Friday, 19 March 2010

My First Dog

When I was about 18 months old my mum heard of a brindle boxer (also about 18 months old) in need of a home. He lived with his father and the two dogs did not get along – in fact their owner feared the father might seriously injure the younger dog.

I remember sitting in my pushchair outside the house with my Aunty Emmy (not a real aunt but my godmother) as my mum walked up to the front door.

The door opened and a huge ferocious looking dog was barking and being held back. “That’s your new dog,” Aunty Emmy said. It wasn’t. It was his father. I think she may also have made a remark about my mum being out of her mind. She wasn’t!

Zulu was a gentle, loving, kind dog. I can still remember how it felt to hug him, how his fur felt, how he smelled, how soft and velvety his beautiful black face was.

When he was 5, Zulu started having fits. The vet came and told my mum that he had no hope of getting better and the kindest thing would be to have him put to sleep.

These days I am sure something could have been done for him, but back then there was no choice.

All I remember is seeing my dad cry for the first time in my life. My mum and my older sister were inconsolable.

I watched as my dad and Pop carried Zulu’s body up the garden wrapped in a white sheet. I wasn’t crying. I was confused.

I vividly remember everyone being so upset and I remember seeing them carrying his body away, but I don’t remember what happened next. Perhaps it was because what I found out was more traumatic than my dog being put to sleep.

Our neighbour was out in his garden and he saw me heading up the steps with my beach spade clasped in my hand.

“Where are you off to?” he said.

“My dog went to sleep and they’ve buried him and now I’m going to dig him up so he can wake up.”

He alerted my mum and I was stopped. It had to be explained to me properly that he was dead, he wasn’t coming back, he was asleep forever. Dead.

I still cry if I think about Zulu’s life being cut so short. It is no surprise to me that research by insurance company More Than has found that the death of a pet is akin to losing a close family member because to most of us, that is exactly what they are, a member of the family.


  1. We had a Springer/Collie cross for eleven years. When she developed an inoperable tumour in her jaw, we had to have her put to sleep. I stroked her long after the vet signalled that it was over. We were all numb. At 04.30 the next day, I sat up in bed and cried like a baby. I felt so awful, I didn't bother with work, just made my way to pay the vet's bill, like a zombie.

    To be truthful, I have since lost nearest and dearest, but have not been affected like that.

  2. Oh Teresa, this made me cry. I'm so sorry for the 5-year-old you and for poor Zulu.


  3. Teresa - this made me cry (of course!). Nothing is quite like losing a beloved dog. When my last best friend was put to sleep I sat in my car in the vet's car park just talking to him and holding him, smelling his fur. It was dark and I still remember the way the street light shone on his coat and the warmth still in his body. In those moments it was truly as if he only slept and at any moment would wake up and lick my nose. There are not many deaths that have affected me the way that did. Still I am glad to have shared 15 years with him and that's a lot more than you had with Zulu. What a shame his life was cut so short. x

  4. So sad, Martin. I know someone who will not have another dog because he has never been able to get over having his first dog put to sleep. THey are never with us long enough.

    Sorry I made you cry, Suzanne - I made me cry too xx

    15 years is a long time, Lydia. One of mine was 17 when he was put to sleep, but it is still not long enough is it. I was going to blog about my next dog, Nikki, who only lived to be 6, but his story is so sad I think I'll leave it for a while. I've made myself cry again just thinking about him. Trouble is once you start thinking about them, it's hard to stop.

  5. Zulu looks so handsome. I think one of the hard things about losing a dog is that people who aren't dog lovers can't understand why it's such a difficult thing to deal with. They expect you to be over it in a few days and carrying on with life as normal. But we never forget our dogs, do we, however long ago we knew them.

  6. Yes he was handsome, Joanne.
    I feel sorry for people who can't understand how it feels, don't you? I think they've missed out - not on the sadness I hasten to add. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, but the love you get from a dog. You can't beat it.

  7. Ah, what a sad time that was for you all. I think as children, we all remember a time when we first understood what 'dead' actually means. I read something in one of the Sunday papers, where the writer was saying how ridiculous that insurance research was: that anyone who considers their pets to be part of the family and mourns them like a family member must be nuts. (And yes, he had pets himself!). I don't think he can ever have understood what it means to love a pet - they certainly do become part of the family and why else have them?!

  8. What a fantastic dog he was, and what a touching, tragic memory. My partner is a tough guy, but he cried for hours when his 23-year-old cat died. He was more than a cat, he was his companion. Alan called him 'the furry foreman' because he always sat by him when he was working on the car, and meowed comments. He was with Alan during his previous partner's long illness and eventual death, and when BC died, it was the end of an era. Yes, it is a huge loss, and nobody should laugh at anyone who mourns a treasured pet.

  9. I quite agree, Olivia.

    23 years old, Hydra. That is an amazing age. I can just picture him meowing comments. Losing BC must have been absolutely heartbreaking.