Jasper the dog was a fluffy bundle of happiness.
My two young sons adored him, petting and cooing at him at every opportunity. Jasper was content to lie peacefully on the living room floor next to Brendan and Shayne as they played Super Mario Sunshine on the X-Box, his little pink tongue panting with joy when they stopped their game to pet him.
Jasper was a Wheaten Terrier, technically still a puppy although he was already fairly large. I’d found him through a breeder in Jupiter Farms, and I knew right away he was the best dog out of the group. He jumped into my arms for the car ride home and climbed all over the boys when I took him to the townhouse where we lived.
It had been a while since I took care of a pet, so the boys and I looked through books to get familiar with what Jasper would need. We walked him through the neighborhood on his new leash and did our best to get him to do his business outside rather than inside. There were a few mistakes, but it was worth it to have the pleasure of Jasper as part of our family.
Those were the best of times.
Micah moved in after Jasper. We’d been seeing each other on and off about six months, and I invited him to stay with us after he was evicted from his trailer for not paying rent. I wasn’t altogether sure about the idea, but I didn’t want him out on the streets without a 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 what a good boy he was. Jasper ate up the attention, rolling over to receive the hugs and kisses he loved so much. I felt relieved they got along, and things seemed to be going well with the Micah and the boys.
When I divorced Brendan and Shayne’s father, I wondered if I’d ever have a real family again. It didn’t occur to me that we already had a real family, the three of us and Jasper. I still thought I needed a man to make me complete. Now, a new baby would join our family, a girl, and I believed she needed her father in her life.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The pregnancy exhausted me, and it became harder to get Jasper outside in time to prevent accidents. It wasn’t the poor dog’s fault, but Micah called him disgusting and gross. He never volunteered to take Jasper out to help me. Jasper was also a chewer of shoes and jumped on everybody he came in contact with. Micah became more resentful of him as time went on, and it was harder to keep the peace in our new family. It upset Brendan and Shayne when Micah yelled at Jasper for behavior the dog couldn’t control.
I knew things couldn’t go on that way, so I called a pet training service who offered to take Jasper for two weeks and train him. They could do all the things I was too overwhelmed to teach him. It was expensive, but I thought it was a great solution. Maybe if Jasper was well trained, Micah would stop having issues with him and things would get back to normal.
While Jasper was gone, my water broke at 27 weeks. I was with the boys getting the car an oil change when it happened. Someone called an ambulance, and the boys’ grandmother came to pick them up. Scared out of my mind for myself and my unborn daughter, I reached the hospital where they told me I’d have to stay admitted on hospital bed rest until the baby was born.
“No,” I protested to the doctor. “I have too much to do. My family needs me at home.”
It was no use. The danger was too great to let me go. The staff confined me to a private room where I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed, not even to go to the bathroom. I called my ex-husband, the boys’ father, and asked him to take the boys to his house while I was gone. I didn’t expect Micah to take care of them full time, and to be honest, I didn’t think he had the capability.
About two weeks into my stay, Micah told me he got a call from the dog trainer telling me he was ready to bring Jasper home. I called the trainer back and begged for a little more time until I was released, but there was no such luck. Jasper was going home and Micah would have to take care of him, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Micah called me the next evening. When I asked about Jasper, he didn’t say much except that the trainer dropped him off as scheduled.
“But is he okay?” I wanted more information. Was Jasper being good? Was Micah giving him the care and attention he needed?
“He’s fine, just… hold on a minute.”
A few seconds went by, and I was horrified to hear Jasper yelp loudly in the background. What had Micah done?
“What’s going on?” I shouted as soon as Micah picked up the phone.
“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 this whole time. It probably doesn’t hurt him though, just lets him know he’s being bad.”
Laying there, I never felt more helpless in my life. My children were gone and my beloved Jasper was getting electric shocks at the whim of Micah who didn’t like him in the first place. I wanted to jump out of bed and run all the way home. The trainer never mentioned once that he was going to shock my beloved dog. Also, Micah was doing more harm than good, and I had to get him away from my family.
I gave birth to my daughter via C-section about a week later. She was right on the borderline of when a baby can survive, only 28 weeks. I could barely see her underneath all the tubes and wires attached to her. I named her Vanessa and spent the next few days glued to her incubator. Every day that passed after she was born was a miracle, and it broke my heart when the hospital released me and I had to leave her behind.
“I’ll be here every day,” I promised her as they discharged me. “Mommy loves you.”
When I got back to the townhouse, it was a complete wreck. The carpet was destroyed, there was junk everywhere and plates in the kitchen sink were spilling over onto the counters. I’d been so proud of my little house, and now it looked nearly condemned.
I found Jasper in the master bedroom sleeping in the corner. He wagged his tail when I woke him up and licked my hand as I pet him. He smelled of urine and feces like the rest of the house, and I wondered if Micah had taken him out even once while I was gone. I removed the metal shock collar that hung around his neck, and he nuzzled me gratefully.
I played it cool with Micah that night, acting like nothing was wrong. The next morning, still in pain from the surgery, I dragged myself to the bank and withdrew a thousand dollars. I put it in an envelope and sat at the dining room table and waited for Micah to get home from his lawn maintenance job.
“What’s this?” Micah said when I handed him the envelope.
“I want you to leave,” My voice was trembling even though I tried to steady it. “This is a 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. Feeling exhausted and in miserable pain, I took the envelope back and went upstairs to bed with Jasper next to me where he was safe. What was I going to do now?
In the morning, I tearfully packed up Jasper’s things and loaded my beautiful dog into my car. I drove Jasper to a no-kill shelter who said they would take him. I felt it was the only humane thing I could do. It wasn’t safe to leave him around Micah, and I was too overwhelmed and hurting to take proper care of him. I wept as I helped him out of the car and prayed somebody would take him and love him the way I couldn’t.
Jasper and I sat in the waiting room as 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 noticed a woman with long dark hair watching us, and I gave her a weak smile, feeling guilty at what I was about to do.
“Is he a Wheaten?” The lady asked me.
“Yes, he is.” I looked down at Jasper, his fur all matted and smelling like a sewer. I felt ashamed she was seeing him in such a terrible condition, but she kneeled down on the floor and petted him.
“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. She saw the real Jasper that day, not the one who’d been stinking and shocked and abused. I walked with Cindy out to her car, and tears sprang to my eyes when I saw she had a doggie car seat complete with a buckle to keep Jasper safe.
“I don’t know what to say,” I told her. “I love Jasper so much, and I am so grateful to you for rescuing him.”
I didn’t even try to hide my tears. Cindy hugged me again, and we exchanged Facebook information to keep in touch. She promised to send me a picture of Jasper all cleaned up. I watched them drive away feeling mixed with happiness and sadness. I’d explain everything to Brendan and Shayne. They were so young, but I knew they would understand when it came to Micah. They were already well aware that he was a problem.
Jasper went on to live the life of a king. Cindy sent me pictures over the next ten or so years of Jasper bathed and groomed, happily playing with her other dog, lounging around on the furniture, playing with Cindy’s teenage kids and loving his life. It was more than I could have ever hoped for.
When Jasper got older and passed away from cancer, Cindy sent me a loving note to let me know what a good and happy boy he was all of his 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 ever have. He was a part of our family.”
She was right. Jasper has never left my heart, and I’m so thankful that he and Cindy found each other. The boys were sad Jasper had to leave, but they knew it was for the best, and I showed them every picture and message Cindy sent me. They were happy for him.
In all the years that passed, my Vanessa grew up to be a strong and healthy little girl. I’m really not sure how any of us survived back in those days, especially before Micah was out of the picture, but we thrived as a family and have come back from insurmountable odds.
Sometimes I think of Jasper looking down from heaven at all of us and smiling with a twinkle in his pretty brown eyes, and it makes me smile, too.
He was the best boy ever.