There are moments in life that we never forget. Some - most, if we're lucky - are happy memories that we treasure long into our dotage. Others are less enjoyable. Sadly, on Tuesday 14th June at around 2:10pm, a memory was created that I would like to forget. For on that day, I said my last goodbye to one of the most loyal friends I've ever had.
They say a dog is man's best friend and you'll hear no argument from me on that front. Cal, my beautiful, dopey, affectionate cocker spaniel was certainly a best friend to this, er... woman. By the time he slipped away at the ripe old age of 16, we'd shared four houses together, grown into adulthood alongside one another and been on hundreds - possibly thousands - of walks. He had also patiently tolerated any number of "funny hats" being plonked onto his fluffy head and posed for more photos than you could shake (or should that be "fetch?") a stick at.
Cal, or to give him his full, faintly ridiculous kennel name, Callington St. Emma (told you), had the original "Sad Sam" look about him. The term "puppy eyes" could have been invented for this little bundle of fur. The eyes in question were big and black and would stare mournfully at you, reducing the toughest of men to whimpering boys. "Aaaaaaaw!" was the most common reaction when faced with this especially cute canine. His expression was one of almost perpetual woe, which I always found a little hilarious given that his temperament was, for the most part, that of a perky toddler. "He's so sad looking," people would tell me. And I'd laugh and tell them that he was, in fact, a cheeky scamp with a naughty sense of humour. I lost count of the number of times my parents and I came home from a day out to find that Cal had cunningly nudged the kitchen door open and trotted upstairs to lie leisurely out of view in my parents' bedroom. He'd greet us with a look of pure disdain, as though we'd stumbled upon his own personal haven. And then of course, once he realised he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't have, we'd be treated to the full "puppy eyes" routine. It looked a bit like this:
Oh, such woe! Of course, I'd cave, smother him in cuddles and let him off. And then he'd return to much more important business, such as staring longingly at the fridge...
They say that a dog takes on aspects of his owner's personality and I think there's truth in that. I love being outside, I love my food and I'm an affectionate so and so. I'm also small, but rather feisty. Cal was all of those things and then some. Together, we made quite a team. It was a union I was proud to be a part of. The joy I would feel when a stranger would gasp in the street and tell me what a little cutie he was is a feeling I'll carry with me always. I was proud to have him in my life and I can only hope that he was proud to know me, too.
In his earlier life, Cal was a bundle of energy. He'd run through woods and across beaches, barking for us to follow. He'd chase me around the garden, tug on a chew toy and follow a football, all the while wagging his fluffy tail and seeming to smile, in spite of his Sad Sam looks. In the last year or so, he became a little slower. Less keen to run, but no less happy to play and be fussed. His jet black fur began turning grey and his bushy brown eyebrows started to fade. He became a little grumpier and liked his creature comforts. As the months passed, I changed my role from playmate to simply friend, taking time to stroke him, talk to him and, when he wanted to, walk with him.
He still had that cheeky sense of humour. He'd still stare longingly at the fridge, too. But I suppose if we're honest, we all knew that our time with him was, devastatingly, coming to an end.
I was with Cal when he fell asleep for the last time. I stroked his fur and told him, as I'd told him a million times before, that I loved him and always would. He died peacefully in his basket, with his blanket tucked behind him.
And so, last Tuesday, a memory was created that I would rather forget. But to focus on that memory would be to do a disservice to my little man. Cal was so much more than "just a dog." He had his own sense of fun, his own loyalty... He had an entire personality all of his own and together, we created hundreds of much happier memories, which I will treasure. He may not be around anymore, but the doleful expression that got him out of trouble, the cunning ways he'd manage to get out of having his fur brushed and the excited welcome home he always gave me will live on in my mind forever.
On Saturday, I had a paw print tattooed on my back, just below my right shoulder. It stands to remind me that somehow, Cal is always walking behind me. One day in the future, I may have another dog. Not because I want to replace Cal, because he was simply irreplaceable. But because the love he gave, the friendship we had and the many adventures we went on together have served to remind me of the intense bond a dog and an owner can have. It's something I'm not sure I can live the rest of my life without. The agony of losing a dog, as heartbreaking as it is, is made worthwhile by the many years of happiness they bring. Cal taught me more about love and loyalty than a lot of the humans I've met have and for that I'll always be grateful.
But for now, the kitchen is strangely quiet. There is a space where Cal's basket used to be, which may as well be a ninety foot chasm and there's nobody to feed the fatty scraps of meat from a Sunday roast to. We miss him, obviously. But we have so many memories as a result of his life with us.
Yes, there are some moments that we remember forever. Thanks to Cal, I have more of those happy memories than I can count.
Sleep tight, boy. xx