We were yet to be married and we had found an advert for lurcher puppies in a free local newspaper. We picked her up from a farm in Norfolk in October 2000. She was our first dog. She cost £90, was 8 weeks old and as long as a tube of Pringles, with a stumpy snout, stripes between her eyes and along her legs, little silken triangle ears and a white bib. Her Dad was a rescue greyhound called Mac, her mum a working collie called Gin. They were devoted to one another.
In her first few months with us Minnie liked to sleep curled up on my knee like a little fox. She would find Autumn leaves outside, trot indoors with them very proudly and carefully shred them on the carpet. Her passion for leafcraft only lasted a few weeks, but we made up a song about it and still sang it to one another occasionally when she became an old dog lady.
I’ve written about Minnie’s adventures before: her drugs shame, her smashed leg, her miraculous self-healing tendons, her Mystic Meg-like ability to know when I was pregnant and her snarling indignance when suitors wanted to make the dog with two backs. She reminded me of Bette Davis, or perhaps Bet Lynch: stoic, resourceful, feisty and indefatigable. A shining mongrel queen who adored cheese, bad smells and us.
When our small daughters came along she was immensely gentle and patient. Neither of them were interested in dressing up or in dolls. Instead they swaddled Minnie in floral fabrics, crafted special wigs for her and turned her into a dog fairy.
Her ears would droop very slightly at the indignity and her expression seemed to say:
‘I did not choose these accessories. I am wearing them for my people’
People speak of dogs having empathy. Minnie brimmed with it. Our family has been through a great deal in the past 10 years. On tricky days she would approach quietly, place her head on the lap that needed it most and leave it there, eyes wide, ears immensely soft.
She knew. She was helping. Sometimes she would offer a cheering gift at times of crisis: a sock from the washing basket, a stick, a piece of coal or something ghastly she had found in the garden. She was a gentle, hairy, wordless counsellor. The bearer of kindly, smelly gifts.
She had many hobbies. Her Tinder profile might have read: I love eating sheep poo, licking my own bottom, woofing loudly at Countryfile and rolling in vile things. When Eldest was small and I still worked in an office we had a cleaner for a while. One day I returned to a note from her that read ‘There is a something under the table’. She had decided not to tackle the something, had placed some kitchen towel over it and gone home. I didn’t blame her at all. It was horrifying, was somehow simultaneously hairy, liquid and looming and I still cannot fathom what it was or how Minnie produced it.
Her lurcher speed was legendary. For years she was the fastest dog in the village and easily lapped the other dogs in the motley races they all took round the rec on morning walks. Then one day a greyhound moved in up the road. She launched into one of the dog races and was expecting to trounce the other hounds as usual. His legs were longer and she hadn’t noticed. He overtook her, easily. She almost screeched to a Scooby-Doo style halt, affronted that another dog might be faster. Then she sloped off in a sulk. I may be anthropomorphising slightly but she refused to pit herself against him from then on.
As she slowed slightly she became the canine equivalent of the poem ‘Warning’, that opens ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’. We had trained her not to steal food, especially birthday cakes and roasts, not to use the settee as a doggo daybed and not to beg at the table. As she approached 100 in dog years she could no longer be dogged about this sort of etiquette. She burgled toast, bacon sandwiches, crisps and whole packs of cheese. Life was too short to be remorseful. Her pursuit of tasty snacks was relentless and unwavering. She left 100 behind, her eyes clouded with cataracts and her old wobbly back legs became wobblier but she still sought pork products with a passion. Hiding all the sausages and cheese in her gob was her life’s work.
Then late last summer she collapsed and couldn’t stand for 5 days. The vet spoke of a serious neurological event. We had to carry her outside to go to the loo. We had to make tough decisions about dignity and quality of life and she was on the clock. Get up and walk by Friday or… But then she pulled a Minnie. Just before the vet was going to amputate the leg that had been smashed in the RTA she had at 9 months old she grew a tendon back and avoided being a tripod. In late August 2016, the day before we were to take her to the vet she stood up, wobbled to the door, asked to be let out and inched towards to lawn. She toppled over, got up, went to the loo unaided and secured her reprieve. She was 16. 112 in dog years.
After that she was rather less present. She would forget she’d had her dinner and ask for it again with those Galaxy Minstrel eyes of hers. The fact that she’d only just been out to the loo would slip her mind and she’d ask to go out again a minute or two later. We worried about dog dementia and gave her more cheese and fried foods to assuage our sadness. Her back legs grew even less steady, she would suddenly collapse, right herself, then wobble on. Each time this happened it felt as though someone was squeezing my heart in a vice. Our pal was ambling down an inevitable path. It was a slow motion journey and we were unable to halt her progress. As I wrote my book in the Spring her back end began to slump more frequently. I often slept downstairs with her, yet she still listened when I told her I was worried about the deadlines. She still laid her head on my knee on difficult days.
Then one morning 8 weeks ago we found her. She had collapsed and was unable to get up. A pal had told me that I’d know- that she’d tell me when she was ready. Until that point she’d been cheerful, had pulled her quizzical ‘is there any cheese?’ expressions when she heard the fridge being opened each day. Her back legs let her down every few hours, yet her ears were always jaunty. She was always happy about bacon. She had been content.
We made her comfortable that morning, offered her cheese and she didn’t eat it. Her tail was between her legs, her ears had drooped and they didn’t rally. She looked terribly, terribly tired. She was telling me. She had had enough. It was time.
There has been a yawning hole in our lives and in front of the hearth since then. She had been with us almost 17 years and the depth of her friendship and its benefits were only really evident after she had gone. I would always chat to her when Andy was travelling and the girls were at school. She was my companion, my dear friend. She lived for so long that I think we were in denial about her reaching the end of that path I mentioned. When eventually she died it was a cruel, searing shock. We continued to call out to her when we got home but there was no one there. I still bent down to give her bacon rinds long after she had gone. I’d run downstairs to tell her things before I remembered that she had left. She’d with us for so long that we struggled to adjust to her absence. It hurt like a git.
I’m writing this down this evening because I want to make sure I remember. To many Minnie would have seemed unremarkable: a mongrel with a tail that was a bit too big for her and a head that was a a bit too small. She looked as though she’d bought them down the charity shop for 70p. She had a wonky leg and smudgy stripes and looked like an everyday, quite forgettable sort of dog but to us she was bloody wonderful. A good, good hound. For the love of dog I miss her.
Tomorrow someone new arrives. A rescue lurcher pup. We couldn’t be without a dog any longer. We hope Minnie won’t mind. It’s the beginning of a new dog chapter.
Claire Davies says
Heartbreaking but beautifully written xx
Oh Emma, that is the loveliest and sadest and most wonderful story of the love of a dog…….I have a great big lump in my throat!
And for what’s it worth I think Minnie would thoroughly approve of a new friend for you and your family and I think your new pup is very lucky finding you too!
Ah, what a lovely ode to your much loved pal . She will never be forgotten, but will have paved the way for the new pup who will doubtless have a wonderful life with your family. Have fun welcoming him/her tomorrow !
Tears are running down my face as I read this – beautifully written. To love and be loved by an animal is a very special ❤️ experience.So pleased you are continuing to share your love with a new pup x
Minnie won’t mind.
Glynis Ellis says
That is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful member of your family, Minnie. What a dame she was & what a wonderful life she had with you. She gave to you what she received, pure love & bucket loads of it.💕
She was totally adorable & I know how hard it is to let go, but she was ready & you knew. If it’s possible, I am sure she loved you even more for making that hard decision but it was her time & now a new member of the family is joining you. You’ll have hours of fun & adventures & a new story begins. Never to replace Minnie because there will only ever be one Minnie xx 🐾
What sadness but what lovely memories. I’m glad I met Minnie briefly at a workshop in your home and she quietly made her impression on me too. You won’t forget her. We too had a dog before our sons were born and I remember each of our dachshunds and their very different characters, with love, laughter and tears, and each one taught us how better to love the next. It took me two years to persuade my husband to have another dog after our much loved Maximillian died aged 16 but here we are, owners/servants to Austen and Benedict, our lives (and now also our grand children’s lives) enriched again by the gift of their unconditional love.
Enjoy your new dog, she deserves all the love awaiting her.
Sarah Phelps says
oh, Emma. Such a lump in my throat. Darling Minnie. Beautifully written. xx
Anne Hodgson says
Once you have a pet there is a space in your life where a pet belongs. Nothing else will fill it. I took my 17 y o cat to the vet on a one-way ticket in April. At the end of June I came by another cat needing a home, via Twitter.
Kate MacDonald says
Precious times, heartbreaking memories, hauntingly beautiful words, perfect memorial. Am in floods reading this.
Minnie will be delighted to pass on the mantle of caring for her people to a new pup.
May you have many years of jolly adventures with the Annie.
Val C says
It was an absolute privilege to have met Minnie and stroked those ears and seen her gorgeous eyes watching calmly as you and I wittered over tea for a bit longer than perhaps we should … She was the best of dogs, and more importantly, she was so, so loved. I am sure she’d be happy that your new friend is coming tomorrow – don’t you think she’d be heartbroken if she thought no-one was looking after you all? Sending lots and lots of love xxx
Gillian Moran says
Trying to write through blurry eyes is so hard. This is a beautiful tribute to what so many people see as ‘just a dog’. But Minnie understands. x
I saw a link to this on twitter, am absolutely sobbing. We lost our beautiful girl 3 weeks ago, she was a mutt too. They steal your heart and you have written about it so beautifully.
She won’t mind. (Typing through drips. What an utterly gorgeous post.) I wish you all the very best with the puppy.
Beautiful, and so worth writing down. It made me think of our nineteen year old dear family cat who loved and took care of us in just the same way.
I read this in 2 chunks because of the tears. But oh, you loved her, and oh, she loved you! There are 2 tributes possible to a well-loved dog: that they leave a massive hole, and that you take some of the love they gave you and pass it onto a new dog.
Annie doesn’t know how lucky she is. Not only because she’s going to be your dog, but because Minnie’s spirit will be with her.
All the love to all of you!
Debs Freeman says
Beautiful – I am sure dear Minnie has sent his new pup your way xx
Jane Duke says
Still feel so privileged to have met the glorious Minnie. She was a dog in a million, but I have a feeling Annie is going to be a worthy successor. x
Linda Moore says
Minnie would be happy you are giving love to a new puppy…and getting it back in return. A lovely piece. Thank you.
What a beautiful eulogy to a wonderful dog (no, I’m fine, my eyes always leak like this…).
I was lucky enough to meet Minnie at your workshop last year, and was struck by her gentleness and humanity. I’m sure she would approve of Annie, and maybe even helped organise things that way…
Thank you for sharing these lovely words – this is true soul work, and it gives the rest of us permission to feel these things too.
Oh Emma, how beautifully written, what a lovely tribute to your amazing dog. You have moved me to tears. You were very lucky to have each other I think. I love the photo with the sock. A lot of silent communication going on there. Wonderful that you will have a new lurcher puppy. Maybe Minnie sent her because she knows you’ll give him the best life. We’re at the beginning of a dog story here at the moment. Our first ever puppy, he’s keeping us on our toes. And of course we all adore him, despite the socks and the cables and the books and the furniture and the garden and the frog incident, yes, even despite the frog incident. CJ xx
Claire Stokes says
This is a beautiful tribute to your beloved dog and it’s made me cry … and no, I’m sure your ‘gentle, hairy, wordless counsellor’ won’t mind you having a new pup at all. X
Graceful degradation CK called it, a scientific term so apt for a journey with such a heartbreaking end. Simultaneously they were the hardest and easiest decisions I have ever made. It is a privilege to be able to love them enough to offer that release. In turn, welcome to your new friend.
Archie The Wonder Dog says
A beautiful tribute to a dog whose inner beauty shone out of her big, dark eyes and whose love for bacon and cheese will never be forgotten. Minnie will be happy that you have found another dog to love and I wish you many years of joy with your new companion xx
I got tearful reading your farewell to Minnie post, what a lovely dog and what a wonderful family she had; she must have passed on feeling very loved. I am sure she would not mind a new dog, the next one is never the same and the first is never forgotten. Betty
Alice Auperin says
She was loved x
You actually made me cry. Why? Our dog has developed cancer (and she’s only 7.5 years old) and we go through very difficult times. To stop the flood of tears and cheer us all up we’ve got a puppy. It’s cheering us up big time and the two are best buddies, playing, sharing food and their basket. A life without a dog is a mistake even if your heart is broken many times. They give so much love and happiness and to find such a faithful friend among humans can prove rather tricky. Welcome to your new family member, may you have many happy years together. I always tell myself that we’ll meet them again sometime…on a flower meadow, the sun’s out, clouds are racing past…here’s hoping! Best wishes
Sally Simons says
She was such a part of your family. We have a parrot and I chat away to her during the day. She almost died earlier this year when she flew into the side of the doorway and dropped down. She had hurt her foot and dragged it, which wasn’t a good sign but rallied through. We appreciate her all the more now and she is only 19 which is quite young for a Senegal parrot. My niece who is a vet gave me some good advice while it was all happening and did say birds recover more quickly than any other creature, and our parrot proved her right.
Julie MULLER says
I’ve just read this with my 16 year old Jack Russell Rupert sitting next to me. Like Minnie he has cataracts and weak,wobbly legs and has also gone completely deaf. Like Minnie he is a canine dustbin who just loves his food. He is just such a wonderful dog with an amazing chsracter
I’m dreading losing him and can’t begin to imagine life without him. This year we have cancelled two holidays in case ‘the day arrived while we were away. A small price to pay for spending the time he has left with him. He still loves going for walks, albeit short ones now. We love him to bits and are trying to slowly prepare ourselves for life without him.
I loved Minnie’s story she sounds a fantastic character
…what a beautiful tribute. I am crying now for your sweet dog and those lovely memories and for my own past pets. These creatures bring us so much joy but parting sure is hard.
my heart breaks for you. we have been through this twice and going through it again now. I know how you all feel. (((xxx)))
Crying buckets and missing my Candy. How beautifully you have given meaning to Minnie’s life. What a treasure, and how blessed to have shared 17 years with her.
Zaheen Hussain says
Your Post is really helpfull and energatic motivation
Jody Plummer says
Oh I must have been led to your website by fate – I just purchased your Making Winter book and when I looked your website up to try and learn how to crochet (which I seem not able to learn) I saw the article about your dog….and we just lost our dog who was 77 about 3 weeks ago and your Minnie reminded me of our Sioux. Looks the same, is fast on the run, loves treats, is smart…and I talk to her still when I come in the door and I see her everywhere and we miss her so. And there will be a time we will bring another dog home from the Humane Society….and I do think we will do it because we loved our dog so much and it’s in her honor as is your new puppy. (though your article is a year old…so your pup is about a year old, too) Thank you for all you wrote about your wonderful dog.