I can't even remember how or when we decided we'd get a dog, but I do remember that it was a very good idea and something I'd wanted to do for a very long time. Paul came up with his name, just blurting it out when we were pretending to call our dog (that we hadn't even got yet.) We thought Jasper was the perfect name for a dog. And it was.
In August 2003, before we were parents, we got a dog. He was 11 weeks old and was supposed to go off to America to be trained as a bomb sniffer dog, but the deal fell through and his entire litter suddenly became available. We got him from Fenflyers Labradors, and we were lucky because their dogs are high in demand. He had a silly Kennel Club name (My Captain Marvel, I kid you not) and an impressive pedigree. We didn't really care about that though, we just thought he was lovely. He wasn't a tiny puppy like in the Andrex ads, but he was still pretty small. He had huge floppy ears and enormous paws.
We were advised to get him a cuddly toy to keep him company, especially when we were out at work. We got him a stuffed dog called Doodles, who was from a kid's show called "The Tweenies" (which we didn't know about because we weren't yet parents and didn't have millions of CBeebies hours logged.) We came home one day to find poor Doodles in pieces, along with a tea towel and an ice cube tray.
While we were away, he ate: the wall, a kitchen cupboard, an entire box of formula, and a whole loaf of high fibre bread. Labradors are chewy.
He loved the water, whether it came out of the shower:
or if it was in his favourite river:
After his first year, the children started coming along. He put up with little fingers in his eyes, little hands pulling his tail, being used as a step ladder or a horsey, and having his space invaded.
Never once complaining or fighting back.
When I was pregnant with Jack, he didn't act any differently or seem to be aware of the imminent arrival of a little person. When we came home from hospital he suddenly became the protector, leaning himself up against the moses basket when the midwife visited to create a canine barrier. When I was pregnant with Mia, he went on high alert during the last few weeks of my pregnancy. He'd follow me around with a slightly worried expression and started the habit of coming upstairs to lie at the end of my bed every morning. When Mia was born, he poked his head over the side of the birthing pool, had a little sniff, and retired to his bed. Even before I knew I was pregnant with Isla, Jasper sat and stared at me for an entire evening - maybe with recognition and protection, but probably more out of disbelief. He stayed in his bed the entire time I was in labour, again only emerging to give her a little look when she was born.
He was a dog that even dog-haters (or dog-fearers) liked. I can't tell you how many times I heard people say, with sincerity, "I don't like dogs, but I really like Jasper."
Then three months ago, an oncology vet told us that Jasper had cancer and had maybe 4-6 months left with us. All he had was a limp, but otherwise he was as energetic as a puppy. It really didn't make any sense. He had radiotherapy, got a little worse, had more radiotherapy, then got quite a lot better. We knew he wasn't going to get better, but it seemed like we'd have him around for a little while longer.
Last weekend we went away, leaving Jasper with my in-laws here at home, I think he decided it was time to go. When we got home he was so poorly; I sat on the floor next to his bed and stroked his floppy ears and that very soft spot just above his nose and told him over and over that he was a good boy and that it was time for sleep. Within an hour of our return, he was gone. Just like that.
There is an enormous empty space in our kitchen now and the silence when the doorbell goes is heartbreaking. I miss his big floppy ears and his big licky tongue. I miss being whacked on the legs by his lead-lined tail. I miss being greeted by a furry being that thought I was the most awesome fucking thing in the world.
Our dog was called Jasper and he would have been 10 in three months. He was a very, very good boy.