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" (http://jasper-thedogsblog.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/sunday-13-august-2006.html). 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.
Jasper ("Jazz") Horatio Stafford
1999 - 2012