We have had a black lab cross in our family for over 17 years. His name is Jasper. He came into my family as an 8 week old pup from the SPCA. He in particular bonded with my daughter who convinced him to come out from behind the dryer where he cowered for days upon his arrival and finally joined the family.
Jasper grew up on the Ahahswinis reserve in Hupacasath territory. The city of Port Alberni surrounds our reserve. The first few years of his life were in a house on River Road that borders highway 4 going out to the west coast. It is a very busy road and Jasper was well acquainted with navigating the traffic that passed by.
Jasper was a true retriever. I would come out of my house and find a dead fish, or rabbit or bird as an offering to the family to eat I suppose. They were pretty well mutilated by the time they ended up on our doorstep but he was proud of his offerings. He was exercising his right to hunt and fish as a Hupacasath dog.
Not only did Jasper retrieve food, he would drag home anything that he wanted. I remember one day watching him walk down River road with a 10 foot stick. He had his mouth on it and about 6 feet sticking out into traffic. Drivers would wait to go around the stick and carry on their way. Some would yell or honk but nothing would deter him from getting that stick home. Another time it was a 4 inch thick rope. How he got his teeth around it I don’t know, but he was determined that it would be his. He dragged home the neighbour’s pillows from their lawn chairs. He loved the orange cones they use on the highway to mark off an area. I had at least a dozen in my back yard. Life was always interesting with Jasper. One time he dragged home a buffalo skull. I tried to toss it off the front lawn but wherever I put it, he found it and left it front and center. I didn’t want people knowing that he took it. Thank goodness it was a plastic buffalo skull and not the real thing. He really was exercising his right to gather.
The best story about him bringing things home is the day he discovered stolen goods. The Hupacasath gift store had been robbed. Police were sure that goods had been stashed somewhere in garbage bags because the thieves couldn’t have got very far on foot with all the carvings they had taken. Their searches turned up nothing. One morning I went out my door and looked up the driveway and there was a bunch of things scattered all the way down. I looked to the other end and saw a garbage bag with a carving sticking out. Jasper had located the stolen goods and dragged them home. The cement caused a hole to be made and it got bigger the longer he dragged it and carvings kept falling out. Of course he had to taste each of the carvings so they all had teeth marks in them. A hero of sorts!
Jasper was a true rez dog. We couldn’t tie him up. He loved to run free and we often joked it was his aboriginal right to do so. Then, I got served with a bunch of tickets for having a dog at large. The SPCA could not take him from the reserve so they decided to target me. I can’t remember the exact number of dog at large and one dangerous dog violations but it was over 20. I went to court and tried to get the charges kicked out from the beginning. The Highway that runs in front of our reserve is not within the jurisdiction of the city. They couldn’t charge me for dog at large on land that wasn’t theirs.. I always called Jasper the dancing dog. He would run up to you and dance around you. This couple were afraid of him and they hit him with their umbrella and he probably didn’t like that. Usually he loved people. I think he scared a few people but spending a bit of time with him showed that he was a friendly dog that wouldn’t hurt anything. They threw out the charges finally but not before I got a bunch more. Of course because I was the Chief and well known in Port Alberni, it had to be reported in the Alberni Valley Times and on CJAV the local radio. It was too funny.
Jasper loved to fight bears. Living on the rez, bears are a common sighting. Especially when you were cleaning and cutting fish. I remember one time watching Jasper running circles around this huge black bear. The Bear would swipe his paw at Jasper and jasper would move away and you could hear the gravel flying as he avoided that mighty paw. He had no fear and his fights with bears were seen by many of us. He would go nose to nose with the bear that was so much bigger than he was. As he got older I would tell him he was too old and couldn’t move fast enough and he had better stop fighting bears.
Jasper was well known when he lived along River Road. He was known as Road Dog. He would wander on the highway as if he owned it. I would often hear breaks squealing as they tried to avoid him. Those big semis would make the most noise as they screeched to a halt. More yelling and horns. Jasper was unphased. When he moved up town, he loved to sit in the middle of the road, and when he was older he took longer to get up. One day the SPCA came along in their big van and he was slow to get up and went to meet them in his friendly way. They threw him in the pound, and when my sister picked him up he hung his head knowing he did wrong.
My kids and I used to go away for my work, two weeks a month. My dad would come and feed and water him but he got lonely. He started walking over to my sister’s on the other side of the rez to find company. When we came home, we would pick him up. There came a time when he wouldn’t stay with us any more. He preferred to live with my sister so she took him and he became a resident of Indian Ave. This was a bit tricky because one side of the road is rez and other city. He could be a dog at large there, but the SPCA didn’t seem to bother him. He was still a large part of our family even if he didn’t live with us.
On Indian Ave., he became the Hupacasath greeter. He officially greeted everyone who came by. We always thought we should get him a cedar band for his neck to look official in the role. It is amazing how many people came by with bones and scraps for him. He was well loved and appreciated. He again moved to another part of the city and people would come by asking for him or wondering if he had passed on.
The last weeks of his life he returned to Indian Ave. and the reserve he loved. His favourite spot was to lie was under the large cedar tree in the yard. He loved sitting amongst the roots in the cool shade or protected from the rain. He could see the road and had the best vantage point.
My daughter had many names for him, Prince, Handsome, Spee. I remember one time her yelling down the street, “handsome, handsome”. There was a young man walking down the street and he turned to see who was calling him handsome. My daughter pulled back quickly from the window laughing.
Jasper and my dad grew old together. My daughter loved him, treasured him and they had a special way of communicating that was funny to listen to. My son has known no other dog pet. My sister is bereft over his loss, her constant companion, and protector. To me, he was an integral part of our family and will leave a big hole in our lives.
Jasper, a happy dog, who filled his long life with many adventures and made our lives fuller. In the past few years I started calling him grey beard. He has graced the Hupacasath reserve with his presence and was indeed a greeter of all people. He shall be missed whether you knew him as Jasper, road dog, rez dog, Hupacasath greeter, or Greybeard.