Thursday, 1 November 2012

The last walk

The clever old lady is, of course, of course, making it very easy for me. She is sinking gently, and she is telling me it is time to go.

She has stopped eating, and her stick is of no more interest to her. It was my last throw of the dice, and she very politely trotted three steps towards it, picked it up gently in her mouth, and then laid it back down. She looked at me, as if to say: I’m sorry, but it’s no good to me any more.

‘That’s quite all right,’ I said, out loud. ‘I understand.’

We had an appointment with the vet tomorrow anyway, and that shall be the moment. There is no more doubt in my mind, no wild, flinging hope. We are in the last hours.

It is the most ravishing day. I have not seen Scotland look this beautiful for months. It is bathed in that clear, ancient, amber light, the one that always makes me think of old Italy. The colours are singing their vivid song. Everything is filled with clarity.

It’s so funny. It was another perfect day, in the spring last year, when my father died. I remember walking round and round the block, in the impossible sunshine, carrying my violent grief with me. It was so physical that I had to keep moving, or I felt I too would die. After the fifth lap, the Duchess and the Pigeon actually staged a sit-in, lying down on the path and refusing to move another step. They had never seen me walk like that in their lives, and their canine faces registered clearly their astonishment and mild disapproval.

In the early morning, I took the Pidge up to the Mother and Stepfather, so they could have their last farewell. The Sister and I went up to the horses. The mountain was as grand and gracious as I have ever seen her, dark violet with a pristine white cap of snow. Myfanwy and Red were at their dearest and sweetest and happiest, basking in the winter sun.

We worked with them for a bit, happy to be in the open air, in the mud, in the earth. There were all the good smells: the lovely scent of the horses’ coats, the clean sharp metal tang of the cold, the solid aroma of grass and earth.

The great-nephew was blithely zooming about on his small tractor, smiling all over his little face. Children are very good at this time, a vivid reminder of life going on. The World Traveller came over and we talked and talked, in the sun. Surrounded by the family love and the horse love, I felt, for an hour, purely happy.

Then I took the Pigeon down to see the Younger Niece, for their goodbye. It was very sweet and honest and true. We took a lot of photographs. The sunshine dazzled over the blue hill, and the old lady painted one last smile on her face.

We took our final walk, up the long avenue with the beeches and Wellingtonias and ancient oaks. It is one of my favourite walks. In the old days, the Pigeon used to bound out in front, racing to left and right, finding glorious smells, putting up rabbits, snuffling for moles. She used to jump over the cattle grid like a stag. Now she trotted slowly at my heel, sticking to me like a faithful shadow.

I could see our actual shadows on the path in front of me: dog and human, etched in black by the glittering sun. I thought: it will be awfully strange not having that shadow. It will be very odd being just one, instead of two. I shall have to concentrate hard, to get used to that.

Then I brought her inside, and settled her on her bed. She is lying there now as I write, just next to me. She has all the best blankets over her, the really posh one I bought in a fit of folly from the Highgrove shop, the precious vintage Welsh blanket that came all the way from Hay on Wye. There is a chicken simmering in the pot on the stove, just in case I can persuade her to take one more delicious morsel to eat.

I am, madly, making her a playlist. She’s going to listen to the good classical stuff for the rest of the afternoon. I am embracing cliché and obviousness and going for all the blatant old favourites, so there is Albinoni, and Bach, and Offenbach, and ten different kinds of Mozart. There is Barber and Mahler and Pachelbel’s canon, the first piece of classical music I ever loved, played to me by The Older Brother when I was eight years old. There is a Chopin nocturne, and Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, and For Unto Us a Child is Born from Handel’s Messiah.

I was going to count the ways, for you, all the reasons I love this creature so much; I was going to make a list of her great qualities. But I’ve written enough, and my fingers are tired. I don’t need lists; I don’t need to spell it out.

She is just a really, really good dog. She gave me joy and I loved her well. I shall be bereft without her.


Today’s pictures:

1 Nov 1

1 Nov 2

1 Nov 3

1 Nov 15

1 Nov 18

1 Nov 18-001

1 Nov 18-002

1 Nov 19-001

My two dear consolations:

1 Nov 21

1 Nov 23

And their view:

1 Nov 20-001

Saying goodbye to The Younger Niece:

1 Nov 19

With me:

1 Nov 20

1 Nov 22

One final sniff of the good old Scottish earth:

1 Nov 22-001

Sunshine and shadows of the last walk:

1 Nov 25

No more use for the stick:

1 Nov 34

It is this noble face that tells me, more than anything, that it is time to go:

1 Nov 35

She is not in any distress or pain. She is doing that wonderful, honest thing that dogs do: she is shutting down.

When I was young, I never understood that Dylan Thomas poem, the one that goes: rage, rage against the dying of the light. I thought that accepting the inevitability of death was a good thing. Then I grew older, and I knew more what he meant, and I thought one should rage, that we should all fight with every last breath in us.

Now, I watch this dear creature slowly shut herself down, with a fatalistic dignity. It is very simple for her. All her animal instincts are telling her plain, good things. She is going gentle into that good night, and I am glad for it. Gentleness was always one of her defining characteristics, and it is exactly what we need now.

The hill, absurdly lovely on this strange day:

1 Nov 33


  1. I am sobbing. I never sob. This is so beautifully written and so graceful-- everybody involved in it is so graceful-- I wish you and the Pigeon and your family as much peace as possible.

  2. I also am sobbing, and looking at the space where my beautiful boy used to lie. Your writing makes me miss him even more. Tania you really do sum up the wonder and truth of these amazing better beings. I'll think of you both tomorrow.

  3. Oh the darling Pidge. What a trooper! Dissolved in tears here and sending much love to you both.
    Imogene x

  4. Thinking of you. Having had to come to terms with a lot of death - human and animal - this year, my heart is breaking for you. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. x

  5. I love your honesty and courage, thinking of you and your lovely dog on this day of days.

  6. My throat is closed and my eyes are leaking despite being in a public library right now. I don't care what I look like to those around me, I just care that Pidge has the most peaceful, beautiful moments with you before she leaves.

    I cannot help thinking how unbelievably lucky you are, which is a strange thing to say right now, but we don't always get this precious time. When my lab passed, I was on a trip and could not get back in time, and had to choke out a goodbye over the phone that was placed by her ear because she was suffering waiting for me. It haunts me. I am so glad you will have this time to say farewell, because even though it is never easy, it will give you comfort when she is gone.

  7. Tania, I am full of tears. So beautiful, so well written, so sad; but the best, the happiest way for her to go.

    It reminds me slightly of my dear father-in-law, who simply fell asleep after being taken into hospital for a burst aneurysm. They made him comfortable, he was happy, he drank tea; and the last thing he did before falling asleep for the last time was the flirt with a pretty nurse.

    Bless you both.

  8. Husband entered the room, said 'why are you crying?'; I reply 'My friend's dog is dying.' Quizzical look but I would defy anyone not to be moved by this. I am so, so sorry Tania. Lou x

  9. Thinking of you. Gorgeous post, and that pic of you and Pidge is utterly wonderful. xx

  10. Never had a dog. Never had one die. Until now. That is the power of your writing. I hope that power sustains you, as it should.

  11. This cat person is streaming with tears at your dog-island sadness. You are right, in my experience people and animals just start shutting down when they are ready to go. We who are being left behind must just do our best to make them comfortable with all the grace we can find within ourselves. And let them go...
    Thinking of you both.

  12. Blind with the tears here, they're all with me in memories as I write - Fig and Mum and Dad.
    Your writing has never moved me more.
    Dearest Pigeon, softest of dogs. I'll miss you more than I can say.
    Dearest bravest Tania, all my love go with you.

  13. Oh, Tania. Those photos. I'm so sorry. And yet, it's a last day that any of us would be lucky to have.

    I'm typing this with a tight throat and eyes full of tears; I feel like you've brought the Pigeon to us to say goodbye as well. I'll be thinking of you both tomorrow.

  14. A beautiful post and a wonderful tribute to the Pidge. You will both be in my thoughts tonight and tomorrow. There's just no way to avoid the pain of parting, but good memories help you through each day.

  15. I am so sad for you (and, to be honest, for myself, since I know I'll have to face an identical situation before too long). But I was talking to an elderly man earlier today, who spoke about his grandmother whom he'd never known and who'd died at 48 exactly 100 years ago. He remembered his aunt telling him that the day before her mother's death had been an exceptionally happy one for her, and that fact was important enough to be remembered and celebrated in the family for a century. And you're doing the same thing for your lovely dog - courage and peace to your both.

  16. Love to you both.

  17. Thank you for this beautiful truth. The dear Pigeon and the inspiring you. You make me glad to be alive. Thank you. Tomorrow we will all be thinking of you both with love and tears.

  18. So grateful that you are there for her. This is as it should be. Too early, always too early, but as it should be -- on her terms, in her way. You are giving her that.

    All the sympathy in the world can't take away the pain, but it's all anyone else can give. Damn . . . you pay with the courage of these last few days for all the years of joy. The Pigeon is the best.


  19. "Going gently"....noble, gracious, classy, what a lovely, loving dog, Pigeon.

    XX Pat

  20. Almost unbearable to read this, yet her last day is just as it should be. My heart is with you and your beautiful girl right now.

  21. So much beauty and so much sadness. You don't need to make a list for us. We know. Your love for her shines. Wishing you courage and Pidgeon, peace.

  22. In tears as I read this. Our animals take our hearts hostage and leave such an incredible hole in our lives when they go.

  23. Dear Tania

    I read your blog every single day but rarely comment. Today it would seem churlish not to. Thank you for all the wonderful stories and photos of dear Pigeon and the Duchess and now, of course, the delightful; horses. As I write this my own dogs, an ageing black labrador and a young Saluki-collie cross, are sprawled out by my feet, after a blissful walk in the autumn sunshine, followed by their favourite supper. It is a privilege to share my life with them and your writing always reminds me of just how special the bond between a woman and her companion animals can be. I think we might light a candle in honour of the Pigeon tonight.

    I recently found this quote from Milan Kundera and, by chance, included it on my blog this morning. I'll pass it on to you because . . . well, just because.

    'Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace.'

  24. Oh I'm so sad for you. You are so honest & open. I'm in tears. All best wishes to you & all your people at this sad time. X

  25. Wishing the gracious and lovely Pigeon a very fond farewell. Sending much love to you both
    Jules xx

  26. Floods of tears here in New Zealand, not only for you and The Pidge but also for a wonderful Irish Setter and many cats that we have been through this situation with. Your post brought back so many memories. Will be thinking of you both tomorrow.

  27. You will be bereft but for very the best of all reasons: you love and are loved.

    This blog is exquisite in both its beauty and pain. Goodbye Pigeon x

  28. Oh, the Dear Readers. So many of you have been here from the beginning, and feel like old friends. I wish I had the concentration and energy to reply to each of you in turn, but my brain has, as you may imagine, turned to mush, and my fingers are crabbed.

    The darling Pidge is gently sinking, and we sit on the sofa and watch the hunter's moon rise, and watch old episodes of The West Wing.

    Your comments make me weep, but in a good way, out of gratitude and a sort of astonished fondness. The kindness of strangers, indeed. And very, very reassuring for my mad faith in the goodness of people. A lot of the internet disproves this this theory, but this little corner franks it: people are, mostly, good. I cannot tell you how comforting I find this.

    Thank you is too paltry a sentiment, but, all the same, I send you sincere thanks.

  29. A v kind vet gave me a final half hour with my Nero, undoubtedly one of the daftest labs in a pretty strong field, I made the mistake of flicking a tennis ball and he jumped up on completely crocked legs to fetch it for me then settled down again in my lap - feeling for you big time.

  30. Lots of tears for you in these last hours and for the many losses, both human and animal, we have all known. You and lovely blinky eyed Pigeon will be held in a lot of people's thoughts, both now and tomorrow.

  31. I remember reading 'The Once and Future King' on the train once and thinking how beautiful and how sad this passage was. I thought that you might like to have it as it's a good end for a faithful loving friend. I am thinking of you and Pigeon on this last night. Much love and tears to you both - you have given darling Pigeon the most wonderful last day. I'll be thinking of you both tonight and tomorrow.

    "He stroked Beaumont's head and said, "Hark to Beaumont. Softly, Beaumont, mon amy. Oyez a Beaumont the valiant. Swef, le douce Beaumont, swef, swef." Beaumont licked his hand but could not wag his tail. The huntsman nodded to Robin, who was standing behind, and held the hound's eyes with his own. He said, "Good dog, Beaumont the valiant, sleep now, old friend Beaumont, good old dog." Then Robin's falchion let Beaumont out of this world, to run free with Orion and roll among the stars."

  32. Oh Tania, I am so sad for you. Not for her, because she was well loved and has not suffered, but for you I am weeping. In the end, as you say, love is love, and although it is better to have had it than to not have had it, oh, it hurts so when you are losing the loved one. I will be thinking of you.

  33. My heart is so sore for you and my eyes are full of tears. I am so, so sorry. Thank you for sharing your beautiful girl's last days with us. She is just such a darling and to see her face in the pictures above brings such a lump to my throat.
    I will thinking of you tomorrow with much love. xx

  34. I am so very sorry, but I am glad that you and the Pidge have your dignity and the love you share will link you together no matter what. Much love to you both.

  35. Beautiful. Oh Tania, my heart is breaking for you and for Pigeon. She is loved worldwide, and we shall all miss her... I am so glad you have pictures of yourself with her.

  36. I could hardly read this. I logged on with hope. But I understand your words and the dignity of pidge. My heart is really sore for you as Em has said. I will be thinking of you both tomorrow.

  37. Much love to the gentle, loving and most unbearably adorable Pidge.
    My eyes are full of tears and my heart is filled with a grave, profound joy for having been able to share through your words this most sacred of times.
    This kind of closeness with another living being is a real priviledge.

    Cristina XX

  38. PS: of this entire beautiful post, two things struck me particularly hard: the first three paragraphs ("her stick is of no more interest to her"), and the B&W photo of you with the Pigeon, nose to nose.

  39. Oh Tania, I am so sorry.. All thoughts are with you and Pidge tomorrow. I am glad you have such a loving family to comfort you. There really are no words but you have found such beautiful ones. Wishing you peace, Rachel

  40. I have nothing to add that is the least bit helpful. But I do want to say that you and your dear dog will be much in our thoughts not just tomorrow, but indelibly. Your words make the personal universal.

  41. Crying for you and will be thinking of you both tomorrow. This was such a beautiful post, you made her last day so perfect. Thank you for sharing her with us and for that picture of you with her.

  42. Ah - when you see that quiet shutting down, you know it is time.

    Thank you for sharing Pigeon, your life with her and your love for her with us. That is no small thing.

    Be kind to yourself, be with her when she goes if you can.

    Best hugs, Erika

  43. Tania - what a beautiful farewell to the beautiful Pigeon. Rest in peace sweet Pigeon. My thoughts are with you Tania....
    ~ Tammy

  44. My thoughts are with you in this moment as you let go and share your beautiful, beautiful words and love for Pigeon with us.

  45. My love to you and your sweet girl.

  46. You are doing the right thing. For your family, yourself, and for Pidge. Sometimes when things get bad you need to hear that.

    Hugs, and tears, and love.

  47. Thinking of you today Tania. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this beautiful post.

  48. I am remembering another "shutting down" last summer. Our pain and grief was a salute to her dignity. She knew it was time and we could only support her and allow her the peace to leave. I shall think of you both with love today --- I have loved your blog and photographs for some time even though I have never told you so. Thank you.

  49. Utterly heartbreaking. Thinking of you today x

  50. I'm so glad you had a beautiful last day with her. She's a beautiful loving dog and I'm so sorry for your loss.

  51. Tears ...

    How proud you must be to have such a famous dog. How she is loved.

    I can see Orion from my kitchen so tonight I will look up to see Pidge running free with Orion and rolling among the stars.

  52. Brought to your blog via a friend on Facebook, I didn't expect to be in floods of tears this sunny Friday morning. But I am, because like so many of your readers I share your pain at the incipient loss of a dearly-loved member of your family.

    Pets are never "just a dog" or "just a cat" to their owners. They bring us the sweetest love that we are ever likely to experience, with no hidden agenda, simply the implicit desire that we care for them and do right by them.

    At the end of their days we have to take that hard, hard step and help them to leave this life with dignity, although it rips our hearts to shreds. It is the kindest thing we can do; the last reward for sunny walks or furry snuggles that we have enjoyed.

    Be strong. xx

  53. Tania, this is just beautiful. I shall be thinking of you today, and I shall miss The Pigeon, just as I miss her sister, despite only ever knowing them virtually. Take care of yourself, and of Red and Myfanwy.

  54. I have read your posts for a while now but have never left a comment before. I have enjoyed reading about your dogs, and now your horses, and the other topics that interest you. This was a lovely tribute to Pidge, and my heartfelt wishes are with you both.

  55. Dear Tania, what a fabulous memoir you will have of your time with her. I love reading your blog and today you have made me cry. We dog owners are soft to the core, they know that or they would not love us back as they do. I will be thinking of you both today and wish you peace xxxx

  56. Oh god I am so very sorry, but also so pleased that this dog had such utter, complete and faithful love from you. I cannot imagine any dog would have had a better life, and for that I think every moment of sadness as she goes is completely, utterly worth it for what you both had. My thoughts are with both of you today. Lots of love.

  57. My heart goes out to you, as anyone who has ever loved and been loved by a dog would know. She has such a noble head and loving knowing eyes. Just reading the first few lines and I reached for the tissues. A light will go out in your life, and yet remember - and she will come back to you. Many hugs xx

  58. Sending much love and tears from America. I have grown to love both your dogs and your writing from afar, and this was a lovely tribute to a lovely dog. Her sister awaits her in Dog Heaven.

  59. I have never commented on your blog, but I have read it faithfully for many months now. My heart is pulling at my tearducts, and I'm pulling in breath through a pipe that wants to close. I didn't "know" the Pidge for very long, but I will miss her, too. What a wonderful tribute to one of God's special creatures. Thinking of you during this difficult time.


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