In the last of the afternoon sun, lying in his favourite, shady spot at our family beach house, our dog refused to get up. We were heading down to the beach for a late afternoon swim and Cricket our 12 year old dog, loved his swims. Just a few days before, he was surfing in the low tidal waves, swimming out for his stick and swimming back, shaking the water from his black coat. He loved the water, our dog. He was a Labrador, after all. Food and water and people are what they live for.
He was getting old though, even while trying to pretend he wasn't. He didn't grey much at all in his later years, just a little tuft under his chin, but he still liked to think he was a young dog. It wasn't until this summer that I really noticed him starting to slow down for the first time. He wouldn't run down the steps to the beach like he used to, and due to the gradual onset of his degenerative myelopathy, couldn't walk very far, for very long.
But Cricket refused to get up. He turned his head and looked at all of us. We were all there on the deck waiting for him. This was so unusual for him to not get up and come with us, that my instincts kicked in and I ran for the phone to call a vet. But Cricket being Cricket had it his way. There would be no vet clinic for him, and no long goodbyes. He just died.
The beach property was always his favourite place to go. He was free here to swim, to rummage around in the bush and even the weekend before he died baled up a Possum who dared to come onto our deck. So we buried him there. High on the hill, overlooking the house, under the shade of the trees, with the sound of the ocean below.
I've always been a dog girl. Some people are cat people and some are dog people. I'm a dog person.
But this dog got under my skin. More so even, than my childhood dog Prince, who I loved so much he slept on my bed every night. I even wrote a book about him. But Cricket was a special dog to me, and I think it was because he loved my children so much. I know that he would have protected them with his life, if he had to.
We bought Cricket from a Labrador breeder in Dunedin in 2003. He was a purebred with a long lineage of beautiful, celebrated ancestors. We picked him out from a visit to the kennel when he came running towards us out of a large litter of little black and golden puppies. My oldest son, Hugh, who was 3 years old at the time took an instant liking to him. He seemed perfect for us.
One of our first jobs as his owner was to give him his pedigree name. We must have been in our Jane Austen era at the time, because we eventually named him Knightly of Prior Hill. Prior Hill was the name of our house and 20 acres that we had just recently completed building in Earnscleugh, Central Otago. We lived in the foothills of the Old Man mountain range, and the name seemed apt for this little dog.
There are a few memories that stand out for me about Cricket.
Our vet has always called him a 'real dog'. And that is the truth. Cricket loved the outdoors. As he got older we would bring him inside at night because we thought he would prefer it, but we should have known better. We should have remembered how he was when he was younger, for 2 hours into the night, he'd be scratching at the door and whining and wouldn't stop until we had let him outside again.
|One of Cricket's last swims.|
That happened last winter, and I remember laughing about it because when he was a young dog, and we still lived in Otago, where we would have very severe winters, we set Cricket up with a lovely warm kennel under the eaves of our house, along the porch outside the kitchen. I bought hot water bottles and would fill it with warm water every night to tuck under his blankets when he went to bed, but we went through so many hot water bottles before we gave up, for every morning we'd come out to find the hot water bottle shredded to pieces, scattered all over the frost or snow, and Cricket lying in the snow a few feet from his kennel. Oh that dog!
He was loved by so many people. Sometimes, when we were going away and weren't able to take him with us, we would have to book him in for a holiday at the kennels. Every single kennel he ever went to, the owners ended up falling in love with him.
|Just a few days before he died, the kids dressed him up as a super hero.|
Another enduring memory that I will never forget, and one that made me love him even more, is of a cold winter in Christchurch when we were renovating an old house. I was homeschooling at the time, and one day had all the children sitting around the dining room table, with Cricket lying under the table on our feet. Our builder, who we liked and who really liked Cricket (he was a dog person too), came into the room and asked if he could use our bathroom. As he passed us, he leaned over in his friendly way, to pat my oldest son on his head. As his arm came out, Cricket shot out from under the table and gave the most terrifying bark, jumping up at the builder as he did so. As if to say, "don't you dare to touch my boy."
We all were rather shocked, but the builder understood dogs and knew Cricket was just defending his 'pack', and fortunately Cricket only gave him a warning and did nothing to harm him. But that was when I really knew that Cricket would truly defend us if he had to.
I saw that instinct to protect so many times. Even last summer when our younger son was learning to kayak in the shallows of our bay. Cricket, faithful as ever, followed along behind him as he did laps up and down the beach in the kayak.
When the children were at school, he was my companion. Always there. Always ready to give cuddles and licks. He let me know when the postie had been, and I felt safe in my home. He always alerted me to anyone on the property.
Cricket hated cats. At one of our houses, the neighbour's cat would taunt him, sitting high up on the terraced garden, where the cat knew Cricket couldn't get him. He'd walk up and down, looking over at our dog. When Cricket deigned to notice it, he would give one bark and the cat would be gone, but that cat liked tormenting him. Cats were evil incarnate to Cricket. The temptation of chasing a cat would sometimes be too great, if we were out on a walk and we came across one.
So many lovely memories of this dog. He has been a wonderful part of our family. He has loved us, protected us and given us so much joy. I hope we gave to him as much as he has given to us.
He has been known to dig up a rose bush belonging to a friend, in her own garden, no less, and spend hours digging through the dirt mound of our building site looking for rats or rabbits.
Going to the vet clinic was an adventure in itself. Not because Cricket was afraid of it, but because he was too enthusiastic once we got there. Oh the smells. Oh the other dogs to get to know - often terrifying them, because even in his old age he was boisterous and huge. At our last visit I remember the vet and I laughing at him sliding all over the room on the vinyl floor, poking his nose into as many corners he could find.
How do you grieve the passing of a loved pet? It's hard. I found it harder this time than I ever have before when I have lost a pet. I miss him! I don't want him to be dead. I want him to come back. I still find myself going to feed him every night after we have eaten. I still have his kennel and dog bowl outside, and it just doesn't feel the same anymore without him.
I know he did well to live to 12 years. The life span of a Labrador is on average, 11 years. I was hoping he would last another year until we moved into our new house because apart from his slow paralysis he was an otherwise healthy dog. We always kept him in good shape and had very little arthritis in his joints. I was hoping that we could have made the transition easier for our children and another year would have given us that. Now we have to wait 12-18 months before we think of getting another dog, and it's hard being without a dog. I don't like it. Not one little bit.
Because we are renting, we cannot get another dog until we are in our new home. But I did feel a little better today after emailing a local breeder to put our name on the waiting list. Not to replace Cricket, because he will always have a special place in our hearts and memories always. But life just doesn't feel right without a dog, and I know I'll be counting down the months and weeks until we can get another.
Farewell old friend. We loved you and we are thankful for you and for looking after us so well and being part of our lives.
|Cricket - the week before he died.|