Jasper the dog was a fluffy bundle of happiness.
My two young sons adored him, petting him and cooing at him at every opportunity. Jasper ate up the attention like the king of the house. It made him happy to lie peacefully on the living room floor with my boys on either side of him playing Super Mario Sunshine on their X-Box. Every time they stopped their game to pet him, Jasper would kiss them with his pink little tongue and a big doggy smile.
Jasper was a Wheaten Terrier, technically still a puppy although he was already fairly large. I’d found him through a breeder in the next town over, and right away I knew he was the best dog in the group. He happily jumped into my arms for the car ride home, and he climbed all over the boys when we got home with his tail wagging a hundred miles an hour.
It had been a while since I’d taken care of a pet, so the boys and I picked up some books to get familiar with what Jasper would need. We walked him around the neighborhood sporting his new leash and did our best to get him to do his business outside. Jasper had a few accidents, but we forgave them quickly. It was worth it to have him become part of our family.
Those were the best of times.
My boyfriend, Micah, moved in with us a few months later. We’d been seeing each other on and off for about six months, and I invited him to stay with me and the boys after he was evicted from his trailer for not paying rent. I wasn’t completely sold on the idea, but I didn’t want to see him on the streets with no roof over his head.
I was also five months pregnant with his child.
Micah initially fell in love with Jasper, getting down on the floor to rub his belly and tell him he was a good boy. Jasper loved every minute and rolled over to receive the hugs and kisses he loved so much. Seeing them together made me feel relieved, and Micah seemed to be getting along well with my boys. It was like having a real family again to replace the one I’d lost after a nasty divorce. I believed having the baby’s father there all the time would be good for everybody. That was back when I believed I needed a man to make me feel complete.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The pregnancy exhausted me and kept me from getting Jasper outside as often as he needed. Still, he had an occasional accident. It wasn’t the dog’s fault, but Micah called him disgusting and gross. He never volunteered to take Jasper out to help me. Unfortunately, Jasper was also a big fan of chewing shoes and jumping on people. Micah became more resentful of the dog as time went on, and it got harder to keep the peace in our new family. It upset the boys greatly that Micah yelled at Jasper for behavior he couldn’t control.
I knew things couldn’t go on that way forever, so I reached out to a pet training service who offered to take Jasper for two weeks and train him. It was really expensive, but I hoped the trainers could teach him all the things that I was too overwhelmed to handle. I thought it was a good solution. If Jasper was well trained, maybe Micah would stop having issues with him, and things would get back to normal.
In the first week without Jasper, my water suddenly broke. It happened when I was getting an oil change, and there was a big scene with an ambulance and paramedics and instructions not to move even an inch. I was only 25 weeks pregnant and scared out of my mind. Once I reached the hospital, they told me I would have to stay there on complete bed rest until the baby was born.
“No,” I protested. “I have too much to do. My family needs me at home.”
The doctors nodded in sympathy, but the danger was simply too great to let me go. They took me to a private room where I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed, not even to use the bathroom. I called my ex-husband and arranged for the boys to stay with him until I went home. I didn’t expect Micah to take care of them full time, and to be honest, I don’t think he had the willingness or capability.
About two weeks into my hospital stay, Micah called me and said he heard from Jasper’s trainers who wanted to bring Jasper home. I called the trainer back and begged for more time until I was released, but there was no such luck. Jasper was going home, and Micah had to take care of him, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
Later that night, Micah called me back. When I asked about Jasper, he didn’t say much except that the trainer dropped him off as scheduled.
“But is he okay?” I needed more information. Was Jasper being good? Was Micah giving him the care and attention he needed?
“He’s fine,” Micah replied. “Just…hold on a minute.”
Micah put his phone down, and a few seconds later I heard a yelp from Jasper. My heart began to pound wildly. What was going on there?
“What are you doing?” I demanded as soon as Micah picked up the phone again.
“I shocked him” Micah admitted. “It’s okay, though. It’s what the trainer told me to do.”
“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I screamed at him.
“The trainer gave me the shock collar and the remote,” Micah explained. “That’s how they’ve been training him. I doubt it hurts him though, just lets him know he’s being bad.”
In my hospital bed, I never felt more helpless in my life. My beloved Jasper had been abused for two weeks. None of the trainers ever said a word about a shock collar or I never would have them take him. Now Jasper was getting electric shocks at the whim of Micah, who didn’t like him in the first place. I felt like I’d sent Jasper to training when it was Micah who needed it all along. He had to get out of our family, but there was nothing I could do about it until I got home.
I gave birth to my daughter via C-section about a week after that. She was right on the borderline of being able to survive on her own. When I first saw her, I could barely see her under all the tubes and wires attached to her. I named her Victoria and spent the rest of the time in the hospital next to her incubator. Every day that passed was a small miracle, and I was heartbroken when the hospital released me and I had to leave her behind.
When I came back to the house, it was a complete wreck. The carpet was destroyed with junk everywhere and plates in the kitchen sink spilling over onto counters. I found Jasper in the master bedroom sleeping in a corner. He wagged his tail and licked my hand as I pet him. He smelled like urine and feces, and I wondered if Micah had taken him out even once while I was gone. I gently removed the metal shock collar around his neck, and he nuzzled me gratefully.
I played it cool with Micah that night and acted like nothing was wrong. The next morning, still in pain from the surgery, I dragged myself to the bank and took out a thousand dollars. I put the money in an envelope and sat at the dining room table waiting for Micah to get home.
“What’s this?” Micah asked when I handed him the envelope.
My voice trembled as I spoke. “I want you to leave. This is one thousand dollars. You need to find another place to live.”
Micah looked incredulous. “You can’t just kick me out of here. It’s not legal. I get mail at this address, so that means I’m a legal resident.”
Micah was confusing me. I didn’t know if what he claimed was right, and I was too tired to fight him. I took the envelope and went upstairs to bed with Jasper next to me where he was safe.
The next morning, I packed up Jasper’s things and tearfully loaded my beautiful dog into the car. I planned to take him to a no-kill shelter that said they would take Jasper and find him a new home. I felt it was the only humane thing to do. It wasn’t safe to leave him around Micah, and I was too overwhelmed to take proper care of him. I wept as I helped him out of the car, praying that somebody nice would want him and love him the way I couldn’t.
Jasper and I waited in the lobby while I filled out paperwork. The other dogs excited him, and he barked at them happily, wanting to play. He hadn’t played in so long. I petted him knowing it would likely be the last time I touched him. It hurt too much to think about. Suddenly, I noticed a woman with long brown hair watching us, and I tried to give her a weak smile.
“Is he a Wheaten?” the lady asked me.
“Yes, he is,” I looked down at Jasper with his fur all matted and smelling like a sewer. I was so ashamed for the lady to see him in such a terrible condition, but she got down near his face and started petting him. He wagged his tail and nuzzled her.
“My name is Cindy,” the lady told me. “If you’re adopting him out, would you mind if I took him home?”
Flooded with relief, I hugged Cindy and told her yes. It made me so grateful that she saw the real Jasper and not the one who’d been stinking and shocked and abused. Jasper and I walked with Cindy out to her car, and tears sprang to my eyes when I saw she had a doggy seatbelt with a buckle to keep Jasper safe.
“I… I don’t know what to say,” I told her. “I love Jasper with all my heart, and I am so grateful to you for rescuing him.”
At that point, I didn’t even try to hide my tears. Cindy hugged me again, and we exchanged Facebook information to keep in touch. She promised she would send me a picture of Jasper after he was all cleaned up. As they drove away, I felt a mix of happiness and sadness. I hoped my little boys would understand, but I knew they probably would because Micah was involved. They were already well aware that he was a problem.
Jasper went on to live the life of a king. Cindy sent me pictures of him often for the next ten years. He looked like a little fluffball all bathed and groomed. There were pictures of him lounging on the furniture, playing with the dog Cindy already had, and being spoiled by Cindy’s teenage daughters. He clearly loved his life, and that was all I ever wanted for him.
When Jasper got older, he passed away from cancer. Cindy sent me a loving note to let me know what a good and happy dog he’d been for his whole life.
“I’ll never forget how sad you were that day,” Cindy wrote. “I know how much you loved Jasper, too, but he had the best life any dog could hope for. He was truly a part of our family.”
She was right. Jasper has never left my heart. I’m so thankful that he and Cindy found each other. As sad as the boys were when he left, they loved seeing the pictures and updates all those years about how great he was doing. They were happy for him, and that made them happy boys, too.
Over the years, my Victoria grew up to be a strong and healthy little girl. Her will to survive in the first days was amazing. Even though Micah was eventually out of the picture, Victoria, the boys, and I thrived as a family and have come back from insurmountable odds.
Sometimes I think of Jasper looking down from doggy heaven at all of us and smiling the way he used to do with his pretty brown eyes twinkling. It makes me smile, too. He was the best boy ever.