I got the news about Daisy a few days ago. She has liver cancer, and she is dying.
I wasn’t sure about whether to write this, because it felt almost silly, and as if I don’t have the right. I haven’t seen her for four years – she was adopted after my husband Rob passed away unexpectedly in 2015. But it’s hard to argue with the emotional evidence: my heart feels like it’s breaking.
When Rob died, due to various circumstances I wasn’t able to look after her, not least of which was that I was barely capable of looking after myself. But we were lucky enough to have her adopted through the Wood Green animal charity, to a woman who has made her feel safe and loved.
Daisy represents a conduit to Rob. When she left to go to her new family, we lost her. With the news that she is dying, it feels like we are losing her all over again. But more than that – it feels that we are losing the last glimmer of Rob.
The last few days have been spent thinking about her, but also just what a remarkable creature she is, and how much love and warmth she has given us.
Almost everyone I know who met her has a Daisy story, from my friends who got over their own fear of dogs through seeing how gentle she was, to my dad who still has a crooked finger after an accident involving him, her and a ball.
If there were awards for kindness, loyalty and dignity, she’d win a lifetime achievement. It’d sit on a mantelpiece next to Champion Of Barrelling Into Filthy Puddles.
This is no mean feat given that before I met Daisy, I was scared of dogs.
Rob had sent the picture of him and Daisy ahead of our first date, which didn’t help matters. Our girl is a mastiff, boxer, pitbull cross, not some fluffball that fits in a handbag. Yes, she may have a cute pink star on her nose and is the colour of caramel, but I was certain I was going to be savaged.
Back then, Daisy was a feisty one-year-old and she did not take kindly to anyone who held Rob’s attention. I heard her ‘wowowowowoah’ bark through the door. It was so loud, I almost ran back to my taxi to say it had all been a grave mistake.
In getting to know Rob, I got to know Daisy, and it taught me a lot about the wordless yet incredibly intense and strong connection between a dog and a human being. He would spend hours with his arms wrapped around her, speaking to her very softly. I can still hear the exact cadence of his voice saying “who’s my little girl, then” to her. Her ears flopped down, her eyes closed, and her paws tipped over in total submission as she was soothed.
Eventually Daisy did accept me – we bonded over our mutual hatred of a tortoise Rob adopted called Aubrey. I can’t sugarcoat this: Aubrey was a massive dick. He spent all his time headbutting things and trying to shag people’s shoes to death.
Yes, Daisy and I too had our moments. I swear she chose the exact minute I’d finish mopping the floor to walk across it with dirty paws. She seemed to mysteriously wipe her muddy arse only on my side of the bed. (Cheers, pal). But she did grow to love me. He’d bring her to meet me sometimes after work at the train station and she’d explode into excitement when she saw me. She grew to love our family, and she was gentle around babies and people.
I never realised how much I loved Daisy until her accident in 2013. She had fractured her skull and injured an eye. She didn’t cry, she didn’t whimper. The vet told us to take her to the animal hospital.
I remember how gently Rob placed her in the car. How quiet she was. I remember crying non-stop, and it coming from a place of such deep concern, and just wanting her to be okay. She spent a week in hospital, and she lost her eye. The night she came home, I saw her so still in the garden, looking out into the night sky.
Daisy was more than just a dog. Rob had clinical depression, and struggled with addiction issues. I saw how Daisy helped him with both of these things every single day. For one, it got him out of the house because she was a big dog and needed to be walked. But when he was in the very early stages of recovery, she was what he needed when he didn’t want to talk to anyone.
She also once literally saved his life by pulling him to saving during a previous suicide attempt. He was unconscious but eventually came to.
I remember being very quiet after he told me this story, and going over to Daisy and just hugging her, burying my face in her neck. Eighteen months before Rob died, we were so exhausted by the process of relapse and recovery that often it was just the three of us behind closed doors.
But when Rob spent a while in a psychiatric hospital, and Daisy was left at home, it was clear that she was deeply stressed out being alone. He normally worked from home and spent a lot of time with her. I worked in an office, and though we had a dog sitter, neighbours said they’d heard her barking in distress for hours.
When he died, the kindest thing was to get her adopted through Wood Green. Aside from the deep grief I found myself in, the circumstances meant that I couldn’t keep her in the flat I was staying in.
I want to ask her forgiveness for that, and I can’t.
Daisy is 12. It is impressive for a dog her size. She has survived a fractured skull, a lost eye, and her soulmate disappearing overnight.
I remember once saying to Rob: “She’ll live to 15, right?” And he gave me this sad, sweet look that said she probably wouldn’t. At that time, I couldn’t conceive of Rob dying, let alone Daisy. I never thought she would outlive him, and I never thought we would be without either of them.
The strongest image we have of our boy is of him walking down the street, with Daisy’s familiar shape padding alongside. The wonderful lady who adopted her said that when Daisy sees a man in the distance, she goes off to investigate. “I don’t think she has ever stopped looking for him,” she wrote. For now, she is in our thoughts. I imagine Rob has never left hers.
I don’t know that I believe in an afterlife, but wherever it is that dogs go when they die, I hope she finally finds him.
With thanks to Wood Green
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.