I’ve always loved greyhounds, their gentle faces, and beautiful muscular frame, and felt for the appalling way they’re treated after their racing days are over. So, three months after Kim’s death we found our way to Crossing Cottage, the Retired Greyhound Trust’s Kennels near Newark-on-Trent. Katy was the last dog we saw as we walked by the kennels – a tall white dog with odd patches of black over her shoulder, rump and face, and a little scar on her long snout – she looked straight at us and wagged her tail. There seemed to be a flare of recognition between us, and we both knew instantly that she was ours.
We spent the next weeks making the garden dog-proof with a six foot high fence, and waiting to be checked before we could bring her home. The irony was that Katy, despite being a retired athlete who’d won seven races, behaved as if she had a physical disability when faced with anything higher than a foot.
I remember the day we went to collect her, waking early, so excited, the journey home, with Katy in the back, and the way she ran all round the house wagging her tail with delight, and then settled down to sleep for the next twenty four hours. Her response to any emotion was always to sleep.
We had eight happy years with her. She was the greediest animal, and her nose was conveniently table-height. She’s stolen a round of brie, a frozen pizza, and a whole box of chocolates – wrapped and ready to give as a present – amongst many other things. But other than that she was a perfect dog with not an aggressive bone in her body. She loved greeting people, went soft with little children, and allowed a rescued cat into the family with no more than over-excitement. To watch her running in circles in the fields was one of the greatest joys, the power in her sleek body, and the way she’d gather speed even as she ran, and then fling herself down panting in the grass.
Two years ago we discovered she had a heart complaint, and I searched out the best vets for her, Adam from Blenheim Vets, and Peter, her homeopathic vet in Dorset. She lived happily for longer than we hoped, still enjoying her walks, though slowly with much sniffing, and loving her visits to friends. Her collapse was sudden, and the decision I had so long dreaded became clear. As we lay on the floor of the surgery with her, stroking her and telling her how wonderful she’d been, she seemed to know it was the end, and when Adam slipped in the needle, she drifted away as if truly asleep.
I walked in the mist the next day. The sorrow was sharp and profound, as if returning to all the grief ever known, and the next breath, the next step seemed insurmountable. But blessedly those moments don’t last, and now sadness comes in waves as I find myself going to fill her water bowl, smooth the blanket in her bed, or anticipate her greeting when arriving home.
How short the duration of a dog’s life, and how completely it frames a particular time in our own. Over the eight years Katy lived with us my father, mother-in-law and aunt have died, my son left to live the other side of the world, and then returned, and five little cousins were born. And for the moment Katy seems to be with me, not as she was, but something half-seen, sensed – the memory of a dearest presence, and something more than that too – the gentle, redeeming, eternally creative nature of love.