Opinion

After a lifetime of dogs, my father's final one was no more

Earlier this year, Robin Ince's father died. His dad's beloved dog has now also passed. He reflects on the companionship they shared.

"Doc on the left with doggy pals." Image: courtesy of Robin Ince

I am not very good at having days off. I say yes to almost everything that comes my way, whether paid or not. It is a habit I share with my eldest sister, who always tells me to slow down shortly before I tell her to slow down. If I do take a day off, it normally coincides with an event. Both my mum and my dad died when I was having a day off, as if, in the most English way of trying not to be a bother, they let go of life after checking my diary.

For my day off in June, I returned to my father’s house after performing at the Stoke Newington Book Festival and sat with his docile but jolly dog, whose pleading eyes make it quite impossible not to sacrifice your biscuits to her. It was her eyes that almost broke us when we returned from hospital without my dad weeks before. Confused, she continued to sleep by his bed and we projected our grief at the empty spaces onto her. 

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The next morning, I continued to sort through my dad’s hoardings and found a folder of letters from his favourite author, Henry Williamson, who wrote Tarka the Otter. I am trying to find ways to distribute as many of his books and memorabilia to people who I know will appreciate some of his arcane collection, and I had tried to thrust some of those books onto a pal who had a few Williamsons already, but they insisted that they didn’t need anymore and that Williamson was also a bit of a Nazi.

“Doc looking up to my dad.” Image: courtesy of Robin Ince.

My pal explained that his book Salar the Salmon imbues the lead fish with certain Third Reich ideologies. I was not so sure and thought it might have been “a phase”. This understanding was changed. Opening up the file of letters, the first one I found was a letter to Henry Williamson from Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists, dated 1953. I bowed to my friend’s greater knowledge and pondered other acquaintances who might have a predilection for Third Reich river life. (I should make it clear at this point that my dad was attracted to the work of Williamson for the wildlife element, not the manifestos).

Walking towards my dad’s old bedroom, there was a blockage behind the door. I squeezed my head through the gap and saw the sad sight of his beloved dog lying there, clearly having had a stroke, her back legs immobile, but her tail wagging at the sight of me. I squeezed a little further in and, taking care not kneel in her faeces, I cradled her head and texted my sister. There was nothing to be done.

Carefully wrapping her in a blanket, we carried her downstairs and took her to the vet. Sat on a little stretch of grass, we stroked her as the vet injected her the solution that would overwhelm her system and she died in the sunlight. Her ashes will be spread on my dad’s grave. After a lifetime of dogs, his final one was no more.

Their companionship had been so important, especially in later life during my mother’s dementia and then when he was left alone. At her funeral, he was allowed to bring his dog in to the pews, and having that companionship during the service was so important. Sure, all the children and grandchildren were there too, but he kept his emotions in check with them. With his labrador he didn’t have to.

“Ball in mouth, dad behind, certificate for helping my dad walk about.” Image: courtesy of Robin Ince

We have inherited that social embarrassment of public emotion with family members, and I could tell that for both my sister and I, as we sat on the grass with the now-still dog, this might have been the point where we cracked and let out the emotion that had been lead-lined within us when dad died, but trained to control our emotions like Crufts winners, we obediently kept them in.

I better not take another day off for a while, for the sake of all those around me.

Here’s to the companionship of dogs. Here’s to a dog named Doc.

Robin Ince’s book Bibliomaniac (Atlantic Books, £16.99) is out now. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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