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Living With Animals: My Father’s Day Column

Twenty-plus years ago my daughter insisted on bedtime stories about Jasper, my first dog. My father’s day column, I offer her this written version. To begin: I wasn’t allowed pets as a kid, a loss I’ve (over)compensated for, and Jasper was my 21st birthday gift to myself. A newspaper ad brought me to a farmer’s kitchen upstate New York where this grunting, wrinkled 7-week-old hunk climbed onto my lap and, exhausted by that effort, fell asleep. We didn’t spend many nights apart over the next 13 years.

As a pup Jasper developed a passion for squishy things in tubes. He broke open several bathroom cabinets to steal toothpaste (best dog breath ever!) and caused quite a scare after swallowing the contents of my artist-girlfriend’s tube of blue paint. The vet confirmed no toxic ingredients but for days it looked like an alien with impolite toilet habits landed in our snow-covered neighborhood. Speaking of his digestive tract, my parents didn’t know I’d given up meat when they arrived proffering a 10-pound kosher salami. After some outing we returned to my apartment to discover Jasper had chosen against letting their gift go unappreciated. The picture of satisfied gluttony and absolute misery, my 95-pound dog spread across my bed emitting groans and sulfurous fumes. He slept there for days. I camped out on the coach. Then there was his “rescue” of me floating in a rubber raft on Russian River, resulting in punctures (raft), drenching (the two of us), and my swimming him to shore with the mass of rubber still in his teeth.

Jasper and my future wife’s dog Peaches were important to our courtship. Always serious, never one for puppy foolishness (except around toothpaste), now geriatric Jasper took to Carolyn and her sweet dog like he’d finally found his true family. When Jasper died, too soon, Peaches broke our hearts yet again, her head perched on his couch pillow, staring at the space.

He died before you were born, Hannah. He would have let you dress him in silly outfits, kiss his silver ears, licked toothpaste from your fingers. He would have dreamt of protecting you. He would have loved you. Remember his stories.

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