When I was four, I insisted that I wanted a dog. I'm not fully sure whence this inexorable conviction came, but nevertheless, I was solid on this. As young girls insist that they need a pony (preferably in pink), I wanted a dog.
For what, if I recall correctly, was the only time in which my parents actually indulged my childhood whims, we got a dog. We went all the way to Wiltshire, to a reputable kennel (as scathing as I can be about my parents, they always had a very strong commitment to animal welfare) and they allowed me to pick out a puppy.
I went for the runt of the litter. Shetland Sheepdogs are, in general, bred for show. Drooping ears and short legs, with a vaguely timid demeanour. I went for the long-legged, perky-eared pup who came wagging his tail to the edge of the pen. That was my dog.
For reasons which still have yet to be determined, I initially insisted that he was called Gwalchmai. Either an irresponsible uncle had been filling my head with Arthurian nonsense, or I had just realised quite how bizarre my own middle name (Geraint) was and wanted a fellow-sufferer. Exhibiting a sound good sense which would characterise his entire life, my dog refused this moniker entirely and ended up responding only to “Scamp”.
In contrast to my actual brother, who has a good twenty-five years on me, I grew up with this dog. As well as teaching me all the things a dog is supposed to teach a young man, such as responsibility etc., Scamp was often my only friend. Shelties bond to one person and one person alone, and that dog was almost my shadow. When I was unhappy, he skulked behind me. When I was grounded, he howled outside my window. When I was happy, he would accompany me up and down the valley of the river to which I still regularly pay devotion: he would sit patiently (if puzzled) at the bank when I waded out to pour a libation. When I was in a fight, he would lick my wounds. Literally. One day before my eighteenth birthday I was badly beaten with a metal bar: when I was released from hospital and got home, he climbed on top of me, licked my scars and would not leave me for the following three days.
And ten years ago today, I killed him.
Few things make me cry. My husband accuses me, not without justice, of being cold. But this makes me cry: writing this I have tears running down my face, even a decade later.
Scamp had a heart condition. The first I knew of it, he fell over and pissed all over the place. We assumed this was just age. It happened a few more times. Annoyed, I walked him down to the PDSA, and they gave us some tablets for him. He showed some improvements. A few weeks later, the same happened, but he didn't get up again afterwards. He lay on his side twitching and whimpering. It was about eight o'clock. Mam was at work. I picked him up and carried him the two miles to the PDSA. They prescribed him more tablets. I carried him home again. He was not in a good state. I got him to drink some water and laid down with him, his back against me. He turned his head and licked my face a couple of times. His breathing was irregular. Every breath he wheezed.
So I carried him back to the PDSA. They examined him and told me he was dying. That he probably wouldn't make the night through.
That the kindest thing to do was to put him to sleep.
And I said yes.
They asked me to lay him out on the bench to administer the injection. I wouldn't. I climbed up myself, my dog in my arms, and sat with him in my lap. He didn't struggle, because he trusted me. [Ten years later, I am actually bawling my eyes out right now.] They administered the injection, and I sat with him in my lap, my face next to his, whispering him into the Otherworld.
I still haven't forgiven myself.
1) Well, I say that. On the one hand, my mam would only ever buy free range eggs, but at the same time one of my earliest memories is curling up on mam's fur coat in the corner of a pub when I was probably about three or so. It was the eighties, and mam was a big fan of Dallas and Dynasty.
2) I am not unaware of the irony in this.