“So tell me, Jagger, if you could have your life over, what would you do differently?”
“Have my life over? How could I have my life over? No one ever told me I might have more than one life, or live my life again.
I lived my life every day. Every day I lived my life. I lived it. Like there was no tomorrow. That’s what dogs do.”
I’ve thought about this. We didn’t really have that conversation, Jagger and I. But I knew that this is what he would have said. About his life. He lived it just as he would have said it – if he’d been asked.
From day one. This large puppy arrived in our home on 27 November 2007 and never once shied away from filling his skin with life, every inch of it. Isn’t it funny how some creatures, sometimes people but more often animals, are alive in every molecule of their being. That is how every living creature ought to be. The ones that aren’t…well, maybe they aren’t because of too much interference from humans. Let’s face it, some humans are confused. Their animals suffer in silence while they go and talk to their therapists.
But I digress. This large puppy came into our home and into our lives, a gift for our boys. He was to be their dog. They loved him at once and called him Jagger – though they didn’t know of Mick from the Rolling Stones – and spent the whole day playing with him. I’ll never forget Jagger’s first night . The pup slept on the carpet next to B’s bed. Did I say sleep ? Jagger didn’t really sleep and neither did eight year old B. This was a strange new place for a puppy dog and he missed his mother and longed for his old bed. B put out his hand to comfort him – he even gave him his oversized stuffed dog called Stripe – but still Jagger pined and whined. Some time during the night B came and stood by my bed and moaned sadly, “It’s so haaard”. In fits and starts we all survived the night and the next day dawned better.
At that time Felix was our ‘top dog’: a handsome Doberman X with a Ridgeback head. A ridge and no fewer than six whorls on his back. What a dog! But young Jagger was eyeing top rank for himself. All it took was growing up and biding time. In the meanwhile he was a compulsive digger and did some terrible things to our garden. He excavated all the pot plants and transformed what used to be the lawn into a moon landscape. I covered the lunar terrain with heavy fishing net to keep him off and allow the lawn to grow back. It worked, although gone was any hope of a manicured garden. A favourite game of his was to pull washing off the line. After the day he greeted a guest with a bra in his mouth, we strung a strand of electrified wire across the lawn beside the washing line and that was the end of that.
A few years went by. When Felix started reminding me of an elderly cowboy in Wrangler jeans (very lean in the hips with a certain kind of manly swagger), Jagger started taking him on. The day of the dolphin had arrived. And then bless him, Felix left our world and was laid to rest here in our new garden, the one we would soon be moving to.
The pack changed. Others dogs passed through, new puppies arrived. Jagger didn’t fight, didn’t bite, but he remained top dog. He was larger than life and the amazing thing about him was that in spite of his fierce looks, he actually had a heart of gold. A big heart, soft as butter. There were times we put up a show of shutting him behind closed doors so that strange people would think we were considering their safety. In truth, we didn’t want him to give the game away. He could not hurt a fly. All he was interested in was spreading the lurve and putting his nose straight into their crotch like a ship pulling into berth. But with his impressive presence (over 60kg), he must surely have made potential evil doers think twice about their actions.
Captain Snow was a foal born in our garden one Friday morning to a miniature horse called Safira. Snow was the only playmate Jagger ever had, that was his own size.
Foal and dog would play up a storm and there were many afternoons we’d sit on the stoep while the two of them raced circles around the house, making us dizzy. They would literally wrestle and somersault over each other. But Snow grew bigger – Jagger didn’t. In time, the games got less funny because the foal began using his teeth – Jagger didn’t.
When I’d seen the poor dog running with his stern tucked in, Snow hot on his heels with teeth bared once too often, I knew the fun and games were over. Snow and his mother Safira had to move out. I was quite sorry about that, they’d been fun to have in the garden and especially the noontime clip clopping on the front stoep when they came up for their midday nap, Snow blissfully lights out on an old sponge mattress.
Jagger turned eight. One by one the boys finished school and went off to university. He was in his prime: a magnificent, impressive dog. But something was wrong. He needed to see the vet. I loaded him into the car and took him into town. With the seats folded flat, he took up the entire back of my CRV; it was like travelling with a horse breathing down my neck. He was requested to stay overnight at the vet’s for Xrays and observation and I was pained to leave him there. He’d never been sick a day in his life. He watched me go in silence. This was his dog’s life and he didn’t seem to question it. Finally the diagnoses: an enlarged (very enlarged) heart. Literally and figuratively he had a huge heart.
So the medication began. Twice a day, a little orange pill popped down the back of his throat. Never has there been a dog so easy to medicate. No wrapping of pills in liver or ham… just pop! down the throat. It became a ritual. I’d call him at his meal times and more often than not this was a real pain because he didn’t heed you at all. A house sitter once complained that Jagger was deaf and that I should have him checked out. I knew he had nothing wrong with his hearing (the thought had previously crossed my mind) because every time I called his name when he was walking in the distance, he would, without breaking stride, wag his tremendous, long tail. When the wagging stopped (but the walking didn’t) I’d call again and watch the tail shoot up like a spring.
Oh yes, he heard very well. He knew his name. He knew he was being called. But such a top dog was he, he wasn’t really bothered to come to anybody who called him. He did precisely what pleased him. So I’d have to call him and call him and guide him towards me like ship-horn guides a ship in the fog, because if I stopped, he would stray off course and go somewhere else. All this, so I could give him his little orange pill. Then I would speak to him and look into those gentle golden-brown eyes as I opened his mouth. He would look straight at me and I was quite aware that he could take my face off with one snap. If he were another dog.
He never resisted or put up a fuss. Sometimes he was so at ease he would lie down and roll over in loving friendliness and I would have to remind him to sit up. Day in and day out we faced each other, for a thousand days.
When that happens, when your interaction is so repeated and so prolonged, you form a bond. The connection becomes ingrained. He came into our home as the boys’ dog, but in the thousand days that passed, he was mine.
And then, on the same day that he arrived as a pup, 11 years later, I loaded him into the car again and took him to the vet. “Have a look,” I said. “Something doesn’t look right.” He had lost some weight too, now 56kg. The vet was very sorry. Very sorry to tell me, “He has a carcinoma, it is already the size of a tennis ball.”
Dear Jagger. He continued with his days as though nothing was amiss. He filled his skin with life as usual. He ran and barked when the falcons perched on the electricity wires, he ran and barked when the Alpacas fought, he ran and barked when a car arrived.
Then he stopped. And he also stopped eating. And when I saw him trembling, two days in a row, I knew. This was it. Jagger had lived his life.
I know he would say, “I have no regrets. I didn’t waste my time – I did everything I wanted to do. I lived my life, every day. I did as I pleased and I hurt no-one. Why do you ask me if I was happy? What does happy mean? If it means having a full heart, a heart full of everything, then of course I was. My life was a dog’s life, I didn’t expect it to be anything else.”
I want my life to be like that. With nothing but love in my heart. Without any wasted time and without any regrets. I want to do as I please and I don’t want to expect my life to be anything else, other than what it is.