He was just a dog. Just. A. Dog. I keep saying that to myself because I hope that somehow it will make me feel better. Because he was just a dog.
Not a child. Not a parent. Not a sibling. Just.... a dog.
Except, he wasn't. He was my best friend. My rock. And, on more than one occasion, the one who kept me sane when my mind wanted to wander to places I didn't want to visit.
Now he's gone. Myfellamylad is lying in his forever sleep between the apple tree and the silver birch tree in my back garden.
Elvis was our handsome black Labrador. I'd rehomed him 12 years ago - unwanted by the young couple who'd bought him. "We're just going to look," I'd told my then husband, and our kids, Esme, then eight and Isaac, then five. We did. We just looked. And we fell in love.
He came home with us and within days he was our fifth family member. Elvis chewed. Everything. He fell in the fish pond. A lot. He escaped the garden. A lot. He developed an annoying penchant for rolling in fox poo, stealing food that wasn't under lock and key... he was, in essence, a typically troublesome Labrador.
When my marriage failed a few years later Elvis came to live with me, he was the children's constant guardian. He was the silent comforter to soak up their quiet tears and sometimes notsoquiet tantrums as they came to terms with the new life that meant they'd left the family home because Mummy and Daddy didn't live together any more.
When the children would go off for weekends and holidays with their Dad, I clung to Elvis like a lifeboat. As a magazine editor, I had busy life, but my kids were my everything and when they weren't around, I kind of fell apart a bit. Elvis, my constant companion, my unspeaking other half saved me. He came everywhere with me, at home he followed me from room to room, made a fabulously warm footrest, wonderful (uncomplaining) TV companion. He also gave me reason to go out on the days when I didn't feel like getting dressed, let alone going OUTSIDE. He helped me go into the village pub - he'd have a bowl of water, I'd have a wine. He was my four-legged chaperone.
When the kids were away the cottage, normally so homely, felt anything but; I craved the constant noise and clatter of the kids, their toys and their friends. Sleep often evaded me. Or, when it came, it was punctuated with night terrors or severe anxiety attacks and I'd wake, often screaming, to find a paw resting on the edge of my bed. Elvis.
Whenever the kids were away he'd sleep on the landing outside my room, or on the floor beside my bed. In those early years of being suddenly single, anxiety was a constant companion, when I was alone, sometimes it crippled me, and somehow Elvis seemed to sense it. He'd seek me out and I felt more relaxed.
He loved both the children to distraction, he was the one to follow them around the village, through the fields and down to the river in the summer - stealing sandwiches, getting in the way and getting as many hugs as he could muster.
Last summer, Isaac, now 18, went away on an extended sports tour with school and Elvis hunted out anything that smelled of him: an old kit bag, a trainer, he even fished a manky old fleece from the washing basket so he could lie on it. He missed that boy to his very bones.
It was four months ago, when Elvis began losing weight. Usual tests ruled out anything obvious, but a scan revealed he had liver cancer. It was aggressive. And even on a younger dog, wasn't operable.
He wasn't in pain, but as the weeks went by his physicality gradually waned. He couldn't jump into the car boot any more. His daily walks became a struggle but his eyes were bright, he still greeted me at the door. He wasn't ready to go. Not yet.
That day came last week, he collapsed on one of our favourite meanders, I sat on the dewy grass and waited for him to catch his breath. He looked at me with those wise, kind chocolate brown eyes. The sun was shining on us both, but I felt cold. I knew. "Let's get you home," I said.
I helped him to his feet, the walk home should have taken five minutes, it took twenty-five. As we arrived at the cottage, I called our vet, Martin.
He arrived as soon as he could, took one look at Elvis and nodded. It was time to let my wonderful boy go.
I sat on the floor and rested Elvis' head on my lap, stroking his once strong shoulders, playing with his soft ears and telling him how much we all loved him as Martin, gave him the injection. Seconds later, Elvis' head felt heavier, his breathing slowed, then stopped. And he was gone. I sobbed until everything ached.
An hour later Isaac came home from sixth form, we cried together, then with tears in his eyes and the heaviest of hearts, he dug his faithful four-legged friend's final resting place.
'We should plant something on his grave, so he's still alive somehow,' he said as together we slowly covered Elvis' body with earth. And we shall. A scented rose, I think.
Yes, Elvis was just a dog. A wonderful, wonderful dog and there will always be an Elvis-shaped hole in our hearts.
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