I was ten years old the day I found out that our beloved cocker spaniel Jasper, had slipped away. With only the screech of a car and a single thud, he was gone. My lifelong friend, no more.
Jasper joined our family as a sleepy puppy when I was just a baby. From there we had grown up side by side; Jasper and Ger, the ultimate dog-child combo. I often drew pictures of what my future house would look like, and Jasper always made a feature. His black and white speckled fur set the tone for the wallpaper design, the couch, the tables and the chairs. It would be a monochrome-heavy house, it seemed.
As a six-year-old I addressed homemade Valentines Day cards to Jasper; and as an eight-year-old, I would paint pottery with the words, “I LOVE JASPER” scrawled across. He was as part of my identity as my shiny, brown bob was; a fact that made the effect of his loss all the greater.
Jasper was the kind of dog that could read the mood of a room when someone in the family was sad; lamenting a teenage breakup or sprained ankle; he would sit at their feet, empathising and commiserating silently. When a celebration called: a maths test aced; a tennis match won, he would then jump around like a lunatic, rejoicing in the happiness he could feel, no human-dog translation required.
The day we were told the news, we had all gathered in the living room. It was a Sunday evening and myself, my four sister and my parents were enjoying the last few hours of the weekend watching Kirsty’s Home Videos together. At least I was enjoying it, I’m sure my parents felt sick, dreading what was to come.
Out of nowhere, my dad put the TV on mute and announced he had something to tell us. He rubbed his chin for a moment, sighed, and then said it in one gentle sentence: Jasper, our gorgeous, gentle, and soft-natured dog had been knocked down outside our house the night before. We were having work done at the time, a builder had left the gate open on his way out, and Jasper had slipped out. He was returning home from his neighbourhood adventure, just a few metres from our gate, when the car struck.
It was because the entire family had been brought out for the day that none of us noticed his empty kennel outside, or the stillness of the garden without his rambling presence.
The grief of it all was immeasurable and we spent the evening coming to terms with the news; five girls crying our little hearts out over the loss of our treasured pet, our friend. I stayed in my parent’s bed that night, unable to stop the tears flowing down my cheeks, drenching my mother’s nightgown as she tried to comfort me.
As I sit here, typing out this story, it doesn’t matter that seventeen years have passed now; my throat is tightening and my eyes have started to sting and swell up as I think back on that memory. This dog was my world, and my world had just been hit with all the force of a moving car. That moment, and the devastation that it brought, has remained in my brain and today, all these years later, the emotion feels as raw as ever.
It took us about eight years until we could welcome another dog into our home. Jimmy is a tiny Shih Tzu with a big personality and even bigger ego, the kind of dog that delights in wearing outfits and hates walks. A dog that couldn’t be further away from the gentle Jasper.
As I look at Jimmy now, I take in his quirks; his yappy bark; his extreme underbite, and I think about how he too has managed to entwine himself into our family and hearts, just as Jasper did. This is the power that a family pet wields. And although I know it’s morbid, I can’t help but muse how one day he too will leave us. The thought has me choked once more, and I have to force my mind elsewhere; away from the reality that is to come, away from the heartbreak that the loss of a pet will bring my family once again.
So why do we put ourselves through it all? Ask any pet owner this question and they'll be sure to say the same thing: because the limitless love that a furry friend provides makes all the heartbreak and sadness worthwhile.