Some of you will know this already from Facebook, and my thanks for kind messages...we've said goodbye to our ageing Labrador Barney this week. Bought for the young Gamekeeper by the Tinker from a very local breeeder and given the Kennel Club name RobsMate Barney, just because we could and because everything that had gone before seemed so posh, and we weren't.
Heading for fifteen is a good age for a Labrador but it was the rightest moment in the grand scheme of things, having half-made the decision twice if not three times in the last year or so. We'd decide, get ourselves psyched up and then be confounded when his creaking joints miraculously un-creaked and he would look us in the eye, say 'Not likely,' and skip out of the kennel, bouncing round the field like a puppy.
We'll get him through the Winter and give him a lovely warm garden Summer we decided, but not another Winter. But in the end it was clear he was in a lot of pain, and trekking up to the woods with us out of faithfulness rather than pleasure, yet if we left him behind he howled until we came back and we could hear his gruff, high-low cuckoo bark (Barney's very own distress call) echoing around the valley.
It's the toughest thing about pets isn't it, this departing, and the closing of that chapter of your life spent with them and all that has happened in that time. For us, three children grown and flown. Barney was never a small dog, the huge paws gave it away even as a puppy and he would emerge from his kennel like a jump jet, bouncing three feet off the ground on the spot and greeting you with the same unbridled joy every single time. But for all that he was a gentle dog, he really let the canine side down because he adored cats, they weren't for chasing they were for licking; Rocky would take any amount of it and Magnus too. And he was a scamp too, unguarded rubbish bins were always for emptying and scattering around the garden.
We gave him a fine last day on Thursday, last walk to the woods, last Bonio, last hugs, before our lovely vet came to us at home and wafted him off on his peaceful journey in a corner of the garden that Barney loved whilst cradled in Bookhound's arms.
I took Nell up to the woods, now a carpet of bluebells, whilst it was in progress. Up the green lane, through a vale of sniffly tears and it occurred to me how often we have walked that thinking path, and what emotions must have been taken up and scattered there through history.
Holloways have so many uses.
To our surprise the vet recommended that we let Nell see Barney before we buried him, so we did and it was quite extraordinary. They have had a lovely rapport this last year, he endlessly tolerant of her playfulness and puppy ways, she looking up to his seniority in the pack (it was always Barney who initiated the call for someone to go out and feed them at 5pm) and always keeping an eye out and waiting for him to catch up, the slowest ship in the convoy on any walk.
Nell rushed across to Barney, him looking for all the world as if he was asleep in the sun, and did her usual rolling-around-look-at-me-Barney-aren't-I-gorgeous routine before realising that something was different, eventually just sitting by him quietly and calmly, looking at him and at us. How normal it all felt and how odd that we invest dogs with so many human emotions and characteristics, yet feel we should spare them that moment to understand and say goodbye in whatever way dogs do it, who can know.
We tucked him up and had a little ceremony, and as luck would have it the Tinker and I had lifted all the daffodils ready to plant elsewhere, so bless him, Barney will be pushing up a grand display over in woodshed corner come the Spring.