Time after time

18 Oct

I can’t believe that a year has passed since Jasper left this world.

I saw a friend post a message today saying her four-year old dog had passed away from cancer, and all the emotions came flooding back. My heart really goes out to her and her family tonight.

I still think of Jasper quite a bit since there are reminders everywhere I go – seeing his purple toy in the basement, driving by the Minnehaha dog park, finding one of his old blankets tucked away in a drawer…

It all seems so strange still.

So, one year on, what am I surprised by? This is going to sound strange, but I’m surprised (and happy) I survived.

Jasper’s death came at the end of a really rough three years where I lost my mom and both my remaining grandparents.

If anything, I learned I can take the full frontal blow of adversity and come out standing on the other side. Sure, I have my days, but don’t we all?

I’ve also learned to really enjoy the little moments in life like taking Zooey for a walk in the woods, playing board games with my nephews or sitting quietly reading at night.

Jasper taught me so many things in the nine years he was with us. As I wrote before, for most of my life I was terrified of dogs. Jasper erased that fear and taught me to love all animals more than I thought was possible. He also taught me that sometimes best friends have four legs, a tail and a wet nose.

Over the past few months I’ve tried to go back and read a few of the entries here, but I’m not quite ready for that yet. I’m a little embarrassed by how raw the writing was, but more than that the rush of emotions and memories is still so strong.

I want to close what will probably be the last entry on this blog by saying a few things.

To V and Zooey – thank you. We went through this together, V, so you know just how tough this was. Zooey, you were always, and still are, the light of our life.

To everyone who read and commented on this blog – thank you, too! If you’re going through a similar situation now or in the future, trust that you will survive. And the memories do get happier with time.

To Jasper – I love you, buddy, and I still think of you every day. You were my best friend and the best dog any family could ever hope for. You had such a gentle soul. I loved every moment we spent together (even when you were a puppy trying your hardest to destroy the house). If there’s a heaven, then mine is a place where you and I can skip rocks and play in the water all day long.

Good-bye, dear J.

Mmm, peanut butter

28 Jan

I had a spoonful of peanut butter tonight and it made me think of you and smile, J.

Miss you.

4-2=2

19 Jan

It’s funny, but a year ago at this time there were four of us roaming around the house – Veronika, Jasper, Zooey and I.

Back then all of our focus was on Jasper because he was recovering from the surgery that removed the initial cancer tumor and parts of three ribs. Despite his condition, he remained strong throughout. What a brave dog he was!

Since that time, Jasper lost his battle with cancer and Veronika has moved over to Europe to study for the next eleven months, so that just leaves just Zooey and me. Where there were once four, now there are two.

Someone asked me today if I’d be lonely this year. I’m sure there will be times when I feel that way, but as I sit here typing away I’m smiling.

You see, I’m not alone. There’s a rambunctious creature named Zooey roaming around the house.

Zooey - play time
Photo: Zooey-Roo in her “let’s play” pose

I commented in an earlier post that I wasn’t completely sure why Zooey the rescue Vizsla came to be with us, but now I know.

She’s a bundle of joy and she’s becoming my new best friend.

I’m sure most pet owners (and gasp, parents!) wouldn’t admit this, but some of us have favorites. Jasper was my favorite. He was here first. His personality – calm and introverted – suited me perfectly. Over time we became best friends and did everything together. Zooey on the other hand always kind of felt like V’s dog. They trained together, ran together, sat on the couch together. Sure, I loved Zooey, too, but it just wasn’t the same.

But now… now that’s all changing. I’m really enjoying getting to know Zooey. I can’t believe she’s seven and a half because she’s still hopping around like a puppy! If I don’t take Zooey out running almost daily then she’s bouncing off the walls.

She’s pretty darn cute, though. I love how she wants to play all the time. And she always seems so happy! Plus she’s great with people and really has fun with my nephews.

So, this is the year of Zooey and I hanging out and getting to know one another. I think we’re off to a pretty darn good start.

Even if she does drive me crazy sometimes! :-)

The days in between

20 Nov

Think back to the really great days in your life. What comes to mind?

The moments that flash by for me include getting married, seeing U2 outdoors for the first time in Sweden, skiing at Big Sky and hiking with Jasper along the Mississippi River.

What about all the other days in between? Are we really living or just getting by?

I don’t know why, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

Big Sky
Photo: A perfect day in the mountains

It’s been almost two months since Jasper passed away, and I still think of him every day. Even when I wake up in the middle of the night, I think, “The house sure is quiet without Jasper here.”

I took my first walk in the woods alone today. I loved being outside breathing in the cool winter air, but I couldn’t help thinking how different it would have been if Jasper was there with me. It was strange looking down and not seeing him walking beside me.

Before sitting down to type tonight, I went back and re-read a few of my old posts. Wow, I feel a bit embarrassed because they were pretty raw and revealing. I’m thankful to have a record of Jasper and all that we experienced, though. I’m also thankful that new readers are continuing to visit this blog on a daily basis.

To those of you who are going through a similar experience, hang in there, be strong and lean on others if you need to. It’s hard to believe during the darkest days, but it does get better.

In some small way if this blog can help someone else out there, then it will have been a success.

p.s. Zooey is doing great and keeping us super busy! I mentioned this before, but for two Vizslas, she and J really are (were) opposites. Jasper slept at the foot of the bed, Zooey naps next to Veronika’s pillow. Jasper would only eat his food if we sat perfectly still. Zooey would keep eating if a marching band walked through the kitchen. She’s a sweet girl, though (even if she is kind of driving us crazy tonight)! :-)

A Tribute to Jasper-Roo

24 Oct

Veronika and I never imagined a dog could mean so much to us, but Jasper was much more than “just a dog.” He was a part of our family, and he was my best friend.

I don’t know if and when I’ll post on here again, so I wanted to write a final tribute to our dear J. I have to admit I’ve been putting it off for several weeks. This blog became such a part of Jasper’s life, that I’m afraid when I stop writing we’ll lose another piece of him. Who knows, maybe the “The Adventures of Jumping Jasper-Roo” will become “The Adventures of Jumping Jasper-Roo and Zooey, too.” :-)

But, I’m not going to worry about that now. Today’s entry is a celebration of Jasper’s life and all the things we loved and miss about him.

Thanks for sticking with us on this journey. Thanks for the kind words of love and support. And thanks for reading.

For Jasper’s tribute, we have included a collection of our favorite photos and jotted down some memories spanning the course of Jasper’s nine years with us.

Photo: Jasper’s first night at home, October 2001

We finally made it home after a long, stressful journey from Fargo with Jasper howling from his crate on the backseat for most of the way!

As you’ll see, even as he grew bigger and bigger, sitting on the couch with us was one of J’s favorite things to do!

Photo: Our first family portrait, Fall 2001

Photo: V and Jasper on the way to puppy class, Fall 2001

Being a shy dog, Jasper never really cared that much for the puppy socialization class. Most nights he’d just hide under the table while the other dogs played. Eventually, he came out of his shell and played with another puppy or two.

Photo: Jasper and “Panda” – his first favorite toy

Photo: Como Lake, Fall 2001

This was Jasper’s first trip to the lake; long before he learned to love water as much as peanut butter and mini carrots. I still really like this photo because he has such a “Jasper face” in a really small body.

Photo: J’s first Christmas, 2001

Jasper was always there with us for family gatherings. He was never content to just chill on the floor, though. He always tried to climb onto someone’s lap to see what was happening up in “people land.”

Photo: Jasper and Tomo, 2002

As I’ve said before, Jasper was the calmest Vizsla in town. Unless Tomo was around! The two of them would wrestle and bite and chase each other around the yard for hours on end. Tomo, an Akita, eventually grew four times as big as Jasper, but they were still best friends for a brief time during Jasper’s youth.

Photo: J with Jon, Jody and their dog Chip

This shot was taken on J’s first road trip – a five hour drive to see our friends in South Dakota. Chip was also a youngster at the time and the two of them wrestled around the basement most of the night. Needless to say, Jasper was totally spent for several days after the trip.

Photo: Jasper and Todd, 2002

This is one of my all-time favorite photos of J. As the years went by his hair turned whiter and whiter, but when this was taken he was a youngster with a gorgeous red coat.

Photo: A hot summer day, 2003

When J was younger we’d often go to meetings of the Twin Cities Vizsla Club. I remember this particular gathering was on an especially warm day. I love the expression on J’s face because he seems to be saying, “This is it? This crappy little pool is the best you can do?”

Photo: Everybody in the water, 2003

Jasper was an excellent swimmer, but the “yum-yum yellow” life jacket made it easier to lift him in and out of my parents’ boat.

Photo: Best friends, 2004

Zooey arrives! As I previously blogged, Zooey’s arrival in the spring of 2004 turned our tranquil abode into a mad house. Zooey was all-play, all-the-time. This was a rare moment of calm for both dogs.

Photo: Jasper, Zooey, Sebastian and mom at White Bear Lake, 2004

This is another one of my all-time favorite photos. My mom is really the one who taught me to love animals. She also loved our dogs just about as much as her grandkids!

As I mentioned before, due to a childhood incident there was a time when I was terrified of dogs. One of Jasper’s greatest gifts was to help me overcome that fear.

Photo: It’s only Rock n’ Roll, 2004

Since I’m a drummer, Jasper grew up in a rock and roll house. Veronika used to tell me that during our loudest jams in the basement, he’d be sound asleep on the couch. No wonder Jasper never minded thunderstorms or loud noises too much.

Photo: Nap time

Like most dogs, Jasper really enjoyed sleeping. After he was house-trained, we let him sleep outside his crate at night. I think we’d read something about how “dogs will find their own place to sleep in the house.” Jasper’s favorite spot was the living room couch.

Each morning he’d sneak into our bedroom like a little kid. If he had to go outside, he’d quietly walk over to my side of the bed and rest his chin two inches from my face until I woke up. Most mornings, though, he’d hop onto the foot of the bed and wiggle his way into a nice, comfy spot right between V and I.

If Veronika was traveling, Jasper would usually just skip the couch all together and sleep on the bed with me. Throughout the night, he’d get up and then crash down closer and closer to me. By morning he’d be all sprawled out and I’d be lying on the last sliver of the bed just about to fall over the edge!

Besides the couch and our bed, he particularly enjoyed sleeping outside in the sun. As soon as the temperature got comfortable enough in the spring, he would seek out a sunny spot in the back-yard for a nap. Throughout summer and fall, on sunny days, he could often be found sleeping on his side in the grass in the yard.

Oh, and Jasper was by far the loudest sleeper in the house. He could snore with the best of them. During his last night with us, I remember waking up several times and just listening to the sound of him sleeping.

Photo: Minnehaha Dog Park, Winter 2004

Remember how I said Jasper loved water? No, he REALLY loved water! So much so, that he’d hop in and go for a swim in the middle of winter. See that white stuff in the photo? That’s ice and snow!

Speaking of snow, J absolutely loved playing in it – and digging in the drifts!

Photo: Road Trip!

Lucky for us, both Jasper and Zooey loved riding in the car.

Photo: Wisconsin, Fall 2007

V and I and the dogs visited a lot of dog-friendly cabins over the years, but one of our favorites was a little B&B called Justin Trails outside Sparta, Wisconsin. The place has acre upon acre of fields, forests, hills and hiking trails. And a gorgeous little private cabin!

Photo: Hiking in Wisconsin, 2008

Photo: Exploring the north woods near Ely, Minnesota

Photo: Who’s walking who?

Jasper was great at a lot of things, but walking on leash wasn’t one of them! He never really figured out the whole “heel” thing. In this shot, my dad’s boat – and the water! – are a couple steps away, so we had a little extra motivation to get going.

Photo: Lake Superior, Spring 2010

Looking back at this photo, I remember this was a particularly bittersweet trip for us.

During the spring of 2010, J’s cancer was under control, but we still knew this was probably going to be one of our last trips together. Veronika and I and the dogs spent a wonderful weekend hiking and relaxing along the north shore of Lake Superior.

Photo: Minnehaha Dog Park, Summer 2010

Jasper just loved the dog park! After awhile, whenever he heard the words “dog park” he’d start bouncing around the house and barking.

“We’re going to the dog park! We’re going to the dog park!”

In an attempt to avoid the frenzy and barking, we soon switched over to calling it the DP. :-)

Photo: Minnehaha Dog Park, Summer 2010

Jasper was the perfect friend for an introvert, and the Minnehaha Dog Park was our sanctuary. It became one of my favorite places in the world. So much so, that I’m not sure if I can ever go back there again.

Jasper, Veronika and I probably went to that dog park more than 500 times over the years. We loved the peaceful wooded trails, the long stretches of sandy beach and watching the seasons come and go.

When it was just Jasper and I, we’d walk down different paths and explore in silence. If there is a heaven, mine has a sandy beach where I can sit on the shore and watch Jasper swim until his heart’s content.

Photo: Making a new friend at the Minnehaha Dog Park, Summer 2010

Photo: Resting at home, Summer 2010 (photo by Sarah Beth Photography)

Vizslas are affectionately known as “velcro dogs” because they always want to be near you, and Jasper was no exception. He would always follow us around the house and whenever we sat down he wanted to be right there next to us.

One of his favorite things in the world was to sit with V or I on the living room couch and chew on his purple toy. Can’t tell you how many of those toys we went through over the years, but I have to say it’s one of our favorite memories and something we really miss.

Photo: Another perfect day in the backyard, Summer 2010 (photo by Sarah Beth Photography)

Vizslas are part of the sporting breed, so it’s no surprise that Jasper loved to chase after everything from tennis balls and sticks to rocks (thrown in the water) and snow balls (that disappeared in the snow!). The part about bringing it back, well, that’s another story.

Photo: Veronika and Jasper share a tender moment, Summer 2010 (photo by Sarah Beth Photography)

Photo: Happy Dog! (photo by Sarah Beth Photography)

Photo: Veronika, Todd and Jasper (photo by Sarah Beth Photography)

While the last year of Jasper’s life was extremely difficult, in some ways it was also our best year together because it was filled with moments of pure joy. He was so incredibly brave and strong throughout the whole ordeal. More so than I probably would have been. Throughout his life, Jasper brought such love and light into our world.

Photo: Jasper in a reflective moment (photo by Sarah Beth Photography)

Photo: Jasper on his last trip to the dog park, October 2, 2010

I didn’t realize until we had returned home and was flipping through the photos on the camera, that Veronika had taken this shot.

This image really means the world to me.

The photo was taken on Jasper’s last trip to the Minnehaha Dog Park the day before he passed away.

J and I walked these trails so many times over the years. No matter how many times we went, though, I always loved visiting this dog park because of the sheer joy that it brought Jasper. I was never more at peace than when we were off exploring the Minnehaha Dog Park together.

Moments like this are the ones that I’ll remember forever.

Jasper, to us, you were truly the best dog in the world. You had such a gentle soul and were a great friend to both of us. You taught us about patience and perseverance. You showed us how to slow down and look around, and that a pat on the back or a hike in the woods can bring the greatest joy in this world. We both love you very much. We miss you, and we’ll remember you forever, Jasper.

When Angels Sing

17 Oct

Before I post J’s final tribute, there’s one more thing I need to do. I need to write about his last day with us.

Sunday Oct. 3, 2010 was a perfect fall day in Minneapolis. Sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Leaves burning bright red, yellow and orange.

For three days we’d been agonizing over J’s situation. We even scheduled, and then canceled, the at-home euthanasia the afternoon before. On this day, we knew there was no turning back. The time had come to make a decision.

Jasper was having trouble getting up and walking out to the backyard. In contrast to other lapses, this time there would be no more miracle recoveries. The cancer on his side had burst through the skin and there were several more visible spots that were likely to open up in the near future, including the most recent growth on his head. We had reached a point in J’s disease where things could only get worse.

Around 9AM I picked up the phone and made the call to re-schedule the at-home procedure for that evening at 6:30PM. It was by far the toughest decision we have ever had to make.

That’s not to say we didn’t have our doubts once everything was set in place. Around 11AM, Jasper decided to get up under his own power (something he hadn’t done in days) and walk over to his water bowl for a drink. Veronika even managed to hand-feed him some kibble and a few of his favorite peanut butter treats. “How long can a dog survive on peanut butter treats alone? Are we doing the right thing? Is it the right time?” Sitting around the house and asking ourselves these questions was driving us crazy.

When I returned home after running out to pick up a few art supplies for a memento we wanted to create, Jasper greeted me at the door – something he hadn’t done for days. He certainly wasn’t making our decision any easier.

After lunch, Veronika, my dad and I decided to take J out for one last walk… “one last walk”… it still hurts to type that now.

As always, Jasper enjoyed the car ride. Veronika sat in back and held her cheek to his beautiful gray face while we traveled along. After a short drive we found a nice path leading down to his favorite place in the world – the Mississippi River.

As we approached the water, a strange thing happened. The dog that could hardly stand an hour ago started to pull Veronika toward the river.

We always said that we’d know it was time when Jasper no longer showed an interest in water. I guess sometimes in life there’s no such thing as “clear signs.”

As we moved closer and Jasper got stronger, I turned to my dad and said, “See, he’s alright. Can’t you see that?” He responded by saying something I’ll never forget.

“I hope I spend my last day in this world doing what I love, surrounded by people I love on such a beautiful day.”

Jasper enjoyed a few playful moments in the water and walked along the wooded trails. For a little while he seemed “normal”, but on the way back to the car it was clear he was in pain.


Photo: Jasper near the end of his last walk

So, back home we waited and agonized some more. I swear it felt like getting ready for an execution given the mood in the house.

Veronika and I took turns lying on the floor with J. It was clear that the trip to the river had taken the last bit of his strength because he was completely knocked out, sleeping on his side barely acknowledging his surroundings.

At 6:30PM, the doorbell rang. The doctor was here.

Veronika greeted her at the door and started crying.

I have to say given the situation and our general condition; Dr. McComas from Minnesota Pets was great.

She sat down on the end of our bed with Jasper, Veronika and I and calmly discussed J’s condition and the euthanasia process.

She asked us if either of us had gone through this before. Veronika said “no”. I flashed back to all the dogs I’ve known throughout my life. The ones who disappeared, were hit by cars, went to live with other families, etc. This time was different. This was our first dog.

We told her we’d been struggling with the decision for days. She said this was normal.

We asked for her assessment of his condition. She said her objective analysis of J’s situation told her it was time. For a moment, this brought us comfort.

A little before 7PM, she started the euthanasia process by giving J a heavy sedative.

Veronika and I held him close and told him he was a good boy and that we loved him as sleep set in.

The doctor asked us if we were ready before giving him the final injection. Everything in my body was saying “no”, but I nodded “yes”. Veronika said “yes”, too, and so she gave him an injection that would stop his heart.

At 7:14PM, he stopped breathing.

A few moments later, the doctor turned to us and said, “His heart has stopped.”

I still can’t believe that after nine years together, he’s gone.

Once the doctor left and Veronika and I pulled ourselves together, we carried Jasper out to the car for the drive to pet crematory. The city was mercifully quiet and the roads were dark and desolate as we traveled in silence.

My dad, who had been with us all day, drove, while I sat in the back holding Jasper in my lap one last time. He looked like he was sleeping peacefully. It was a final tender moment together that I’ll hold in my memory forever.

Veronika and I opted for a private cremation, so Jasper’s ashes are back with us now and sitting on the mantle with sympathy cards, mementos and pictures from his life. Even though his physical presence has left this world, we take comfort knowing he will always be with us in our thoughts and memories.

Thanks

7 Oct

I just wanted to write another brief note today to say thanks to everyone. All of your comments and well-wishes have really helped us through this difficult time. You made us smile, laugh and cry, too, so I guess we’re even. :-)

The community of dog lovers out there is truly amazing! THANKS! I didn’t know what to expect when I started this blog, but the response has been overwhelming.

Veronika and I are collecting our thoughts (and a bunch of photos) for a final tribute to J that we hope to post sometime this weekend. We’ll also share some thoughts on what we learned from this whole experience. I hope you’ll stop by again to check this out.

In the meantime, give all of your pets a little extra lovin’ and a few extra treats today… and take the time to get out there and explore with your furry friends.


Photo by Sarah Beth Photography

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