A date with Sarah-Kate; Kate’s home truths

Tears flow as Sarah-Kate farewells her loyal pal

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - This Week -

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.

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