We were at a playground by the Danube in middle Austria. The sun was setting and the kids were burning off some energy after a long scenic drive that day. I took the opportunity to catch up with Dadonthebrink on the phone:
How are you and how’s Joshy?
Joshy is gone!– I could just about make out over the phone
What? – thinking I’d misheard- Gone how?
He is asleep– he replied
I couldn’t hold back the tears, they just streamed down my face. The kids looked at me:
What’s wrong Mummy?
Joshy died -I replied sniffing
They looked puzzled and the magnitude of my words slowly sank in in age order. Max, just 3 years old, looked confused from sibling to sibling to me, crying. Lots of questions followed about death, about what happens to Joshy’s body and repeatedly
Why did Joshy die?
He was an old dog, who had been with us for 11 years. We adopted him when he was roughly 3-4 years old, though we had no history of him as he was a stray. He was always a softy, wanting lots of cuddles.
To start off with this springer spaniel cross was a bit of handful. We couldn’t let him off the lead, for he’d run a mile and we were unable to call him back.
Once he chased some sheep into a lake (and the stupid sheep continued to swim out even after Josh turned back. Our luck was that the men from the salmon farm brought them back to shore.) Another time he just disappeared in a burn for 30 minutes or more. Even with my successful dog training background I was at a loss with him.
Then, after about 6 months of him being with us, something clicked and he became truly our dog. Within no time we were able to walk him without a lead. After some time we couldn’t even find his lead. From then on, if people asked to put him on a lead my response was:
He’s on one, an invisible one.
And it was true. He was on a verbal lead that was as strong as any chain we could’ve led him on. (We think Joshy had some border collie in him, for I see those being so good at following on heel.)
We’d still unleash him, for when he saw thick undergrowth he was eager to discover what could be in there, what could be chased. He loved it! And it was a joy to watch him zig-zag in and out, through mud, water and all. He used to get so grubby we installed a hot water tap outside, so we could wash him down and he wouldn’t be cold. He learnt to shake on command and not when he was being washed.
He was smart! He learnt to wee on request and poo when prompted. This made him the perfect pooch to take on walks, for we could find the best places for him to do the job and not have to clear up in awkward place, pristine lawns and so on.
Joshy got a passport as soon as they were introduced. He had his jabs, microchip and bloodtests. He travelled with us to the Pyrennes, to Holland and Hungary. He hiked and camped with us. He was my companion on my drive across Europe with Angelina when she was just 6 weeks old, voluntarily squeezing into the tiny space we managed to save for him at the top of all the stuff packed.
Joshy very rarely barked. Neighbours didn’t realise we had a dog for almost a year, despite the thin walls of the Victorian terraced house. Over the years he did however develop of growning- yelping hello to meet us and others who came around. It was part complaint, part joy:
Where have you been? Now stay with me stroke me and adore me.
And he could be adored by all ages! That included our children who were born beside him, knocking him further and further down the ranks in the family. The children, as they learnt to crawl, climbed all over him. He was happy for the attention, even if it meant his hair, ears, nose being painfully pulled.
Only once did he ever growl: Angelina had grabbed and pinched him hard where he’d been castrated. Josh growled, wanted to snap backward, but realised who it was in time to stop himself, let out a wimper and ran away to his bed.
Josh was the ideal dog for children (and adults) to overcome their fear of dogs.
“Joshy” was the first word not only for Hugo, but children of friends too.
I trusted him unconditionally around children. When he got tired of their janking he’d retreat to his bed, rest a little and then come back among them.
Baby-led weaning was a LOT easier with a cleaner like Joshy waiting to pounce on all the bits that fell or were thrown off the table. He was a wonderful helper with the kitchen floor too. Somewhere, we reckoned, he had a little injection of Labrador in him too, for he was a real foodie.
Josh had a special friendship with another dog- Finn, a border collie. Those two were amazing together. From the first moment they met in South Park they were like long lost brothers. When we popped over or Josh stayed with Finn when we travelled further afield, they’d share toys, food and bed.
As he aged, he became more of an outdoor dog. He loved staying out, often just coming in overnight. With age he was less and less able to walk. At Easter he came with us to the Scottish Highlands. There we took him on one walk, just over a mile. He struggled to keep up, next day he slept the whole day. He was old, he needed to be lifted in and out of the van, just going for his toilet walk.
He lost balance and his rear legs started to give way. He still attempted to clear up under the table but was missing more and more.
We’d come downstairs in the mornings and have to wake him, for he’d not hear us. It was slightly comical at times, as he’d suddenly wake up realising the family was down already. He was still up for his head being stroked though and looked at me so lovingly when I said goodbye to him before I left with the kids to go camping. It comforts me to know that Dadonthebrink was with him in his final hours and as he fell asleep forever.
As we watched a river cruise boat sail down the Danube and could just make out faint laughter and music , Hugo said:
They are so happy … and I’m so sad! – and he burst into tears again
…And we are very sad to have lost a dear loyal companion.