For our blog this month I wanted to give a proper send-off to Jasper – a much missed member of the team. He was put to sleep on January 12th aged only nine, but his short life is a fascinating story.
Jasper was born in Romania as one of the many street dogs out there. He lived on the streets for the first few years of his life before being caught by the dog catchers. He was thrown into Radauti – and I use that word advisedly as if it were a jail, because Radauti is one of the worst shelters in the country. It is poorly funded and all of the European money provided for its maintenance is siphoned off by criminals. Mostly it’s staffed by cruel, drunken men who sometimes beat the dogs and regularly forget to feed them or give them any water. Christmas is a particularly bad time when the guards are very drunk and dogs can go without water and food for days on end. Needless to say, they turn on each other and it is not unusual for dogs to be killed. Since the shelter is almost entirely open to the elements and exposed to the cruel Romanian winters – this may be a blessing in some cases. Jasper was in this place for four years.
He was rescued by an amazing charity called Safe Rescue for Dogs. We came across them because they are based in Norfolk and had rescued our dog Wolfie from Romania as a puppy – the star of last month's blog. They are staffed by an incredible if bonkers group of (mostly) women and fronted by a charismatic social media genius called Kelly. After we got Wolfie I started following Kelly on Facebook and so enjoyed the ups and downs of Kelly's life in the world of dog rescue as played out on Facebook, that we decided to see if we could foster some dogs to help out. When the dogs come over to the UK they are fresh out of the shelters and they are often traumatised and terrified of people. Before they can be permanently rehomed they need to live in a house as a "normal" pet and enjoy a period of rehabilitation. They get to gain some weight, discover the delights of sofas and fires, learn to walk on a lead and have a good bath. Mostly they just need to learn to trust people again.
We met Kelly on a rugby ground in Great Yarmouth to choose which dog we were going to foster. She was sat on the grass with about 15 dogs racing around her with tongues hanging out and tails wagging madly. Nik immediately fell in love with Pru - an enormous creature with a sway back and huge paws. It was absolutely love at first sight and I thought the decision was made. But as we went to leave a small orange dog skidded to a halt in front of me and gave me a huge, dopey grin. He then threw himself onto his back and wriggled in the grass just for the sheer joy of it. I turned to Nik and pleaded "oh can we squeeze two in? He's only little." So we took Jasper too - after all it didn't matter because we were only going to foster them for a few months before handing them over to their forever owners right? Yeah right.
48 hours later Nik admitted that he was never going to let Pru go and that we would have to keep her. This is known as "failing" in foster circles, and the cry regularly goes out on Facebook "Guess who's failed now?". So Pru was ours, but that made three dogs so we definitely, absolutely, certainly couldn't keep Jasper as well because we lived in a tiny bungalow. Plus he was absolutely terrified of us. We would let him out into the garden and he would refuse to come back in and just sit at the end like a small orange cone in the dark. We regularly had to just go and watch telly and leave the door open so he could come in in his own time when he felt safe. If he saw a door closing, he would throw himself at the shrinking gap regardless of whether it was a front door, an internal door or a car door. The need to never get trapped again was always uppermost in his mind. He also had a weird thing with drinking – presumably because he had known periods of extreme thirst in Radauti. He would start drinking and then be unable to stop and drink for minutes at a time until the whole bowl was empty. Then of course he would need to wee every five minutes for the rest of the evening. He was particularly terrified of Nik - which he found deeply upsetting as dogs normally adore him.
We had been chatting to Kelly during this period and she told us that he had already been adopted twice but had been returned within days each time because he was so scared of the men in the household. I found this unbearable. The idea that we too were going to betray him by handing him over to someone else. I don’t think he slept for the first three days that we had him. Then one day he realised he was allowed to jump up onto my son's bed. This extra height made him feel safe and he curled up on the blue furry blanket at the bottom of Arun's bed. I saw him visibly relax and the W on his forehead which always made him look like he was frowning, became less pronounced. Within minutes he was asleep.
Then one day he jumped up between us while we were watching television. We spent the whole night frozen to the sofa, terrified to move lest we broke the spell, both desperate for the toilet.
Soon after this we were drinking beer in the garden while he watched us from the middle of a flowerbed. He was such a handsome boy with four white socks, a white chest and a white flash on his head. He had a brilliant tail which curled into a perfect circle and the most perfect velvety downward pointing ears. I started talking a how I couldn't betray him by sending him away and soon the tears were running down my face. "It's fine" said Nik, “we’ll keep him”. So that made 4 dogs sharing our tiny house. But it didn't matter, because Jasper was safe. We went to the beach to celebrate. This photo was taken on the day we decided to adopt him.
People adopting dogs when they only meant to foster them is frustrating for the rescue charity, because it limits the number of dogs they can get out of Romania. Fostering is always the bottleneck in the process; there are always plenty of people who want to adopt a well-adjusted rescue dog. So feeling slightly guilty we then went on to successfully foster two other dogs – those of you keeping count will notice that this made a total of five dogs in our bungalow at any one time. The first was Brian the puppy and the second Hero - but those are both stories for another day. Suffice to say that they are both happy and adored by their new families.
One day, before we moved to France, we looked at Jasper and he seemed to have a dent in the side of his head. It was the weirdest thing. It grew rapidly worse over the next few days and we took into the vet. The vet said she thought it was myosotis - a kind of muscle wasting disease. Or possibly cancer. The treatment for both was steroids, so he was given a large dose to try and treat it. He reacted badly to the steroids and lost half his body weight in about 10 days. It was starting to affect his heart so we stopped the treatment before we killed him. He re-gained weight but continued to lose muscle definition from one side of his face. He would eventually lose that eye.
Then we moved to France. I had to sort out a passport for my spaniel who had never been out of the country, but of course Jasper, Pru and Wolfie, being Romanians, already had their passports. ("Eastern Europeans, coming over here and taking our sofas" etc.) This is a picture of Jasper taken in the Channel Tunnel. He has been given a sedative which is starting to wear off, hence the beady expression. Pru is in the background. She was given a much bigger sedative and as you can see remains completely stoned.
He loved France. Although one side of his face continued to waste away, it didn't really seem to affect him until right at the end. He would zoom around our fields with the other dogs, but never seem to have that desperate need to escape that he had shown in Norfolk. He had been castrated quite late in life and it had left him with an over-inflated sense of his ability to handle himself. Our friends came to visit with a magnificent collie and Jasper walked up to him stiff legged and aggressive. This collie looked down at him with striking golden eyes and walked away, unimpressed– small ginger strays were so totally beneath him.
Once he joined in as our dogs ran up to bark at a collie being walked in the woods by an extremely elderly French lady from down the road. She could only walk with the aid of a stick and as our motley crew went piling up to her she defended her dog using her walking stick. It was one of the most awesome things I've ever seen. She caught Jasper a broadside with her stick and sent him flying into the hedge. He totally deserved that.
We never discovered what was wrong with him or whether it was cancer or myositis. He had an expensive scan in Limoges which did reveal a large mass in his brain but the vet couldn’t say what it was. He became more and more wobbly after he lost the sight in his left eye and for the last few weeks of his life lay on the sofa. We would carry him outside for a wee as he couldn’t manage the steps. He was hand fed on fresh chicken much to the absolute disgust of all the other dogs. We were worried that he wasn’t drinking but one night we had ice cream and he licked out the bowls enthusiastically. From then on Nik would make him special ice cream floats: a scoop of ice cream in some milk, microwaved to room temperature. He would drink this like a baby lamb drinking from a bottle.
He died while I was in England visiting family. We miss him terribly.
I tell this story really to promote the work of Safe Rescue for Dogs and to encourage you to consider whether you could adopt a dog from a rescue centre.. I list some contacts below for England and France. If you can’t commit to having a dog for life then fostering can be a wonderful and rewarding short-term solution. You don’t have to fail! It is possible to successfully handover your foster dog to new owners. But whatever you do please don’t buy puppies from breeders. There are so many dogs in the world like Jasper who deserve a happy life.
http://www.saferescuefordogs.com/ UK based charity.
http://www.spa87.fr/ France based charity in Haute Vienne