No, not me, I’ve not quite reached that stage yet!
But it’s a condition that many an old working terrier arrives at. They seem to suddenly grow weary as if life has at last become a burden to heavy to bear. Sometimes it’s just a temporary, fleeting condition and they come through it in a day or two but when the old bones really can no longer carry the load comfortably then you can usually tell by their attitude and behaviour that they are not going to be with you for much longer. Dogs can’t speak to us but they certainly communicate through their body language. We listen to them through our hands and our eyes.
Dido has been ailing for months now but she just seemed to plod along without too much bother. On the cold winter mornings when the younger dogs just bounced out of their sleeping boxes, full of energy, she would lie on a while “waiting for the streets to air” before she would decide to have a look about the dog run to see what the new day would bring. If she didn’t think much of it then she would go back into her box and curl up. And so she saw out the winter.
She started the warmer months well and would stretch out full length in the sunshine and if it became too hot she would move to a shady spot. She was enjoying life. But there had been ominous signs for many months in the shape of the lumps along her belly and teats. The vet said she could have the complete udder removed but that would not guarantee that the cancer had not, or would not spread through the rest of her body. Anyway, I would not have put her through that ordeal at her age so it was just a matter of keeping an eye out for her, keeping a look out for any sudden enlargement of the lumps and seeing that she was not in pain or suffering. I don’t let them suffer when there is going to be no improvement.
Like Peggy just a month or two ago, her throat started to swell and she was forever retching as if a bone or something had lodged there and she would take much longer to eat her food. A course of tablets from the vet didn’t improve things. I thought her throat was closing up for she sometimes seemed to be choking. But still she didn’t seem in any real bother and would walk about the yard, tail up and reasonably happy with her lot. And then it all changed.
The weight started to drop from her, her tail drooped and rarely wagged though she would do her best to greet me in the mornings. I noticed that it took a real effort for her to get into her sleeping box and she started to fail on her food, eating less than half her usual measure. When she walked slowly to meet me her front legs were held wide apart as if the shoulders had expanded, as if she couldn’t stand their movement against the lumps, which had now definitely enlarged. She was a favourite of Irene’s for her super friendly, sensible temperament but the time had come. The drawn features and general demeanour told its own tale. I had been hoping she would slip quietly away in her sleep but that didn’t happen. Really I suppose I should have done it sooner but I wanted to give the old girl every chance; now it couldn’t be put off any longer. Irene had gone down the town.
As I carried Dido, wrapped in one of my old hunting sweat shirts, to her last resting place, where most of the other heroes lie, a neighbour pulled up and must have had a bit of a shock when he saw me for these things hit me hard. I couldn’t speak to him, just walked past him but after I had seen her laid close alongside Peggy I told him what I had been doing. He probably then understood or he may not have but that’s the way it is with me.
So that’s the last of my old sloggers gone. I doubt if any of my current crop will see the amount of work which my old timers got through in a lifetime. I never really realised just how much Dido had done. She just got on with it and the digs mounted up over the years and always she worked in the same steady way, always seeming to have another gear ready to go into but rarely actually needing it and always getting the result. Certainly she deserves to rank alongside some of the dogs I have considered to be great, well above average. She came to me from Jason “on loan” to help me out for a while but he never asked for her back and I knew that he wouldn’t; like many of my others, she was with me to stay.
Just a couple of memories from her last few years; a fox had been marked to ground in a decent place and I entered Dido at the strongest mark. She went in a few feet and started to dig on and we opened to her at three feet. To a rabbit! A few followers laughed. Who could blame them? But I just took her out and let her wander about and soon she was in to ground and baying well and it looked like a decent dig would be needed. I was on my own. I knew the bury, it had proved difficult over the years. And as I made a start Murphy turned up and took over and saved me. He dug the old bitch to a good lamb killer.
And at another killing call out we ended at a hell of a place where you can practically bank on a hard hour or so. It’s a place where foxy will very often bolt and this day, pouring with rain, that’s what I hoped would happen. There were pieces of lamb and feathers scattered about the entrance so the chances are that we had found the killing culprit and it would not be good if it bolted and got clean away. The guns would have to be on their toes for at this place foxy would be out of the bury and away into trash in a blink. Fortunately there was a good crowd of diggers there and Dido was found at about five feet, baying well.
The youngsters got stuck in. I shouldn’t call them that, they are grown men now but compared to me they are youngsters and as the rain continued to pour down they just got on with the job, marked out a big enough area and dug down giving themselves plenty of elbow room to work in. “Keeping the sides straight” as JP never fails to instruct though he wasn’t there that day. They opened to Dido at a junction with tubes going in all directions and found Dido with the vixen and after sorting that out the old bitch then went up various tubes finding the well grown cubs until at last she was satisfied that she had accounted for all of them. It’s called pest control. It keeps farmers happy at lambing time for a vixen with hungry cubs to feed can soon run up a good number of dead lambs.
I was very pleased with the old bitch that day. She was so steady and thorough, she showed what years of experience can bring to the job; she just got on with it knowing what was needed and not stopping until she knew there was nothing left to do. But I was also very pleased with the diggers for I knew that the future of the pack was in good hands. I have been living here for more than thirty years now and in that time have rarely had any local young followers with a real interest in terrier and hound work and I often wondered if the young generation would keep the legacy of their fathers alive. Kids would come and go and rarely stick at it. There are so many other things on offer these days. I don’t have to worry now for I saw that day that the future of the pack was in safe hands and that these young men would make their own memories with their own terriers, lurchers and hounds.
The picture shows Dido under my coat on the mountain five years ago in March 2011 and as the day wore on I got steadily weaker clinging on to a quad bike until at last I asked Rhodri to take me back to my van which was parked at the farm where we had met, a few miles away. By the time I made it home that day I would not have bet on outlasting Dido though she was even then a veteran for I was in the middle of a bad patch, hard years for my health but we never know what is in front of us and gradually I improved. Pleasure and pain: Another good old bitch has gone leaving behind good memories. It’s all there in the world of working terriers just as it is in life itself.
And there she is on the cover of the latest volume of A Terrierman’s Life, Volume 6. Typical Dido. Her usual no bother attitude, “Job Done. What’s all the fuss about?” The fuss is about you old girl.