Today is National Dog Day. Just as National Donut Day, National Creamsicle Day, and National Lighthouse Day ... it gives ordinary people extraordinary reasons to celebrate ordinary things. I'm sure it all has to do with social media.
But today is National Day Dog. And our dog was anything but ordinary.
When we moved into our neighborhood 10 years ago, my own Dad said we needed a dog. Dogs and babies make neighbors. He was right. A year and a half later, we had neighbors.
We had a dog.
Jasper was a clearance sale Beagle. I had to really sell the Dad on his purchase. I always knew I’d have a Beagle, and his name would be Jasper. Back then, when I was 26, he was part of The Plan. Graduate from college. Get married. Buy a house. Get a dog. Have kids. He fit perfectly into that plan. He fit perfectly into our family.
Born on 3/16, we brought him home to the 316.
He screamed/barked bloody murder all the way home after we picked him up. 15 miles of freeway, with a howling, braying 11-week old puppy with ridiculous ears caged in the backseat. To his credit, the Dad just kept driving, hands gripping the steering wheel, silent.
We gave him a miniature green collar and a tour of his new home. We showed him the linoleum, tile, and hardwooded areas he was to stay on, period. No carpet. No furniture. No exception.
No chance in hell.
He cried all night, every night. Laundry room. Garage. Entryway.
He stopped crying when we put his bed right next to our bed.
He stayed there for nine years.
Acquiring a dog tethered us to something we needed. It gave us a home. A purpose. A reason to leave Happy Hour. It made the two of us into a family, and gave us someone else to focus on other than each other. It was that first integral “thing” we did aside from the mortgage. He kept shitting on the floor in the brand-new basement; we enrolled him in puppy school where we spent a month paying too much money for idiots to teach us how to discourage that very behavior of his. One of his instructors literally showed us how to tell if our dog was about to poop. It was awful. And hilarious. It showed us that if it mattered to someone important to us, like our puppy, we had to do it.
He never ate a single shoe.
He never chewed on a single piece of furniture.
He did eat my favorite childhood book of all time, the one my Grandma had gifted me because she had read it to me 5,987 times. The Meanest Mouse & Other Mean Stories by Janice May Udry. But the Dad salvaged a lot of the cover because it was my original copy, and found a replacement on eBay.
He was the unPuppy. The unDog.
The vet told us he had 11 days.
He lived, and really lived, for 28 more than that.
I know he had a few things yet to accomplish.
He needed to live to see the Dad celebrate another birthday on the 4th of July. He needed to protect his baby sister from the loud, scary fireworks for one more summer. Because next summer, when she’s eight, she’ll wholeheartedly welcome them. She won’t need his protection.
He also needed to taste 40 handfuls of the fresh raspberries that grow so abundantly right here on his property. We took a final stroll through the gardens on his last day, and I apologized that the cucumbers and sugar snap peas weren’t ready for him. He loved those the most. Then he sniffed out the carrots, and we saw the few he’d been working on, gnawing on the tops that grow out so barely of the soil.
Who has a garden dog? I mean, I’ve heard of sheep dogs. Farm dogs.
We had a garden dog.
He was one of a kind.
Through the tears there is so much to be thankful for. I’m addicted to music, its form of therapy unrivaled when it comes to so many of life’s toughest lessons. When we loaded Jasper into the truck bed for his final ride, we laughed through the tears as the Dad’s favorite song of all time, Small Town by John Cougar Mellencamp came on the radio.
Well I was born in a small town.
And I can breathe in a small town.
Gonna die in this small town.
And that’s probably where they’ll bury me.
The next song on the final ride soundtrack was Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust.
That REALLY made us cry. But laugh, too, in that sick sort of deranged humor you can only experience when you’re on the edge of something awful.
How do you think I’m going to get along,
Without you when you’re gone?
You took me for everything that I had,
And kicked me out on my own.
And the trifecta of songs to wrap up our trip was when we walked out of the vet’s office, each holding an empty leash, an empty collar and Forever Young by Rod Stewart.
May the good Lord be with you,
Down every road you roam,
And may sunshine and happiness,
Surround you when you’re far from home.
Each of us have sacred places, and we wanted to bury Jasper in his, which is the 80 acres where my Dad has built his cabin in Beaver Township. Beautiful, quiet, and full of sunshine. The most perfect spot for a forever sleep. I knew the area for his spot nearly exactly in my mind. The southwest corner of the cabin where we can see him from the window, and where he can see the driveway, announcing its visitors.
What I didn’t know however, is how the sun would beat down on him there, surprising even my Dad who knows that terrain better than he knows most things. One of Jasper’s many nicknames was Sun Dog- he craved the sunshine endlessly. Or how we had to clear away so many ferns before we started the internment process. Ferns? Like Where the not-so-red Ferns Grow? Eerie. But perfect.
So today is National Dog Day.
And I don't have one anymore.
But I did, for nine years.
And an extra 39 days.
And he was the very best.