Friday, November 16, 2012

Fond farewell to a man's best friend

Goodbye Lucy, my manic ball of scruff.
Lucy in 2002, age 6, looking innocent

They say dogs resemble their owners. I wonder if you picked up certain unfortunate traits from me, at least me as a youth, things like a palpable anxiety at times (no doubt also due to being zipped over, miraculously unharmed, by a car in the very early days), a fierce temper and being just a little bit, healthily, crazy.

Sixteen and a half years ago, Mum and Dad just sprung it on me one ordinary June Saturday that we were to get a dog. A lesson for all kids there - pester long enough and you can win. Dad had, years earlier, promised me a dog for my eighth birthday, undoubtedly hoping I'd forget. We had an old Labrador for a short while - the most timid animal I've ever met, very unlike you Lucy - but she became too much stress for Mum I think so we gave her to a family friend where she was well looked after. Perhaps if I'd been more aware of things I would not have half-jokingly pestered Dad for the five or six between turning  eight and this June day in 1996. Still, it was a shock. Why had they suddenly come to this decision? Was there bribery involved...?

I don't know why I chose a small dog, I've always liked big ones. Maybe the pressure of the situation. I don't know what stood out about you, I vaguely remember a certain energy. It would make sense if you were the terror of the litter, even at six weeks.

It was so unexpected that Nick and Dave freaked out when they saw what looked like an over-sized rat running around the kitchen upon returning home from a weekend in Queensland. I remember when you used to sleep in Dave's The Late Show cap. He loved that cap. I love that you claimed it. Man, I wish I could find that photo!

I was naive in a lot of ways. I wanted the dog but not the responsibility. But I was now old enough to take on responsibility. I sure as hell didn't know what I was in for. None of us did. You included, I'm sure.

For years I wanted a dog, but as soon as we got you home I became depressed. It wasn't you, it was me. All I could think about for days was that I was going to get attached to you and someday you would die. That was the sentiment in my irrational head and locked-up heart. In the first days you were a constant reminder of an unavoidable sadness I couldn't handle. Maybe it was the sudden change in my life. I never much liked change.

But change is inevitable, and irrationality passes. And who could maintain such detached thinking with such bursts of unbound energy racing around the place.

I'm not gonna lie, you brought more than your fair share of trouble. We had a complex friendship you and me, but that just made it more real. I think I was the only one that actually talked to you sometimes, but don't tell anyone.

Lucy, 11 November 2012, aged 16
I always knew exactly where you stood. Your temperament needed work as much as my energy and motivation did. It didn't make things easy. I didn't train you well at all, but on the flipside, I'm glad we didn't train the personality out of you. You were moody a bit more than is generally acceptable for a dog, and we had to make sure the kids were careful with you - which was sad - but you were genuine. When you came to me, jumped all over me in your unruly, enthusiastic way, I knew it was because you wanted to - maybe because I had a schmacko - not out of mere obedience.

I should have socialised you more. I was not a great owner, but I hope I was as good a friend for you as you were for me, especially in those early years when I didn't have many of the human variety.

As I spent two weeks unable to settle on a name, Nick and Dave - inspired by a film they'd just seen - enthusiastically suggested Kaiser. It would have been somewhat fitting. Dave lovingly called you "Psycho". Unbound sometimes meant aggressively undisciplined, but in all you were a loving, loved, bundle of fun and joy.

It's fair to say I have some regrets, though I don't know how you feel about it all. about lots of things. You didn't want to be trained, and I made mediocre teenage efforts to train you. You had temperament issues, I had motivational ones. In some ways, we made a good pairing, but I think I let you down. I definitely let Mum and Dad down. I'd do things differently, I don't know how you felt about it all.

I'm sorry I had to leave you behind when I moved out. I probably didn't wash you often enough, especially after moving out, but I'm not sure you're too fussed about that one. I was thrilled that we continued to have that special owner/pet bond, as if you know you were "my" dog. Though I don't like the term "owner" between friends.

I'm sorry for the conflicted feelings I felt as you aged. The guilt of leaving you behind, when having a dog around was a stress Mum didn't need and had her own health to worry about. When signs of age appeared - when you stopped racing to the side of the house barking as my car pulled up because you couldn't hear so well, and when you stopped running to the front door as I entered jumping all over me because you didn't have the energy - I felt some relief of this guilt, which was horrible and created new conflicted feelings and guilt in me.

The last week was tough. Seeing you stop eating and fade so fast, no longer responding to your name, I wasn't even sure if I was being a comfort or annoyance. I don't know if you even knew who I really was anymore so far were you gone. You were not the little loveable menace of years past. But you were still Lucy.

The hardest part was that I didn't know what the best thing for you was. I prepared myself to make that difficult decision - on advice - but the vet encouraged persistence. You seemed to have made up your mind though.

I'm sad I wasn't the one there with you on Friday when you fell asleep for the last time, to look you in the eye and comfort you like all those other times the bad man gave you needles (he really is a nice fellow, I should say). I'm sorry one of the last moments we shared involved me forcing tablets down your throat.

I hate saying I felt some relief when we all decided it was time, but I did, for various reasons. It was nothing like my anxious fears when you first arrived. We were all ready. It's horrible. Or is it? Is it coping? Is it the way when a life comes to a prolonged, (almost) natural end?

But now you are actually gone and it's been a long time - before you were born - since I've lost anyone/anything dear to me. Looking at photos of you makes me much much sadder than I felt when I knew your time was up. Do I miss you more than I loved you? Fuck, I hope not, that's horrible. It's reality sinking in. I look at these photos and want to scruff you up again, chase you round the back yard, yell "cat!" and see you bolt out the back to try in vain to intimidate the darn things. I look  at that photo, of the dog that's been some years gone, and still I have to remind myself. She's gone. She's gone. She's gone. I think I had a tear yesterday. I'm not sure, wind was blowing in my eyes. But I am sad.

I'm coming round tomorrow. It might sink in then, seeing your bowl and bed - or not seeing them. I'm going to sit next to where Dad buried you, have a beer and thank you for being the crazy, untameable, troublesome, fun life you were. I'm glad I picked you.

Miss you buddy. You were one of a kind. It was far from perfect, but I hope we gave you a happy life.

A friend gave me some words from Ben Hur Lampman (I'd never heard of him, but he seems to be switched on): "The one best place to bury a good dog is in the heart of his master".

I'm not sure I was ever your master, but you know you always have a comfortable spot there.

Rest well, or just give 'em hell, wherever you are.

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