Over two years ago now The Power of our Pets was a guest post on the much missed, A Woman’s Wisdom. Sadly no longer available I’ve reposted it here, and added an update because some of you have been kind enough to ask.
‘When Bodicia invited me to write this guest post I told her I was off out with my dogs and I’d mull over what I’d write about while I walked. As it was I’d decided before I’d left the house. For various reasons, but mostly because this is what is exercising my brain at the moment, I’m writing this as it spills out and whilst I will attempt to tidy up behind myself I fear this post will start in one place and end up somewhere very different.
I’ve always been interested in the link between animals and people and I like the way animal forms are used to portray the souls of people in literature. From Harry Potter where for the most accomplished witches and wizards the Patronus Charm produces a guardian which is a projection of their most positive feelings, taking the form of an animal with which they share the deepest affinity. To the Philip Pullman Northern Lights trilogy where the characters are accompanied by their own dæmon such as Lyra’s Pantalaiman (Pan). Pan provides a cautious and level headed counterpoint to Lyra’s impulsive, inquisitive and sometimes reckless character. What I particularly liked about Pan was his metamorphosis. When we first meet him he is a moth but through the story changes form from eagle to ermine, wildcat and mouse amongst others eventually settling as Lyra reaches adulthood into a pine marten. Pullman’s writing of a time when Pan and Lyra are separated is painfully heartbreaking and shows how truly deep that bond can be.
Horses, dogs and the occasional cat have always been part of my life though very few of them have ever been mine. However, I’ve found that that doesn’t matter, there are just some animals that touch us so deeply, that we are so in tune with that it devastates us when they are gone. This was never shown more viscerally than in a raw and emotional post from Phil Conquest on the untimely death of his beloved Brando. (Sadly that post no longer exists).
With nothing approaching the intensity of Pullman I have animals in my books, four horses and a dog to be precise. To clarify for anyone that this has just put off from ever picking up one of my books, my plots are not about these animals but they are an integral part of the storyline.
You know that bit in the front of all our books where we say ‘All characters appearing in this work are fictitious…’? Well I have to confess that a couple of mine are quite close to the reality that I have borrowed from life and were written because of the power these characters can have over us. They are not exact copies, that wouldn’t be right, but bits and pieces of them here and there.
A couple of brief examples of minor borrows are that Benjy is based on a pony I once knew called Toffee and Zodiac is the name of the pony I used to fight fiercely to get on at my riding school although the actual Zodiac was nothing like the one in my book. The strongest resemblance to any horse I’ve known though is Regan. He is based on a horse I used to ride for someone until a couple of years ago.
I have been lucky enough on a few occasions in my life to ride some truly exquisite horses. Yet XXXX (and I shall protect his anonymity as I didn’t own him) though lacking in the breeding and training they often had outshone them all. He was a magnificent Irish Draught X hunter type standing at 17hh, which is mighty tall for the uninitiated among you, dark bay, handsome and whilst packed full of fun and mischief was always the perfect gentleman. Although a big horse he had a short stride so rode much smaller making every ride exhilarating, every moment on his back a joy.
I’ll give you an example, once we were cantering along a track that ended in a five barred gate. I knew he could jump, his owner had told me of his abilities but that wasn’t what I was meant to be doing with him however every time we came along this track he’d light up just at the sight of this gate. On this particular occasion someone had parked an old mini metro in front it. Not fazed in the slightest I felt his head come up in anticipation, his muscles bunching as his quarters came under me, his whole body ready and quivering with an anticipation that whispered seductively to me ‘Come on girl, we can do this’. I was tempted, I can tell you, oh so tempted but despite my adrenaline junkie tendencies I didn’t…he wasn’t mine you see, not mine to risk.
We had some terrific times together and he was never anything other than glorious, getting me into and out of many high-tailed shenanigans, scrapes and situations that both of us should have known better about tackling but totally heroic in every aspect he was always there ready to catch me should I ever be in danger of falling – if he’d been a man he’d have been a keeper for sure.
There came a time a while later when I was totally shocked to be told he was going to be put down the next day. It was that short stride of his you see, his conformation caused a condition to develop that meant constant pain for him and the vet was no longer willing to keep him going with cortisone injections and daily painkilling drugs. I remember hugging him for the last time, the warm dustiness of his coat as he stood patiently waiting for me to get whatever this was out of my system so that he could get on with his grazing. He wasn’t even mine but I was left heartbroken such was the power he had over me – the horse of a lifetime.
The second character I’ve ‘borrowed’ is indeed a pet and my very own, Poppy. Now the dog in my book, Susie, does not look like Poppy at all (more like Poppy’s mother actually, shhhh!) but when I write her it is Poppy I have in mind. Twelve and a half years ago now Poppy came to us as a puppy but became my dog people tell me because I am where the food and walks come from. I’d like to think it is more than that.
I remember feeling dismayed to find out that whenever I left the house she lay by the front door until I walked back in, walking off nonchalantly as soon as she heard my key in the door as if it didn’t really matter if I was in or not. I should add here that she is also the Coolest Dog in the World! The matriarchal dog in our village and, having set her stall out when a young and feisty thing, she is Queen of all she surveys.
She is under my desk when I work (right now!), in the kitchen when I cook and not being allowed upstairs she consoles herself at night by lying on the corner step of the stairs, just in case she is needed. My better half has often said ‘There’s something of the darkness about that dog’ and I’m not talking the Justin ‘Flames out of his Groin’ Hawkins kind of Darkness either…she’s just not a bubbly person… but we get along just fine, well matched if you will. She too is scruffy…
Poppy became ill just before Christmas; I took her to the vets then on to the animal hospital for rigorous tests and fortunately after being diagnosed with a severe bladder infection she was pumped full of antibiotics and sent home. Wonderfully within only a couple of days she was bouncing around again like a spring lamb, wanting to fight with our other dog and feeling much better.
Over the years and through various states of emotional turmoil I have often wondered about my ability to love which may seem like an odd thing to say but there have been times when I’ve wondered if I love anyone or anything. Yet others when the love I feel is too much, too real, too raw…and then I came across this quote: –
“The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost.” G K Chesterton
And here’s the thing. Whilst undergoing the intensive tests the vets found something else, something sinister and suddenly we had choices to make. A major operation and 6 months of chemo to give her more time or, allow her to live out her days naturally. It took a week before I was even able to discuss this and I look at her now and deep down know I was right, that it was right for her, to opt for B but part of me feels I should be throwing everything veterinary science has to offer at her, that I have failed her by not doing so and I can’t help but keep wishing that we didn’t know. If she hadn’t been ill we would never have found out until it was too late but now I watch her and fret if she doesn’t eat, thinking, is this it? If she doesn’t want her milk, is this it? Such is the power she has over me.
We were given a timescale which is just too sad to print here but I don’t know what to do with that time. I feel I should be doing something, such as taking her on her favourite walks…I tried but it felt falsely morbid, like it was going to be the last time she’d get to pee on that particular patch of soil. Or taking more photos, while she eyes me with suspicion as I snatch snapshots of her soul. Or more cuddles, that’s not our thing and she’d wonder what I was up to whilst shrugging me off muttering something about being too hot.
There are extra treats and the rules she’s grown up under have been relaxed or rather she’s pushed at the boundaries such as her blatant wandering through the border in our garden. Previously forbidden territory yet done now with a glance over at me and the unspoken knowledge that this is not going to be forever.
What it comes down to is this, we are not needy creatures, I don’t seek affection from her and she doesn’t crave my attention, we just are and as long as she is there and as long as I am there then we’re fine….
And so onto the update…
Poppy was given three to six months, but she lived a further two and a half years. We finally lost her six weeks ago after she’d spent one final glorious day eating well and coming out on an afternoon walk in the sun.
I’d have said something earlier, but, well, you know.
RIP Poppa, aka The Best Dog in the World!
“The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost.” G K Chesterton’