Friday, 4 March 2011

The End of Dog Week

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

My mother calls.

'How is that dog?' she says.

'Better,' I say. 'I have a new thing now. I wake up in the morning, and I listen to her heart.'

There is a pause. I can hear my mother frowning.

'Do you have a special veterinary listening device?' she says.

'No,' I say. 'I use my ear.'

It is true. It is the first thing I do. I roll over and press my ear to her chest, and listen to her poor old ticker going thump thump thump. She watches me with slight surprise. Then, reassured that the muscle is still banging away, I get up and take her for her walk.

Outside, the air is gentle and there is a weak sun. I run into the Older Niece and we walk together, admiring the trees.

'Look,' I say. 'See the snow on the high hills.'

She nods sagely.

'Snow is coming,' she says.

She knows this because the Man in the Hat has a special weather network. He knows men whose livelihoods depend on the weather. They are in touch with the people at the Met Office, who make them privy to special secret weather which the general public do not know. Or something. I like the idea of the MITH having an arcane weather underground. He knows stuff.

I come in, write 912 words of book, try not to panic at the thought of looming deadlines, give the dog her pill, make a spinach frittata for lunch, listen to some Al Green, and ponder what I shall write on the blog. It's Friday, I always like to give you something cheerful for the end of the week, but there is one more dog story that I think I have to tell.

The problem is, it's a really, really sad story. I almost decide against it, because I don't want to make you cry, and I think it will make you cry. Then I think: it's an important story, I think it should be told.

A few weeks ago, on one of the many, many news feeds that I follow, I came upon a small article about an incredible bomb sniffer dog called Theo. He and his young handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, were doing sterling work in Afghanistan, and had saved hundreds of lives. It was a lovely piece, but it came from a small news agency, and did not get any play in the national press, which I thought was a pity. I was going to put it up on the blog, and filed it in my Things For the Blog file, but I must have got distracted, and never did. I remember thinking it was a curious coincidence, because the other bomb dog I had been enchanted by was called Treo. Treo and Theo I thought; a perfect pair of heroes.

This is the tragic part. This week, Liam Tasker was shot to death while out on patrol. On the Helmand blog, which I follow religiously, his commanders and comrades and family paid tribute to him. It turns out he was not only an exemplary soldier, cheerful and courageous and dedicated, but a remarkable human being. He was absolutely beloved by everyone who knew him, one of those people who light up a room. He was twenty-six years old.

To add to the sadness, Theo suffered a seizure and died very soon afterwards. No one really knows why. It might have been the shock of the fighting, or just a horrible coincidence.

I wanted to tell you this story because it made me think of two things. One is that, because of the fact that there is so much other news at the moment, Afghanistan is off the front pages. It is almost possible to forget that we are in a shooting war, with no end in sight. For some reason, I think it very important that we do not forget.

The second is on the dog theme. Because of my dear dog's illness I have been meditating this week on the love and delight and joy that canines bring into our hearts. But they do more than this. In the case of Theo and Treo, they also literally save lives. Out in the dust and heat of Helmand Province, serious working dogs are sniffing out lethal improvised explosive devices, set by callous men bent on death. If one can say that dogs are heroes, then they are.

You can read about Liam Tasker and Theo here. I'm afraid it will break your heart, but it is a remarkable tribute to a remarkable pair. This is what they looked like:



This is why no one can ever, ever say: oh, it's only a dog.

To make you smile again, there is a lovely thing on Treo the dog here. I put the little video of him getting his medal up on the blog months ago, and it is still one of the sweetest things on the entire internet.

Here he is, with his award for bravery:


And now some Friday pictures for you.

The light and the trees and the hills:

4th March 2

You can just see the snow on the hill, fading into the white sky:

4th March 3

My favourite logs, of which you can see I never tire:

4th March 5

Tree trunks:

4th March 6

The Scottish colours:

4th March 6-1

4th March 7

4th March 9

One of my favourite young trees, with its astonishing silvery aspect:

4th March 9-1

The crocuses:

4th March 10.ORF

There was a new yellow one today. I am not mad for yellow (soon you will get my yearly diatribe on daffodils) but actually I think this is rather charming, like sunshine in flower form:

4th March 11


4th March 12

4th March 17

And then there are the green shoots, pushing up boldly through the earth, which will one day be narcissi and tulips. I became rather obsessed with them this morning, and lay down on my stomach to photograph them, while the dogs watched in bemusement, and the Older Niece sat by my side and talked to me of her amazing 99-year-old relation in Australia, who reads this blog (big special Hello to Aunt Bar):

4th March 18

4th March 20

4th March 21

Now for the outrageous beauty. Someone is doing her Grace Kelly impersonation again:

4th March 16

4th March 14

While the Duchess is back to her duchessy finest:

4th March 15

Look, look, she is giving me the Lady Catherine de Bourgh eyes. I think that if she is back to that, it must be a good sign:

4th March 16-1

(She may have an ailing heart, but she still has the energy to be appalled by my shocking lack of breeding.)

And the hill, shot from a different angle today, in panorama with drama sky:

4th March 1

Once again, profound thanks for your extraordinary kindness this week. It still amazes me that people I have never met, from all over the world, in distant time zones, should take the time to write such enchanting words on this blog. I put it down not only to your good hearts, but also to the amazing power of The Dog. I hope you are having a lovely Friday, wherever you are.


  1. All dogs are beautiful souls. I have spaniel rescues....well actually they rescued me.You couldnt tell anyone what they give, and i would give anything for my dogs.

    Long live such such special souls

  2. I had read the Liam and Theo story, they ran it in either Metro or The Evening Standard down here in the smoke and I had to wipe away a tear on the tube.

    I'm never very enamoured of people who think animals are inferior to us, it seems such a ragingly arrogant assumption.

    Have a lovely weekend with your ladies.

  3. Anon - hear, hear. Love the thought of you and yr spaniels with the mutual rescue.

    Sarah - lovely comment, thank you. Very touching to think of you reading that story on the underground.

  4. Yours is the second blog I have read today talking of the special relationship between dogs and people and of Liam and Theo in particular. It's so moving and sad.

    I am not in the position to own a dog right now but my partner and I talk to any dog and it's owner that will let us in the park. We must look rather suspicious.

    best of luck for further improvements in the Duchess.


  5. Mo - thank you so much. Love the picture of you accosting dogs in the park. :)

  6. It seems odd to say thank you for moving me to tears, but I will. The working dogs of the armed forces are very special, as are their handlers, and I'm saddened that their team lost both Liam and Theo.

    Wishing you a wonderful weekend with the Duchess and the Pigeon.

  7. Tania, I have been reading your blog all week. I have found it so moving, dogs are so special. I heard about Theo on the radio yesterday morning at 5.30, when there is a summary of news papers. I went upstairs in tears. I thought of you and your lovely dogs.

    Thank you for putting Liam and Theo on your blog. As the mother of a Sandhurst Cadet, I do believe we have to remember all those brave souls (human and animal) who are in Afghanistan.

    Wishing you a lovely weekend, and great walks, Jude

  8. Mona - such a kind comment; thank you.

    Jude - you must be very proud of your cadet. I have developed huge admiration for our armed forces in my middle age, but have no connection to them. It's lovely to hear from someone who does.

  9. The Liam and Theo story is a very sad one. So very very sad.

    I am glad you seem to be feeling better and I do hope that both dogs are thriving. Thank you for the photographs.

  10. Dear Tania, I don't cry very often but animal stories get me every time. The story of Liam Tasker and Theo is so sad. The last time I cried was at the theatre seeing War Horse, have you seen it? It's wonderful.

    Have a lovely weekend. Give your girls a hug from me xx

  11. Mystica - thank you, as always, for your lovely comment.

    Christina - have not seen War Horse. Am almost afraid to, as I think it might make me cry too much. I recently remained entirely unmoved through the rather dull film that was Atonement, until they started shooting the horses and then I was in pieces.

  12. Was skiing with limited web access but glimpsed a dog related problem on your blog, I was residually worried all week so am delighted to see it's all ok. Everything is right. And yes the dog story made me cry...Lou x


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