We were yet to be married and we had found an advert for lurcher puppies in a free local newspaper. We picked her up from a farm in Norfolk in October 2000. She was our first dog. She cost £90, was 8 weeks old and as long as a tube of Pringles, with a stumpy snout, stripes between her eyes and along her legs, little silken triangle ears and a white bib. Her Dad was a rescue greyhound called Mac, her mum a working collie called Gin. They were devoted to one another.
In her first few months with us Minnie liked to sleep curled up on my knee like a little fox. She would find Autumn leaves outside, trot indoors with them very proudly and carefully shred them on the carpet. Her passion for leafcraft only lasted a few weeks, but we made up a song about it and still sang it to one another occasionally when she became an old dog lady.
I’ve written about Minnie’s adventures before: her drugs shame, her smashed leg, her miraculous self-healing tendons, her Mystic Meg-like ability to know when I was pregnant and her snarling indignance when suitors wanted to make the dog with two backs. She reminded me of Bette Davis, or perhaps Bet Lynch: stoic, resourceful, feisty and indefatigable. A shining mongrel queen who adored cheese, bad smells and us.
When our small daughters came along she was immensely gentle and patient. Neither of them were interested in dressing up or in dolls. Instead they swaddled Minnie in floral fabrics, crafted special wigs for her and turned her into a dog fairy.
Her ears would droop very slightly at the indignity and her expression seemed to say:
‘I did not choose these accessories. I am wearing them for my people’
People speak of dogs having empathy. Minnie brimmed with it. Our family has been through a great deal in the past 10 years. On tricky days she would approach quietly, place her head on the lap that needed it most and leave it there, eyes wide, ears immensely soft.
She knew. She was helping. Sometimes she would offer a cheering gift at times of crisis: a sock from the washing basket, a stick, a piece of coal or something ghastly she had found in the garden. She was a gentle, hairy, wordless counsellor. The bearer of kindly, smelly gifts.
She had many hobbies. Her Tinder profile might have read: I love eating sheep poo, licking my own bottom, woofing loudly at Countryfile and rolling in vile things. When Eldest was small and I still worked in an office we had a cleaner for a while. One day I returned to a note from her that read ‘There is a something under the table’. She had decided not to tackle the something, had placed some kitchen towel over it and gone home. I didn’t blame her at all. It was horrifying, was somehow simultaneously hairy, liquid and looming and I still cannot fathom what it was or how Minnie produced it.
Her lurcher speed was legendary. For years she was the fastest dog in the village and easily lapped the other dogs in the motley races they all took round the rec on morning walks. Then one day a greyhound moved in up the road. She launched into one of the dog races and was expecting to trounce the other hounds as usual. His legs were longer and she hadn’t noticed. He overtook her, easily. She almost screeched to a Scooby-Doo style halt, affronted that another dog might be faster. Then she sloped off in a sulk. I may be anthropomorphising slightly but she refused to pit herself against him from then on.
As she slowed slightly she became the canine equivalent of the poem ‘Warning’, that opens ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’. We had trained her not to steal food, especially birthday cakes and roasts, not to use the settee as a doggo daybed and not to beg at the table. As she approached 100 in dog years she could no longer be dogged about this sort of etiquette. She burgled toast, bacon sandwiches, crisps and whole packs of cheese. Life was too short to be remorseful. Her pursuit of tasty snacks was relentless and unwavering. She left 100 behind, her eyes clouded with cataracts and her old wobbly back legs became wobblier but she still sought pork products with a passion. Hiding all the sausages and cheese in her gob was her life’s work.
Then late last summer she collapsed and couldn’t stand for 5 days. The vet spoke of a serious neurological event. We had to carry her outside to go to the loo. We had to make tough decisions about dignity and quality of life and she was on the clock. Get up and walk by Friday or… But then she pulled a Minnie. Just before the vet was going to amputate the leg that had been smashed in the RTA she had at 9 months old she grew a tendon back and avoided being a tripod. In late August 2016, the day before we were to take her to the vet she stood up, wobbled to the door, asked to be let out and inched towards to lawn. She toppled over, got up, went to the loo unaided and secured her reprieve. She was 16. 112 in dog years.
After that she was rather less present. She would forget she’d had her dinner and ask for it again with those Galaxy Minstrel eyes of hers. The fact that she’d only just been out to the loo would slip her mind and she’d ask to go out again a minute or two later. We worried about dog dementia and gave her more cheese and fried foods to assuage our sadness. Her back legs grew even less steady, she would suddenly collapse, right herself, then wobble on. Each time this happened it felt as though someone was squeezing my heart in a vice. Our pal was ambling down an inevitable path. It was a slow motion journey and we were unable to halt her progress. As I wrote my book in the Spring her back end began to slump more frequently. I often slept downstairs with her, yet she still listened when I told her I was worried about the deadlines. She still laid her head on my knee on difficult days.
Then one morning 8 weeks ago we found her. She had collapsed and was unable to get up. A pal had told me that I’d know- that she’d tell me when she was ready. Until that point she’d been cheerful, had pulled her quizzical ‘is there any cheese?’ expressions when she heard the fridge being opened each day. Her back legs let her down every few hours, yet her ears were always jaunty. She was always happy about bacon. She had been content.
We made her comfortable that morning, offered her cheese and she didn’t eat it. Her tail was between her legs, her ears had drooped and they didn’t rally. She looked terribly, terribly tired. She was telling me. She had had enough. It was time.
There has been a yawning hole in our lives and in front of the hearth since then. She had been with us almost 17 years and the depth of her friendship and its benefits were only really evident after she had gone. I would always chat to her when Andy was travelling and the girls were at school. She was my companion, my dear friend. She lived for so long that I think we were in denial about her reaching the end of that path I mentioned. When eventually she died it was a cruel, searing shock. We continued to call out to her when we got home but there was no one there. I still bent down to give her bacon rinds long after she had gone. I’d run downstairs to tell her things before I remembered that she had left. She’d with us for so long that we struggled to adjust to her absence. It hurt like a git.
I’m writing this down this evening because I want to make sure I remember. To many Minnie would have seemed unremarkable: a mongrel with a tail that was a bit too big for her and a head that was a a bit too small. She looked as though she’d bought them down the charity shop for 70p. She had a wonky leg and smudgy stripes and looked like an everyday, quite forgettable sort of dog but to us she was bloody wonderful. A good, good hound. For the love of dog I miss her.
Tomorrow someone new arrives. A rescue lurcher pup. We couldn’t be without a dog any longer. We hope Minnie won’t mind. It’s the beginning of a new dog chapter.