Without You

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My first ever pet (if you don’t count Gary and Larry, the fairground goldfishes) was a big, black bundle of fluff. To this day, I don’t know how I persuaded my boyfriend to let me have her – we weren’t in our own place yet, we had no money, no careers and not the first idea about how to look after a dog. But all the same, I won the battle.

When we first met, I knew she was the one. She ran straight up to me, in that gorgeous puppy hop-skip they do, and licked my toes around my flip flops. She was the fattest puppy I’d ever seen and looking back, they were backyard breeders running us for a scam who had seen they could make a quick buck. She wasn’t trained at all, not even a little bit. But to me, she was perfect. We left a deposit there and then, and left her there whilst we went to finish our university terms.

In the 3 weeks between leaving a deposit and picking her up, I crammed everything I could possibly learn about dogs into my head. I regurgitated facts at lightning speed, did you know raisins are poisonous? I puppy proofed the house, bought toys, disinfected everything the minute it came home. I spent every waking moment learning how to be the best mummy I could be to her – every sleeping moment, dreaming of what could go wrong. But even in my worst dreams, I never envisioned what happened.

She was a monster puppy. I have never known such a headstrong dog. She was a terror to toilet train because she used to give you about a second to respond to her signals – if you didn’t, you’d be cleaning up! She had no leniency at all – she ruled the roost and made sure everyone knew it! My daddy described her as having ‘eyes that have been here before’. She was so confident, so determined, so headstrong. She didn’t believe in recall – you’d call her name and she’d turn round, look at you, and then bugger off anyway! She was a complete horror.

But she became, within days of being home, my very best friend. We’d cuddle in front of the fire, her spine to my tummy, as I drank in her smell and the feel of her coat. She was a constant companion, always by my side in the house (unless the AGA was on, then you had no hope!). When I had to be home alone, she’d sleep in the corridor outside our bedroom, to keep me safe. When I was revising, she set her own break pattern and enforced it – every 30mins she’d clamber onto my lap for a few minutes of cuddles. She was never a particularly excitable dog, much preferring a day on the sofa to a walk outside – except for the snow. Snow drifts for my dog was like candy for a toddler – she’d go beserk. But she came everywhere with me; one winter when there was snow constantly she spent the whole winter travelling in the passenger footwell, just in case I got snowed in somewhere and couldn’t get back for her. She would come to work, sleep in the boot all day except for a run down the canal at lunch. She played beautifully with children, always so careful and kind.

She was my constant companion, my best friend and at many times, my only comfort in a world filled with pain.

She was a poorly pup from pretty much day 1 – we had our first vet trip the first night she came home. We always said that there would be a day when she’d tell us it was time.

Shortly after she’d taught our current dog the ropes, that day came. I left her on the sofa at home, nipped to the shops, and when I came back 20mins later, she’d lost over half of her hair. We tried to stop the deterioration, for a bit – but the drugs made her incontinent and she was losing her dignity. I sat with her in her bed, one night, her hot head on my lap whilst she panted away, and I knew the time had come. The tests showed multiple organ failure – we could slow it, but not cure it.

She had a beautiful last week. As the news filtered out, people from all areas of our life called to say goodbye. It was gloriously sunny that week, and we spent so much time in the fields in the sunshine, whilst the puppy played. We filled her last week with so many cuddles and kisses and tears too, but she was so very loved.

My best friend fell asleep in my arms, on the floor of the kindest vet’s office, in September 2011. She was 2years, 7months old.

She left us too early and that’s my only excuse for why, nearly 2 years on, she’s still sat on our mantelpiece. Some of her ashes are in a pendant round my neck – we had planned to scatter the rest. But the time never felt right and I didn’t feel ready – so there she’s sat, still a physical presence in our family that is lost without her. Both of us still talk to her when we’re home alone, or we think nobody is listening. It’s felt ok to have her here with us, whilst our dog grew up as the ‘only child’ he was never meant to be.

The last few days, since the new puppy is home, have been really tough. Feel like I wasted a therapy session with T1 today talking about irrelevancies – but I’m too close to the edge of tears to risk anything more. I can see her everywhere – now the house has two dogs in it again, my memories of her are rejuvenated. But something amazing is happening, too – Big Dog is doing, to the puppy, the things she did for him. He’s licking the puppy to keep in clean, he’s helping me by showing me when the puppy needs to go out, he’s playing kindly… It’s horrifically painful to watch, but she is SO present in him right now.

So I guess, now feels like the right time to let her go. She’s been in her box too long – the cycle is complete now. Maybe she was due to stay until our family became complete again – and now it’s her time to run free.

I said to T1 earlier I didn’t know where to scatter her ashes. But I’m sat in my car on the common near home at the moment, crying yes but also smiling at all the fun times we had up on the common. We came here for walks, we came here when I was running away, we came here to sit and rebalance and let the wind rattle the car windows. It is still my first choice of destination when I’m scared or sad or just need time. I take BigDog up there a lot and puppy will come too… So I’m wondering, is this the place? Would she be happy to finally rest here? I think so. We’ll wait for the next sunny day. It really feels like it’s time for her to be free now – it’s like her job with us is done.

When we lost her, a friend sent me this poem. It is so beautiful it hurts to look at it:

She is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. She is the part of me that can reach out into the sea. She has told me a thousand times over that I am her reason for being; by the way she rests against my leg; by the way she thumps her tail at my smallest smile; by the way she shows her hurt when I leave without taking her. (I think it makes her sick with worry when she is not along to care for me.)

When I am wrong, she is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, she clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, she is joy unbounded. When I am a fool, she ignores it. When I succeed, she brags. Without her, I am only another man. With her, I am all-powerful. She is loyalty itself.

She has taught me the meaning of devotion. With her, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. She has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.

Her head on my knee can heal my human hurts. Her presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things. She has promised to wait for me… whenever… wherever—in case I need her. And I expect I will—as I always have. She is just my dog.

Until the next sunny day then, sweetheart.

Xx

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