A date with Sarah-Kate; Kate’s home truths
Tears flow as Sarah-Kate farewells her loyal pal
Eleven years ago, I picked up our new Kerry blue terrier from Auckland Airport and drove the little ball of black fluff to our recently built house on the west coast.
The only fenced part of the property in those days was around the swimming pool, so I put the puppy, Ted, on the patio while I unpacked the car. But before I’d even turned my back, he scooted across the tiles and flew over the surface of the water – briefly – before sinking like a stone to the bottom.
It was an awkward moment. I had on a pair of patent-leather ankle boots, which I’d had for some time and of which I was very fond. The puppy, I’d only just met. But of course I jumped in fully clothed and rescued the little mutt.
The shoes survived, as did Ted, but neither of them ever went near water again. And the dog went on to show a sort of dotty devotion partly inspired, no doubt, by my heroic efforts that day and partly because that’s what dogs generally do.
In fact, I remember reading an advice manual (spot the childless person) before he arrived in our lives that said, “All your dog wants is for you to love him.”
That I knew I could do. And I did. Even when I had to carry him around Lake Hayes after he got giant prickles stuck in his armpits.
Even when he fell off the side of the mountain while choosing the exact wrong place to take a leak.
Even when he yet again failed to resist the temptation of a passing pair of floaty trousers.
Or picked on a Doberman five times his size.
Or forgot how our glass doors worked. From his perspective, sometimes you could go through them easy as pie, but sometimes it really hurt your face.
I confess I’ve spent a lot of the past 11 years apologising for his misdeeds.
On one occasion, I stupidly took him with me while I interviewed the owners of a lovely rural property. Midway through my questioning, Ted approached with one of their duck’s necks in his mouth. But the duck was still very much alive. In fact, it was waddling between Ted’s front legs and I could tell from the look in his eyes that he didn’t quite know what to do next. The duck, I think, felt pretty much the same.
One “drop it” and the duck ran off, and so did Ted, in the opposite direction. Oops.
Nobody tells you when you get a dog how much humour they’ll provide. How much companionship. How much simple joy.
But my little buddy Ted lost interest in food a couple of months ago just as we started renovating that house he first came to. He’d never been much of an eater, so I didn’t think too much of it. In fact, I blamed the builders. Then I blamed the fact we had to move out of home as the work dragged on. Then I blamed a dreadful diagnosis, which took my much-loved four-legged friend’s appetite forever.
And after one awful night spent lying next to him on the floor in front of the fire as he tried to get comfortable, Ted looked at me and I knew he’d done his dash.
Oh, the pain. But I wanted his to be over.
Later that day, my brokenhearted Ginger gently picked Ted up, bed and all, and we made one terrible last trip to the vet. Ted didn’t even raise his head – he was so ready – and to our great pride, he made the most graceful of exits.
But we were not ready. We were not graceful. We howled. We’re howling still.
And it’s not like we’re even crazy dog people. He wasn’t allowed on the furniture and he didn’t have outfits or fly first class to France or anything. Although he has been to Australia three times, but that was for work (ours, not his) and he flew cargo.
But he was a big part of our very small family unit for 11 years – the star of many a column – and the hole he has left feels impossible to fill. I mean, he was just a dog.
But since his departure, I can’t believe the number of people who’ve shared similar experiences of farewelling their furry friends and the awful grief they’ve suffered.
In a strange way, it fills me with awe that humans will risk loving anything that much when they know they’re likely to lose it. What brave things we are! What risk-takers! What complete and utter softies to go gaga for slightly unhinged canines who keep all their toys neatly in a pile for years, then one day bury the lot of them, never to remember where.
But if Ted’s too short, mostly sweet existence has taught me anything, it’s that the risk is worth it. It really is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We all need simple joy.
So Ted, wherever you are, may the chickens be roasted (for your sake) and the cats fast-moving (for theirs). And thank you.
In his happy place on the beach – and look at Ted in full flight (left)! Be free, little buddy.