The dog died this morning. It had been clear for some days that it was only a matter of time, and then over the last twenty-four hours he stopped, to his great embarrassment, being able to stand up or to walk. He had become stick thin and he lay on the ground, shivering uncontrollably, wrapped in his favourite green Peruvian blanket and staring at us unable to comprehend what had happened to him. We carried him up the road to Dale, his vet, and we took him downstairs to a room full of cats. The dog showed a flicker of pride when, with him stricken as he was, one of the cats shot up onto a cabinet in terror. We laid him gently onto a table top and Dale gave him the injection as we held him. I’m glad that we were with him. He took the injection without objecting and died with great dignity. Just before the light went from his eyes all the pain and cares seemed to be lifted too, and he looked briefly as he had before the cancer struck.
We had him for a little under ten years. He was a Battersea dog, between one and two years’ old when we got him. We never knew what his young life had been like; he was found wandering in the road, probably abandoned. He had not been house-trained, he didn’t understand about sniffing and then peeing on lamp posts, and when we left him at home he became terrified. He was frightened of umbrellas, but not cigarettes and not in bad condition.
When the better half first met him in Battersea, he was lying in his cage with his head on his paws looking miserable. Unlike the other dogs he was not prepared to ingratiate himself with a view to a new home. The better half fell in love with him and his surly ways, and it was then only a question of convincing the authorities that we were fit and proper people and that our house didn’t smell bad.
We later found out that when she met him he was right at the point of being put down by Battersea, having gone two months, or whatever the period was, without a taker.
In those days daughter three lived with us and he loved her like a sister. He never took her seriously as an authority figure but he loved to play with her. He treated me with the respect due to the older male, though less so if I wasn’t standing up, and he adored the better half unreservedly and ecstatically.
He liked Scotland better than anything; specifically the Highlands and even more specifically the sands by Dornoch Firth, where his ashes will in due course be laid. Saying ‘Scotland’ would cause him to wrinkle his forehead quizzically as if something wonderful was about to happen. ‘Cheese’ and ‘chicken’ had the same effect. On Dornoch Firth he would run for hours frightening sea birds and rabbits. Once he ran all the way from Inver to Portmahomack and back with the better half, a distance of some ten miles, leaping gamely through the soft sand.
The other thing he liked about Scotland was the sheep. Being sturdy Highland creatures they treated him with a disdain he didn’t mind. Once – only once – he caught a very old one. He had no idea what to do with her so he lay respectfully on her back, using her wool for dental floss.
Like many Staffies he was a gentle animal. He would allow children to pull him around and torment him. The granddaughter particularly loved him, and agreed to be the flower girl at daughter three’s wedding only on condition that the dog was too. He liked it when she visited and pursued him around the house but afterwards always had to go for a long lie down, even before illness struck.
Neither of them was much cop as a flower girl.
He regarded his role within the family as essentially decorative, with one exception. It was his duty to protect the house from postmen, and to a lesser extent from dustmen. He went berserk when postmen attempted to insert their nonsense into our door, and was quietly proud when, as so often, they displayed terror. One of his finest moments was when we had a visit on his account from a suited official of the Post Office. (‘I have to think of my men,’ said the official, who regarded himself as officer class.) Towards the end he was reconciled with our regular postman, who is a dog-owner and understands, and allowed him to stroke his head, but he would still bark in warning, just so as not to concede the principle.
Like many dogs he was keen on the pleasures of the bowl, which is why it was so sad in his last weeks to see him confined to pre-digested pap, while we ate interesting things in front of him. Once he was left alone in Daughter three’s flat. In the kitchen a German sausage hung by a string from a hook in the ceiling, a present from my father-in-law. When she and her Alex returned, the hook and string survived but the sausage was in the dog. Since he couldn’t have jumped twelve feet in the air, he must have climbed up the dresser and launched himself repeatedly into the air, hoping to catch the sausage as he passed. There is no way of knowing how many goes it took. I wish I could have seen it.
He could not, of course, speak, but he was indulgent to suggestions, whether in this blog or in day-to-day conversation, that he could, and would wait patiently until we said something pertinent.
When occasionally the better half would leave us for a week or so while she skied or celebrated in some Italian resort or other the anniversary or other achievement of some wealthy Russian friend, we would potter around the house like old bachelors, eating out of our respective tins and falling asleep together undisturbed by our various thoughts. I used to look forward to these occasions.
He was a dignified, gentle and loving animal and a true friend. We miss him terribly. Above all, he was a Good Dog.