to suggest that taking in another dog - either pup or adult - would help me at the final extremity as well as Jasper in the evening of his life.  But I knew Jasper better than anyone.  Yes, even you, dear reader, as hard as that might seem.  He had only ONE flaw in his character - that flaw was jealousy.

I have not been able to have a serious boyfriend since the Jasper-scorned "BC" (  If I ever showed a particular affection towards any other man, dog, or other creature, Jasper would not like it.  He could never have tolerated another dog in the house on a permanent basis.  It is true that, in many cases, getting a second, younger, dog can revitalise and prolong the life of an older dog.  But, apart from the fact that Jasper's life could not be prolonged by any means (bl**dy cancer), I knew that a second dog in my life would have made Jasper desperately unhappy - and he deserved peace and the normality of our daily routine in his last months.

There are a number of things I can do now that I no longer have Jasper.  But - given the choice - I would much prefer to have him back again.

I know I have been promising this for a long time and here, at last, it is - with apologies for the delay.  When it became apparent that, despite his strong-willed and valiant battle, Jasper was not going to recover from the tumour I helped him to put together one, final, entry to be posted up after he had gone.  Now that, thanks largely to Betty, I am feeling more like myself again I offer it to you now.


If you are reading this then I, Jasper Horatio Stafford, no longer walk the Earth.  Despite being in otherwise excellent health my body is falling prey to the cancerous growth in my nostril.  If it was in any other part of me I would be operated on and all would be well - but it hides, coward-like, in my tiny nasal passage where not even the most gifted surgeon can venture.  But don't misunderstand me - I am not bitter.  I am not afraid.  I stand upright to face death and find that I am more than equal to the task.  I am determined to remain brave and maintain my dignity until the very end.

Of course I worry - but for my friends.  My partner, simple chum Ewan, the friends I  love throughout the locality and the friends I share through my blog.  I made my partner promise to maintain my blog, lest it fall prey to spammers.  Incidentally, did you know that all internet and email spammers are actually cats?  It's part of their plan for world domination.  I digress.

I am sorry to be departing this life sooner than I had looked to.  I hope that my untimely passing will lead some to realise that life is precious and all-too-fleeting.  Life genuinely is too short for petty squabbles, fretting over trivialities, and lost sleep over minor worries.  Life is beautiful and every last drop of enjoyment ought to be squeezed from it, for no mortal will receive another bite of the pie.  When cares press upon you, I would like you to think of me - and remember what I bark: Life is too short.  In any situation, however wretched it may seem at the time, look to the positive - even if it is nothing more than appreciating the simple sound of a bird singing, the feeling of the sun on your back, the company of a friend or the intricate beauty of a plant.  THESE are the real treasures we have - everything else; money, possessions, status, etc., are just meaningless fripperies.  I doubt that many people WILL remember this - it is only in death that one learns how precious life can be.  The great Baz Luhrmann was absolutely right when he wrote the line for his excellent film, Moulin Rouge:

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn - is just to love, and be loved in return"

And this is why I have no fear of death's shadow:  not merely because I have loved and been loved; it is because I have lived.  And lived my life to the full.  Those who have read my "Evolution of Jasper" series will know that my early years were not the happiest - and yet I am grateful for them, for they were the first steps on the path to me writing this here, right now.  I found a partner who understands me - my need to explore the world; my need to express myself onstage, on the streets and countryside and online, and allowed me to pursue my delights to the fullest with affection, guidance, and support.  Was there ever a more fortunate dog?  I die with my heart full of love and gratitude.

I have given much thought as to how I should take my leave of you here, dear reader.  What words should be my last to you - you, who have taken the time to open this blog and read what I have to bark.  But I cannot make that choice - if I could, I would bark to you forever and never cease.  So I leave it to someone else.  This has been one of my partner's favourite poems for many years - since long before I was born; even since before my great-grandfather was a saucy twinkle in my great-great-grandfather's eye.  A card bearing this poem has been framed on our bathroom wall for such a long time that I long ago ceased to notice it.  The words are by Christina Rossetti and this is actually what I want to bark.  So goodbye, dear friend.  Thank you for reading my simple barks and sharing a part of my life - and these are exactly the words with which I leave you.


Remember me when I am gone away,
         Gone far away into the silent land;
         When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet, turning, stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
         You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
         Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
         For if the darkness and corruption leave
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile
         Than that you should remember and be sad.

("Jazz") Horatio Stafford
1999   -   2012

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sunday 11 March 2012

I am sorry to have run out on you in the last post, I'm afraid that it all got a little bit much for me.  But I'm doing better now and so will now share the remainder of Jaspey's last day.

....Following on, then, from Dave's goodbye - the afternoon was one of inexorable torment.  My colleagues, plus Ewan and Fizzy, gathered to say a muted goodbye to their soon-to-be-fallen comrade.  What words could anyone say?  None could comfort; none could delay what was to come; none could make things better.  Jo had the best of them: "Good boy, Jazz.".  But Ewan, not to be outdone, inevitably had the last bark.

"See you tomorrow, Jazzy! Byeee!!!"

Poor Ewan.  He wasn't - indeed, he couldn't - know that his best friend was about to be brutally, inexplicably, torn from his side.  But I know that Jasper wanted it this way.  No tears, no grieving for his friends.  Sweet, simple, uncomprehending Ewan therefore said his goodbyes to Jasper without knowing that this would be their final parting.  Fizzy,of course, knew; but that knowledge would have been too much for Ewan.  It would have broken him utterly.  Better, then, that Ewan's final goodbye to his friend and oft-time mentor was one of unsullied happiness, content and unclouded optimism.

Jasper smiled as we drove away, his tail wagging and alive with memories of the happy (even though they were sometimes exasperating) shared experiences at that place.

I know not how I managed to drive home that evening - all I remember is the departure and the arrival.  My mother was there to greet us - joined, shortly afterwards, by Maisie.   Dearest Maisie had originally said that she could not bear a final goodbye with Jasper but, when the moment came, she didn't want to see him go without one final cuddle.  We all had a group hug, cry and shared prayer.  And then Maisie walked out to my parents' car with us, Jasper in my arms, said her final farewell and watched through her tears as I climbed with Jasper into the rear of my parents' car, my mother at the wheel, and we moved slowly away.

Once inside the surgery, the kind lady vet - who had been the first to speculate that the problems in Jasper's snout might have been serious - ushered us sympathetically into one of the consulting rooms.  Coincidentally it was the same room in which both of Jasper's predecessors, Jacqueline (Jaki) the Jack Russell and pretty, tragic Tess, had lost their lives.  The vet left my mum and I with Jasper for a few moments, returning with the fatal syringe and a nurse.  Both vet and nurse were in tears.

Looking down at my belovèd Jasper, I knew that the moment I both feared and dreaded had come.  Every fibre of my being urged me to scoop up Jasper in my arms and flee from the surgery.  I had to fight this urge with all the strength I had.  I looked up desperately at the vet.
"I am doing the right thing, aren't I?" I asked, hoping against hope that the reply would be "Well, actually, I think he'll be OK in a few hours; it's just a mild chest infection."  But she didn't.  She earnestly replied that I was doing the very best by Jasper and it was the right decision; unquestionably.  I asked the vet to tell me when she was about to administer the injection - and embraced my brave, wonderful Jasper for the last time.  "Thank you Jasper." I told him gently, the tears pouring freely, "Thank you for being the dog that you were.  You've been an amazing dog and I love you very, very much.  Goodbye my dearest darling.  Thank you for saving my life."

"Injection going in now."  Jasper didn't make a sound as the needle did its work.

Keeping my hands on Jasper, I straightened up to look at him.  He blinked calmly and fixed his beautifully rich brown eyes on my face.  I did my best to smile at him and reassured him with the words that had seen him off to sleep every night of his time with me.

"Goodnight, Jasper.  Sleep well - I'll see you again in the morning; sometime.  You are a good boy and I love you very, very much.  Goodnight sweetheart."

I felt my mum gripping the tops of my arms.  Jasper stumbled once, steadied himself, and then fell onto his right side.  I caught him as he fell, and the vet supported him and helped me to release my arm from under him.  I cradled Jasper as he lay on his side.  The vet picked up her stethoscope and began listening to Jasper's heartbeat.  "Has he gone?" I whispered.  The vet continued listening intently for a few seconds more.  Then she nodded.  Slipping off the stethoscope she said quietly "He's gone."  The vet and the nurse left the room.

I looked down at the inert body.  It didn't seem to me as though he had gone. His eyes were wide open.  Although his chest was no longer rising and falling, somehow I still knew he was with me.

And then I felt it.  I appreciate that you may not believe me - but I swear that I actually felt Jasper's soul depart his body.  And then he was truly gone.

I collapsed over the handsome case that had once framed my Jasper and howled in agony.  It was a sound that I had never realised I was capable of making.  The pain was unbelievable - it felt like a vital part of my body had been torn from me and was being stamped on before me.  I wailed and wailed with anguished despair and pain for fifteen minutes, my mum supporting me in silent compassion.  And all the time, Jasper's body refused to give out entirely.  

When Tess had passed away, on that same table, her body had turned cold so quickly that I was taken aback.  Jasper, on the other hand, stayed warm.  His whiskers continued to twitch; his nostrils continued to move as if breathing; the tip of his tail continued to wag.  Post-mortem muscle spasms undoubtedly, but it was though the body, which had fought valiantly every battle it had encountered since Jasper was a tiny, abused puppy, was still fighting to live on.  Only the eyes were still.  Gazing yet unseeing.  I tried to gently close the eyelids, but they would not shut.  Even in death, Jasper did not want to miss a single thing.

After what seemed an age, and yet was not long enough, my mother informed me that evening surgery had started and that, perhaps it was time to go.  I collapsed, wailing, again.  The idea of leaving Jasper there alone repulsed me. But mum was right.  Other, living, pets needed the table.  Steeling myself against this fresh horror, mum supported me - almost holding me up - as I made my way out into the waiting room.  The room was full, but I didn't notice anyone.  At the door, I turned for one final, parting glance at my boy.  His eyes were fixed, still staring, and I was taken aback.  It was probably mere coincidence, but the angle at which he had fallen and the position of the entrance/exit door of the building meant that, as I departed, Jasper's eyes were perfectly placed so as to be staring directly at me.


The evening and the night passed in a daze.  I didn't sleep at all, but lay awake grieving.  The surgery is only around the corner from my house - you will never know how close I came to breaking into the building, so that I could lie beside Jasper as he rested in his coffin - I couldn't bear the thought of him alone there.  Mr. Winfield's undertaking team were due to collect Jasper's body at around 10.00am the next day.

Needless to say, I was incapable of going to work the next day.  I could not even get out of bed.  I did try, but the effort was exhausting.  I'll admit that there was a moment of respite once 10.00am had been and gone - knowing that Jasper's handsome corpse was no longer lying just around the corner was something of a balm to my tortured mind.  I passed the day alternately sleeping or in giving way to the relentless waves of grief, crying piteously and wailing over and over "Bring him back; bring him back; I want him back..."  I couldn't answer the 'phone or any knocks at my door.  In the end, my parents almost had to force entry to the house to make sure that I hadn't done away with myself in my torment.

I received so many beautiful expressions of sympathy; through this blog, via email, on Facebook or Twitter and by card or letter.  Well over 200, in fact.  Every single one was greatly - and gratefully - appreciated.  To know that Jasper had meant so much to so many was exquisite comfort at such a time - and, indeed, these messages are still very precious treasures to me.  Some folks were also kind enough to send donations to put towards the sizeable vets' bills.  My mum and dad generously covered the expenses of Mr. Winfield's undertaking services.  When first I ventured out of doors, I discovered that a dear friend, Karen, had left a simple but gorgeous arrangement of holly and winter blossoms from her garden at my doorstep, along with a note.  I know she won't mind if I share the words of her note here:

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened" - Anatole France

Jasper - I will remember him with affection as;

A Gentleman

A Loving Friend and Partner

A Pro Actor

To dear R****, I can't think of anything else to say.

For such words, and all the similarly kindly-expressed others, I shall never cease to be thankful.


After such a grim weekend there was no way I could go into work on Monday.  Fortunately, my colleagues were understanding and sympathetic.

Later that day, I collected Jasper's mortal remains - the ashes of his cremated body - in the casket he and I had selected together, a brass plaque bearing his name affixed to the dark wood.  This casket rests beside me now, as I type these words to you.


It was a strange situation in which I found myself.  I had never before been so truly alone.  Jasper and I moved into this place, from which I write, together out of my parents' house, the home in which I had grown up from the age of six.  I had never lived alone before now.  I don't like it.  Perhaps worse, even, than this were the efforts of dear, simple, Ewan when I returned to work.  He searched everywhere for Jasper, convinced that his friend was hiding from him by way of a new game.  His endeavours to find Jasper fair broke my heart - and there was scant respite at home.  My neighbour's little West Highland Terrier, Rosie, being utterly smitten with Jasper.  Ewan, at least, had Fizzy - who gently strove to help Ewan comprehend the fact that Jasper would not return.  Rosie, alas, eagerly searches for him still.  She yelps for Jasper and cannot understand why he doesn't respond.

I confess that, sometimes, I fail to understand too.

And, so, this is it.  Now you have the whole story of Jasper's last day on Earth.  But, should there ultimately be a Heaven, we shall see him again one day.  Not here, not now.  But one day.

The next post I will make here shall be Jasper's "If you are reading this..." letter - composed long before he began to suffer, to be uploaded in the event of his death.

Let this then, be the LAST time that his name is mentioned here with sadness.  For, once upon a time, there lived a dog called Jasper Horatio Stafford.  I owe him my life (perhaps I will tell you of the time he saved my life one day).  And the greatest gift I can bestow on his memory is to go on living, thankful that - for a fleeting moment - he and I had a shared time together.  And that time was wonderful.

Truly wonderful.  Thank you Jasper - for never being anything less than Jasper Horatio Stafford.