Friday, 2 November 2012

That good night

And so, my Pigeon did slide slowly into that good night.

It was very quiet and peaceful and true. The Sister, who came with me, for moral support, even managed a joke, so there was laughter with the tears.

I’m afraid there were tears. The idiot bourgeois in me was worried for the vet: poor fellow, with these crazed weeping women in his operating room. ‘Oh no,’ he said, when I apologised. ‘I hate it when people come in for this and are flippant about it. You cry because you loved her.’

They gave her a sedative, but she was sinking so low that she barely needed it. Then, the fatal injection went into the right leg. The vet left us alone, and I stroked her fur, still thick and black and vivid.

‘It’s all right,’ I said. ‘You can go now.’

I had some lunatic idea in my head that she might feel she had to hang on for me. She was always such a willing, generous dog. I risk wading into the choppy waters of sentiment when I tell you this, but she used to lick the tears off my cheeks when I was mourning for my father. I knew in my rational head that she probably liked the salt; in my irrational mind, it was because of comfort and love. I needed her to know she did not have to do that any more.

After about two minutes, she suddenly gave a long, gusty sigh. It was a sigh of relief, of ending.

And she was gone.

There are so many things about this day that I would like to tell you. Write it down, write it down, shouts the voice in my mind, the one for whom life is not life until it is written. Even as my entire body is filled with sorrow, the brain is still racing about, forming sentences, building theories, shooting off on tangents. I want to write about the nature of grief, and the curious power of the animal love, and the extraordinary kindness of strangers. But this is not a forensic time. I am not going to slice it open and dissect it.

A snatch of Prufrock comes into my head. This bit:

And I have known the eyes already, known them all –

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

And how should I presume?

I am not going to sprawl on a pin, not today. It is what it is. It is a matter of the heart, not the head. I am going to turn the head off, for once in my life.

But there are two rather extraordinary things I do want to recount.

Yesterday, in a fit of faint absurdity, I made the old dog a playlist. It was rather like the days of my youth, when I used to make people I loved mix tapes. With care and attention, I pulled together the perfect mixture of lovely, lilting classical favourites. I played some of it to her this morning, before we left. She went out to Elvira Madigan.

I was so distracted when I walked out of the house that I left the thing playing. When I walked back in, two hours later, the yellow autumn sun was flooding into the room. I averted my eyes from the empty sofa. Then I heard the music playing. It was Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. That has me in bits at the best of times, partly from its own mournful beauty, and partly because of endless watchings of the parting scene in Brief Encounter. Oddly enough, today, for the first time, it made me smile, not cry. It was a very magnificent piece of music for a very magnificent canine. It had a rightness to it.

The second thing is that just before I sat down to write this (write it down, write it down) a loud banging came at the door. I leapt in the air like a spooked colt. I remember this from my dad; grief seems to produce an insanely developed startle reflex.

There was a serious gentleman with one of the biggest bunches of flowers I have ever seen. They were my absolute favourite kind – elegant white roses, with delicate eucalyptus. They are sitting in my desk as I type, and the sweet scent is filling the room. Who could be so lovely as to send me flowers? I wondered, as I ripped open the card.

They were from one of the oldest of the nearest and dearest. We met at university, twenty-seven years ago, and became quick friends. We were those kind of antic, laughing friends; we were party friends. I remember us staying up late and talking nonsense. I don’t think we ever had those intense putting the world to rights conversations. We were good time friends. Then he moved to California, and I don’t think I’ve seen him more than three or four times in the last ten years.

But when my father died last year, he sent the best and most heartfelt and wisest messages. It was a subject which he knew all about, and he offered intense comfort from six thousand miles away. Now we stay in touch through the miracle of the ether. Still, one might think that kind of time and distance would loosen the bonds of friendship. Yet, he took the time and thought to send white roses. I sit in awe and wonder at that kind of sweetness. He signed the card from him and his dog. He knows the dog love.

And out there, in the roiling seas of the internet, where people are so often intemperate or inconsiderate, or downright rude, the same kind of thought and kindness exists, from people whose faces I shall never see. How does that even happen? Little arrows of love and sympathy shoot through the Twitterverse, on the email, via the Facebook, on the blog; too many to reply to. All those unknown human hearts; all that kindness.

Even as I write that last paragraph, a tiny critical voice pipes up. Come along, it says; it was a dog, you don’t have to make such a fuss. Stoicism and stiff upper lip, it says; that’s what got us through the war. You have not just had your entire house blown away in a hurricane, it says, mildly impatient. (The critical voice has clearly been watching the news.)

I’m quite glad I do have that voice. Although it can be disobliging, and has absolutely no sense of timing, it is useful for stiffening the sinews, and one must not let the sinews go to hell. It’s the voice that makes me pick myself up off the floor, dust myself off, and start all over again.

But I’m not going to listen to it today. Love is love. Loss is loss. She was the dearest, kindest, funniest, most beautiful of animals, and she leaves a gaping space behind her. Respect is due. Her going shall be marked. Today, as it turns out, with Rachmaninov and white roses and the kind words that fly through the ether to my battered heart.


Today’s pictures:

After the thing was done, The Sister and I went up to Red’s View, to see the horses, and our old friend M, who knew the Pigeon since she was a puppy. This is what it looked like:

2 Nov 1

2 Nov 1-001

My two very furry and dozy girls:

2 Nov 2

2 Nov 9

I did take some last pictures of the Pigeon, but they are too sad, so, instead, here are some from happier, brighter days:

2 Nov 11

2 Nov 12

2 Nov 14

2 Nov 14-001

2 Nov 15

2 Nov 16

2 Nov 18

In The Big Chill, one of my all-time favourite films, Kevin Kline says, of his old compadres, something like: ‘How much fun, friendship and good times can one man take?’ I feel like that about my dog.

The hill, taken early this morning, before the sun broke through:

2 Nov 25

You have left so many kind and wise and generous comments; so many that I can’t reply to them all individually. So I send out a big, collective Thank You. The Dear Readers never were more dear.


  1. Beautiful pictures of a perfect dog. So sad for you.

  2. Good dog, rest well.

  3. the music, the flowers, the telling...all so eloquent in your tribute to the beautiful Pigeon and those last precious moments. your is love, loss is loss....will stay with me for those times, when I too will encounter heartbreaking loss. sending you the sweetest, kindest thoughts possible in this time of grief....

  4. I'm sharing your tears now, dear stranger. That's the trouble with animals: we tend to outlive them. They're worth it, but they're little so-and-so's for putting us through this.

    Have a hug. xx

  5. I suddenly thought about you and Pigeon at 12.30. What a funny old world we live in. Thank you for being back here to reassure a stranger.

  6. She was beautiful, you couldn't have picked a lovelier and more fitting set of photos to mark today.

    Tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write this. I hope you feel some of the love that is felt for you today.

  7. So real and resonant - thank you. I remembered the death of my last dog whose time had come, and the particularly wonderful last day of a best-beloved cat - your care for the Pigeon in her last days, the power of the relationship, the love so beautifully channelled into powerful writing - I am so grateful to read this.

  8. Oh this was so sad to read, I went through this myself last Friday with my dog. The vet and vet nurse were so supportive with hubby sniffling and me blubbing. God it hurt :(
    Hugs to you x

  9. What a lovely, lovely dog.

    Have been meaning to say ... Dogs may not communicate in human language, but that doesn't mean they don't discern and feel things. Even cold, empirical scientists are proving that they do. The Pigeon may have wanted the taste of salt from your face, but my guess is that she also sensed your need and she answered it as well as she knew how. Have to laugh sometimes at how we try to classify them according to our own scope of knowledge.

    Can I be intrusive and ask what her real name was? She will always be the Pigeon to me -- but rather distressingly perfect. You mentioned the Duchess' real name after she died, and somehow that made her real. Dopey, I know, but it did - a real dog, with a real name and real friends and a real life.

    The Pigeon, perfect or not, will live on in your photographs as one of the most beautiful and expressive dogs I have ever seen. And even at a distance, one of the dearest.


  10. So she is gone. Heartfelft wishes that your mourning of her is more sweet than bitter. Thank you for the photos of happier days; how neatly she arranged her paws when lying down. Part of her Grace Kelly-ness, do you think?

    I once worked out that the average life of a pet dog is about the same number of years as it takes to raise a child into adolescence. After about fourteen or sixteen years they are both gone, the dogs into the wide beyond, and the children into growing independence. Empty nests are left in both cases, but we have our rich store of affectionate memory to console us. And, in your case, some of the best doggie portraits I've ever seen. I hope you will still put up Pidge Pictures (and her sister) from time to time, if you can bring yourself to do so.

  11. Too sad. Sorry for your loss Tania. What a friend you had in her, and she in you. Sending you arrows of love and sympathy.

  12. Pauline Watchorn2 November 2012 at 15:34

    Four Feet - I have done mostly what most men do,
    and pushed it out of my mind,
    But I cannot forget, if I wanted to,
    Four feet trotting behind

    Day after day, the whole day through
    Wherever my road inclined ..
    Four feet said "I'm coming with you"
    And trotted along behind.

    Now I must go by some other round,
    Which I shall never find ..
    Somewhere that does not carry the sound
    Of four feet trotting behind.

    My thanks to Rudyard Kipling and to you Dear Tania ..... tender sympathy and loving
    thoughts of a grand dog.

  13. oh my, this post has me in complete tears. Beautiful story, beautiful post. And simply look at the smile on Pigeon .. that is one happy dog.

    When I lost my job in Sept 2008 (the big crash here in NYC) she (my dog Cleo) somehow knew my worry. Cleo would come up behind me as I sat on the top of the stairs and lean in as if to wrap herself around me with hugs. I miss her so deeply. It's been 2 years, and I still think I see her jump up and run 'round to the front door when I come home from work. Anyone who's loved a dog knows when you look into their eyes there is a person in there.

    I can't say that you'll ever stop missing Pigeon because love is love. But in time it will be lovely memories of a great old friend.

  14. What would the vet think of a mad woman sitting at her corporate desk in floods for a dog she never met but who had such a lovely expressive face and was described so fully? And I'm sure there are others all around the world doing the same for the Pidge.

    Going gently is the better option; I tried to write something yesterday but it kept going missing before it was published so this is a bit of a mixture. That started with me saying how sorry I am but somehow that doesn't seem quite the right thing to say today, now it's over. But fighting is too awful to watch, and it doesn't sound like she suffered which means you can remember her last days fully.

    You have your family, the horses and the enduring Scottish hills so you aren't one, but part of lots. I'm not sure what it is about bleakness and hills that makes everything feel as if there is something more; the same as old stone buildings. Maybe feeling part of the long line of people living and walking - some of the me too you described recently but going vertically rather than horizontally. Sorry - this has made me think profound if incoherent thoughts. Much love.

  15. Weeping for you and the Pigeon. We can feel your love for her through your writing. *big hug*

  16. I just had to go into the bathroom and have a good cry about this. I'm so, so sorry. My pup is only 15 months and it already haunts me that one day this will happen. All we can do for our four footed friends is give them the very best lives we possibly can while they're here, and you clearly did that for her. Sometimes I wonder why we put ourselves through the heartache of loving and losing pets, but then I remember how much we learn about love and loyalty from them. It's all worth it. Poor ol' Pigeon. I'm so sad. Take care of yourself.

  17. "I averted my eyes from the empty sofa"

    That, for me, is a perfect example of true grief. There is no such thing as "just" a dog. Love is love, grieving is grieving, and it is natural and right for you to miss her in the way you do.

    As someone else has said, it would be lovely to still see photos occasionally, when you can.

  18. You are being so brave and the Pigeon's last days were clearly heavenly. Thank goodness for your lovely, furry girls and loving family. Take care of yourself over the next few weeks with extra special attention. Rachel

  19. Oh Tania, I'm sitting in my kitchen crying for a dog I've never met who belongs to a woman I don't know. But you and Pidge have touched my heart. The time will come for the stiffening of the sinews, but not yet. Be gentle with yourself. I'm thinking of you.

  20. I've been able to think of nothing else since I read and commented last night, everything I've done - i've done whilst thinking of you both, from chopping the onions to make soup, to buying George a little pair of fur lined boots for the winter....I think you must have had hundreds of us thinking of you, grieving for what you were going through. You've touched us all and we are I think, weeping with you, weeping for you. Heartfelt sorrow from this little family in Calderdale, our kindest wishes and warmest hugs.
    Anne, Jon and George.xxxxxxxxx

  21. Thank you for sharing this Tania
    Sending you love and wishing you peace x

  22. Take care of yourself - love and hugs - I had trouble reading this because of the tears streaming down my face.

  23. Dear Tania,

    So sorry to hear about Pigeon. What a lovely dog - your pictures of her have always cheered up my day. In fact, when I was unwell and staying at my mum's last year, I would show her the Pigeon pictures most days and they would cheer up her day too. Wishing you peace, rest and in good time, many, many happy memories. Stuart xx (@stuartmwrites)

  24. You have been in my thoughts all day. I will miss the beautiful pictures of the lovely Pigeon. Be kind to yourself Tania and let those you love look after you. Sending much love xxx

  25. Hold on to the happy times Tania. Beautifully written and you made a grown man cry. xx

  26. Oh, the Darling Pidge. You were my first thought this morning and there have been many tears. Sending you much love Tania from me and mine - who understood the moment I told them about this wonderful dog.
    Em xxx

  27. I told my husband about your beautiful dog last night and he got teary-eyed too. I used to call him over to the computer and show him when there was an especially good picture of the Pigeon. We loved the ones with the stick in particular. Thank you for the round of photos at the end. The one where she is next to a red pillow (?) is particularly fine-- it made me reach out involuntarily to pet her between the ears.

    I cannot begin to imagine what you're feeling right now but for the third time in three days I am again crying. You did everything for her in just the right way and you made not just her last days but her whole life wonderful-- everybody else has already said it better than I have. Sending you love from Texas.

  28. Everybody has said it for me. Especially lickedspoon, with "I'm sitting in my kitchen crying for a dog I've never met who belongs to a woman I don't know". And everyone that has said 'there is no such thing as "just a dog"'. Yet because of your generous sharing and wonderful writing, we *do* know you in a way that is special, and the Pigeon too, and the Duchess before her. Thank you for sharing your special unconditional love, given and received. We can all learn from it.

  29. I have dogs now, have had dogs then, and have worked in kennels and as a dog walker. The self-evident truth that shines out of the Pigeon's face in photos is that she has (I refuse had)some special quality to her. It's in her eyes. Bend, but don't break.

  30. Pigeon....what a beauty and those eyes and expressions will not be forgotten for those lucky enough to see her beauty through the pictures you shared. Thank you for sharing in peace Pigeon.


  31. Sitting in New York, crying for a dog I knew but was never fortunate enough to meet, who belonged to a friend that I know, but have not met... yet.

  32. What a beautiful dog, and a beautiful tribute. I am crying for you both and send you my love and condolences.

  33. Such a lovely tribute to a beautiful and well-loved dog.

  34. Oh, Tania. I still frequently pop in to read your brilliant blog (which is a sanctuary of sorts in the overcrowded and crazy realm that is the interweb) and am very sad to read this news about the dear old Pidge. What a beautiful character she was - that face. Thank you for sharing this. Wonderfully written, as always. Take care, T x

  35. Tania, I am sorry for your loss. I want to tell you that two and a half years ago I came across your blog and became a follower of the stories you share with us. I was never a dog person and yet fell in love with both of your beautiful friends. In fact, reading about your relationship with Duchess and Pidge that inspired me to get my daughter a puppy. We've had Krystal for 2 years now and she is a member of the family (something I didn't know was possible). I cried like a baby when Duchess passed. I know they are together again, running and playing like they used to.

  36. My eyes filled with tears while reading this. My own 16-year old Beagle is too close to this day to think about. One thing is certain, Pigeon could not have had a more loving home. My condolences.

  37. I am sitting here, also in California (a place that is still foreign to me), and I am in tears for your great loss. They are not just animals but our companions in life. I am so sorry.

  38. Weeping reading this. I have been in the `Southern hemisphere for the winter and away from it all. That is so lovely Tanya. It encapsulates every loss we animal-lovers have ever suffered. My daughter is a vet and still cries on occasion when she has to put a loved pet down. And good for her.
    My own lovely vet empathises when I weep and eases my stupid embarrassment by recalling how distraught he was when his own loved pets were sent on their way.
    I always remember John Oaksey's words (paraphrased) that one of the great sadnesses of life was that you have to say farewell to so many wonderful horses and dogs..


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin