Our dear companion, #happycat Poe, died on Wednesday.We came downstairs on Tuesday morning to find that she had had a stroke. Her head was twisted sharply to the left. She wouldn’t eat her food – even the most freshly cooked salmon couldn’t tempt her.She was still managing to walk around, but collapsed into short sleeps, exhausted by the effort.On Tuesday night, we mossed her up. She slept in one of her favourite places next to Stephen on the sofa.And the next day, we picked her up very gently from her flowery bed and took her to the vet.She has been our excellent companion for over 19 years – she was a very very old lady. You can may have read about her early life with us here, and some of you may remember also reading how worried we were earlier this year, when two younger cats came to live with us. Despite our misgivings, that was not a problem. The three cats learned that they had to share human attention, whether in the morning …Or round the fire in the evening …You might even think Ilsa and Poe were friendly companions here … Sadly the picture also highlights Poe’s loss of weight against the plumper Ilsa.Sometimes the new kits were a little bit mean … now kits, it’s not nice to mock poor Poe who just wants to get into the house …Our little Poe became markedly more absent-minded in these last days. We would find her asleep in odd places…But she could surprise us too. After two year’s without catching any mice, she recently caught one, showed it to the very interested Ilsa, and then proceded to eat every little bit of it …Oh, she did make us laugh! She was so spoilt with little treats that she grew to expect them long before they were offered.And, on occasion, her love of icecream overwhelmed her.She kept us company as we read …Worked in the conservatory …Our dear friend, Poe, who ventured so bravely up to Northumberland with us – surveying her empire. She was immortalised for us in this wonderful painting by Flo Brooks. #happycat Poe remains with us, in her place on the sofa.
My father died earlier this week. It is deeply deeply sad, and he is much mourned by his family and friends, but it was also a blessed release. He had been unable to walk for some years, and towards the end we discovered that he was suffering from Lewy Body disease.
This is a surprisingly little know neurodegenerative dementia considering that at least 5 percent of 85 year olds are thought to suffer from it. It shares the mental symptoms of confusion and loss of memory with Alzeimer’s, but the really distinguishing feature for many of those suffering from this disease are the visual hallucinations. For many these are visions of animals. In my father’s case, it was a black dog.
I don’t think the black dog was really surprising because there had been a black dog in the family several years ago. Brackler was of mixed Springer and Labrador parentage, and originally came to live with Hugh (my first husband) and me in Devon in 1978. He was a fine dog – almost completely black, apart from a white flash under his chest. Apart from this, he could easily be mistaken for a pure Labrador.However, he had inherited a wild untamed need-to-explore trait from his Springer mother, and when my son was born in 1980, I couldn’t cope with Brackler, so he went to live with my parents in Kent. Memorably, Hugh and my father met to pass Brackler on to his new owners at Guildford Cathedral – a place forever etched in my father’s mind as completely miserable because Hugh was so extremely upset to have to part with his dog.Brackler went on to live an extremely happy life with my parents. When they moved to Budleigh Salterton in 1987, he took to amazing sea swimming. He would swim the entire length of the bay from the red cliffs at the west of the beach to the River Otter without break. A very powerful dog. My father adored him, and grieved terribly when he died in 1992. (They went on to have another dog, Pellow – featured in the photo below.)A couple of days after my father’s death, one early afternoon, we were visited by a black and white collie dog running round the Seaview properties. It was racing around, up into our gardens and off into the fields – a sloppy walker I thought, not walking with their dog conscientiously.
But later in the afternoon, by teatime, it was back – in our garden, nosing around the fat balls that we crumble up for the birds to eat on the path. It ran away when I went up to it – clearly shy and anxious. It had a broken leather lead round its neck, looking as though it had been tied up and pulled free.
It kept on running off into the fields and back into our garden – was clearly hungry. So I went to our neighbours’ house to get Jan and Craig to help me catch it.
They are very experienced dog-owners who originally hailed from Gateshead, but have been tempted to Spittal like us because of the beauty of the place. Jan says she’s half gypsy. She’s a carer, and if I was old, ill or dying, I would like her to care for me – she’s a wonderfully warm woman.
Anyhow, we couldn’t catch the dog. It kept on running off into the fields – miles and miles away, we could just see the small black dot. We were worried because we are quite close to the main eastcoast railway line. Then it would come careering back.
Eventually, Jan got close enough to give it some food. It scoffed everything really quickly. She managed to stroke it – then it bared its teeth, so she left off.
We rang the police – but they won’t help as they no longer have facilities to house lost dogs. I rang the local council dog warden. Somebody else locally had reported the dog. They also wouldn’t help – unless we caught it, and then they would come and take it away.
We just couldn’t catch it, so eventually we tempted it into our greenhouse with food and water, and left a blanket in there for it to sleep in. The idea was that in the morning we hoped to find it asleep, shut the greenhouse door and phone the authorities.
As we hung around in the twilight trying to tempt the collie in, I told Jan that my father had just died. Lightbulb moment! “That’s why the dog is here! It’s come from your dad, he wants you to know he’s alright!”
Stephen and I had a small chuckle about this later in the evening – but it felt curiously comforting.
In the morning the dog was gone
I’m with Hamlet on this one: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
One of my favourite photographs of my father, taken in the garden of No 5 embassy house, Tokyo, during the snowy spring of 1967. Behind is the Diamond Hotel which featured strongly in our childhood dinner conversations as we could see it very clearly from the dining room, and my father would regularly comment on the seasons with the (to me) immortal phrase:” Soon we won’t be able to see the Diamond Hotel any more.” It was code for spring approaching. It is lovely to remember him smiling, happy and having fun!