It seems only fair to write this epilogue from my perspective rather than Jasper’s, so I have the chance to tell you what this adventure was like for me.  My association with Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet began as I started looking for volunteer opportunities when I took early retirement.  I also wanted to see if my husband, John, and I could handle the lifestyle change of having a dog.

My son and son-in-law were in the military when 9-11 changed everything.  They have both left the service and moved on with their lives, but I still feel strongly about supporting the military and their families.  So when I discovered the website for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet, I was immediately attracted to its mission.

John was not as enthusiastic as I was about bringing a dog into our lives.  He likes to be able to pick up and go without the responsibility of pets.  Our cats are pretty self-sufficient; he rescued them for me, but the funny thing is, both the cats like John best. They must sense I am a DOG person!   So I filled out the application to be a foster family, with John’s approval.  We figured it would be a good test to see what it was like to have a dog at this stage of our lives.  While waiting for a foster pet match, I became involved in the organization on the State level and now I’m even part of the National Support team.  Turns out Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet was a really good match for me as a volunteer organization.

Jasper and Carol

The foster experience is now over and my emotions are bittersweet.  On the one hand, I am so happy that we made it to “Mission Accomplished;” there is no doubt in my mind that Holly and Jasper belong together and I wish them well on their new adventures – post deployment.  On the other hand, I’m expecting our house to feel very “empty” for awhile.  Jasper has permeated our home and our lives with “the mission” for 8 months.  We threw ourselves into loving and caring for someone else’s dog.  Animal lover that I am, I was fully aware I could get “too attached.”  Mr. John, on the other hand, was always giving me the reality check.  YES, we will miss him, but now that Jasper has been reunited with his mom, I can look back at this adventure and see all of it.  The good and …..well, let’s just say, the more challenging parts.

Fostering Jasper has been a most memorable experience.  Besides enjoying the unconditional love of a sweet natured dog, the most satisfying part of this adventure was the privilege of supporting our military in a real and tangible way.  Many people seemed surprised that I would take on such a long term responsibility for a stranger.  But the way I looked at it, the military and their families are always making sacrifices for me.  I wanted to give back in some way to support them.  If I was willing to help, only if it was “convenient” for me, then that really wasn’t much of an effort on my part.  Think how hard it must have been for Jasper’s mom to just hand over his leash to a stranger.  That’s pretty much what I was to her at the time.  We have since had time to communicate and build a trusting relationship, and I feel somewhat like I adopted her as much as I adopted Jasper.  It felt good to be patriotic, to send mail and care packages, to put up the flag with Jasper every day, and to tie a yellow ribbon on the oak tree for Holly.

But I think what surprised me most was the unbelievably fun opportunity I had to speak for Jasper in his Blog and on his Facebook page.  It was almost therapeutic to bring his sweet and crazy personality to so many new friends through Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet.   I realized after the first week with Jasper, that my personal Facebook page would be taken over with “Jasper” posts if I wasn’t careful.  The fact that other foster pets had “community” pages seemed like a good idea.  Holly could get her fill of Jasper news long distance, and I wouldn’t subject my personal friends and family to Jasper overload.  Jasper’s FB page would be good publicity for Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pet and bring a community of foster families closer together.  The comments and love from fans in all corners of the globe was like an invisible support system.  Documenting our foster experience for Holly with daily photographs and stories was a new hobby for me and it brought smiles to many fans besides Jasper’s mom. I even got back into the swing of Scrapbooking because I had such an adorable subject.  I can’t tell you how much I will miss interacting with all of Jasper’s loyal fans on Facebook. Thank you, all, for sending your love to Jasper.

Another thing on the plus side of this experience was that Jasper brought a great health benefit to our home.  I never imagined we could walk so much!  In the seven months he lived with us I conservatively estimate we walked over 600 miles together. We’re in much better shape now than we were 8 months ago.  Jasper, you have a great career ahead of you as a personal trainer!

But I do have to admit, it was not always easy.  Much like having a toddler in the family, the responsibility was constant, which was a big adjustment for this normally unfettered retired couple with an empty nest and two cats.   Jasper’s energy and desire to run was a challenge for retired folks.  His intense prey drive, in our woodsy, critter-filled neighborhood, kept us always on high alert.  We never did reach détente with the family cats.  Pumpkin and Alley moved to the lower level of our house and a baby gate helped protect them during the day time hours.  They are ready to move back upstairs and take back their home and enjoy the porch this fall.  MOL!

As we expected there will be a number of things to repair, replace and clean now that Jasper has gone home.  I imagine I’ll clean up the “nose art” on all the windows pretty quickly, but I think the scratches in the hardwood and some on the screens will be reminders of Jasper for as long as we live in this house.  I know that his little white Dalmatian hairs will keep showing up on things for months, but I will just smile and silently send him love whenever they do. I won’t step on dog toys in the night, or have them dropped in my lap when I sit at the computer, and I won’t have to use the lint brush on my clothes when I’m going out. But I’m going to miss the Jasper kisses, the feel of his velvet soft fur, the constant shadow following me around the house, the unexpected laughter he could create, the snuggling on the couch in the evening and most of all, the sight of him running and leaping through the yard.  I’ll miss taking his picture constantly and thinking of the next adventure we could have with Jasper!

There is no doubt the positives far outweigh the negatives.  We have adopted Jasper and his mom as family members and plan to stay in touch and visit each other.  I may not be Jasper’s foster mom any more, but I can always be “grandma” to a granddog!

When talking to others about my fostering experience many people have told me they could never do it, because they wouldn’t be able to give the pet back.  To all of them, I say, you can do it, if you always remember the mission and don’t forget the pet has another family.  I talked to Jasper, every day about his mom coming home soon, and I know I said it out loud to remind myself, more than I did it for Jasper’s benefit. Focus on the service member not just the pet.  We love Jasper, but we fostered him for Holly.

And the rest of the story is that John and I found out maybe we could adjust to having a dog.  We both recognized how much they enrich your life and I had to admit that John was, by far, the better pack leader.  I’ll try to follow his good example next time.  But we do plan to take a couple trips first, and when we finally do rescue a “forever furry family member” it will be one who can leave the squirrels alone and not chase the cats!   And as Jasper would say…. Bark Out Loud (BOL)!

-Written by Jasper’s Foster Mom, Carol.