When Jasper joined our family in 2006, only his head was too big. Still in his puppyhood (the pound predicted his age at around 1 year), he’d been found in a field in Salinas, California, then spent two weeks at the shelter waiting for his people to arrive. The moment I saw the giant block head perched on a skinny little pound puppy body, I knew we’d found our dog.
For his first few months with us, many of the people we encountered on our daily walks referred to him as “the big head dog,” but after plenty of regular meals, treats, and exercise, his body grew to match his head. By that point, he’d taught us (and anyone who entered our home) a great deal about the profound power of snuggling.
When he was about two, Jasper was diagnosed with a heart murmur. The vet said it would likely develop into something more severe later in life but discouraged us from limiting his activities. We readily took her advice. Over the next ten years, Jasper had tons of adventures. He climbed scores of mountains ~
Traversed many waters ~
And wandered under rainbows ~
He traveled across the country and up and down both coasts. As a road trip dog, he was an absolute angel from day 1.
(After many years, he finally taught Libby how to win at road trips: go to sleep immediately & snooze through the whole thing.)
A lover of all living things, he made friends wherever he went ~Over the course of a decade, Jasper swam in both the Atlantic and Pacific, drank from countless lakes, rivers, and streams, rode the ferry to the San Juan Islands, went canoeing and camping, and hiked in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Carolinas. He even toured a vineyard in Napa and stayed in a yurt. When it came to family adventures, he couldn’t stand to be left out.About a year ago, Jasper started to cough. The cough was prolonged and troublesome enough to warrant a visit to the vet, and we soon found out that the left atrium of his heart is enlarged, which pushes against his trachea and triggers a cough. This is a chronic issue that can be controlled somewhat, but not cured. At times, it gets really bad. He chokes, gags, and wheezes, unable to get a breath. It’s terrible.
My husband blames us. He says we love Jasper so much, we’ve enlarged his heart. I don’t know what he’s talking about. I mean, I may sometimes wrap Jasper in a handmade afghan because he’s looking a bit chilly… but doesn’t everyone do that sort of thing??While I don’t really believe we had anything to do with his heart issues, it is difficult to witness a dog’s aging process. It happens far too fast. Both of our dogs now gaze at us through eyes clouded by cataracts. They’re hard of hearing. Their bodies are dotted with fatty cysts. Their walks have been reduced from a brisk 3+ miles a day to a slow (maybe) mile. Libby has arthritis. Jasper’s heart is too big. As someone who loves them dearly, it hurts a great deal to see them grow old.
But it’s also worth it. Despite the pesky, encroaching mortality issue, dogs make life better. Jasper was the first dog I got to share my home with since I left for college at age 18, and he has been one of the best things about my adult life. I tell my husband that our home is a geriatric facility in which our pets now stand in a queue, waiting to cross the rainbow bridge. But I only joke that way to soothe myself, because I know how painful their passings will be. That’s why I chose to write a post about Jasper now, while I can still look at him across the room, snoring gently on the couch. If I waited until after he passed, I don’t think I’d be able to write this. It would be too hard.
My strategy for the remainder of Jasper’s life is to keep loving him as much as I can, even if it makes both of our hearts swell up until they burst. Because first of all, he deserves it, and secondly, what a way to go. 💖