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This dates from early 2000. As forecast, Peanuts the Jack Russell died that spring. Her ashes remain unsprinkled, sitting in a little box on my mantelpiece. Somehow, the right time hasn’t come along.
lazarus 7 - a dog's life
I can't kill my dog.
Cue pedal steel guitar, Loretta Lynn vocal…
But no, this is not some Country and Western dirge about putting a bullet into faithful old Shep.
It's about Peanuts the dog, Jack-Russell-cross-whippet, my companion of 16 years. Who used to be the fittest living thing I have ever met, 20 pounds of ripped muscle, charged with a galvanic energy. She could run backwards as fast as forwards. She could shoot up vertical tree trunks after squirrels. She once launched herself off a 20-foot cliff and ricocheted off the beach below, unhurt. A favourite trick was rise in a standing jump from all fours without any apparent muscular effort, perform a 360-degree flat spin, and land back in the same position.
Letting her into a confined space - particularly, dear God, a car - was like letting off a balloon: there would ensue a random bouncing off every surface, accompanied by a pandemonium of frenzied yaps (the one thing I welcome in her old age is her silence). As my young nephew once said, she was the boingiest dog ever.
This would have been unbearable if she had been aggressive. But she inherited from the whippet part of her nature a sweet vulnerability. She has been a little Chinese gymnast, a gamine, an Audrey Hepburn of a dog.
No more. She is completely blind from cataracts I can't afford to have fixed. She is almost as deaf. Her teeth are failing and her breath stinks. Her fur is dry and stary. She sleeps 23 hours a day and only wakes up to drag herself to the feeding bowl.
And don't tell me animals have no awareness of mortality. Oh, this creature may not actually know that it will cease to exist, but it clearly senses something wrong. When she walks into a door she can't see, or attempts the old bouncing regime but instead has a coughing fit, she is thrown into a pathetic, scrambled panic. I recently lost her in a park. The creature that eventually came back, muddy from being bowled over in puddles by big boy dogs she couldn't see, was so terrified it took her 20 minutes to recognise me.
I realised something would have to be done soon when we went on holiday and had her dog-sat by an almost equally decrepit neighbour. When we came back the kitchen floor was so soaked in doggy piss that the wooden tiles had come up and had to be replaced. "You've got to get rid of her," said my boyfriend LoveRat.
But I can't. I'm scared of the heartbreak.
Isn't it stupid how people get attached to creatures they can't converse with? After she had her dog, an equally lovable Labrador/greyhound, put to sleep, my mother displayed more overt grief than she did when her husband died.
No, it's not stupid. The lovely thing about dogs is their emotional transparency. Even kids play mindgames, but with dogs, what you see is what you get. It's wonderful to have a creature around that approaches life with such dumbass, unmediated joy. Even dogs' anger, guilt and fear are equally naked, equally passing, equally untwisted. In the old days I would take Peanuts into gay bars. In one particularly laid-back one she was allowed to run along the bar, in defiance of hygiene regulations. Invariably, every hard-ass leather daddy in the place would go gaga over her: "Oh, isn't she cute! Aren't you lovely!"
If men stroked me and told me I was lovely every time I walked into a bar, well, I'd have no problems in this world.
But no, the real reason I can't get rid of Peanuts is because she was Paul's dog. She is the last living thing to share the attributes of my lover Paul Lever, who died of AIDS five days into 1990. Even now, I say: if you want to know what Paul was like, look at his dog. He shared her good looks, her sinewy muscularity, and her emotional rawness. And he was a loud-mouthed nutcase who wouldn't stop yapping.
He was also a violent alcoholic, but hey, with boyfriends, unlike with dogs, there's no such thing as free love.
The first time I saw her was the first time I went to Paul's house, and the first thing I saw there, when I went into the kitchen, was this dog's head appearing and disappearing, as if jerked by strings, up and down behind the half-glazed kitchen door. I took her out for a walk; or, rather, I walked, while she raced around me in wall-of-death circles, screaming. I decided then that, though I was still uncertain about Paul, I'd certainly fallen for his dog.
And then there was the other end of our relationship, when the 29-year old Sarf London skinhead had turned into a shuffling little old man that pooped his pants. I felt quite enough irrational guilt when Paul died. I had been emotionally cold, I hadn't understood his vulnerability, I hadn't tried hard enough to stop him drinking, I'd taken him on a plane during his final pneumonia and killed him (all rubbish). How much more guilty am I going to feel when I authorise the vet to execute Paul's dog by lethal injection?But it's coming, and LoveRat will just have to put up with me. I will take the blind thing that inhabited life with gut-busting happiness for 16 years, and have that life ended. And I will collect her ashes from the vet's, and take them up to the cemetery on the hill beside the North Circular, and I will scatter them on Paul's grave, and at last reunite master with pet. And I will cry and cry.