Our homeward journey took us through 6 countries over a 48-hour period, which sounds more fatiguing than it actually was. We'd been away for a long time, had many adventures--some of them I have yet to recount here. We looked forward to seeing our dogs again, and hanging out together in the springtime woods.
We received the unexpected news while sitting in a departures lounge at Heathrow Airport lounge. My husband was on his UK mobile, checking home answerphone messages--something we hadn't been doing in Eastern Europe. Suddenly he turned it off, and turned to me.
"There's really bad news about Shadow."
The kennel manager had left a message saying Shadow was taken to the emergency vet. We weren't sure exactly when, or what the outcome was. And our flight to Shannon was being called.
I wept all the way across the Irish sea, and Ireland itself.
Once settled in our hotel, I quickly Googled the emergency vet (open 24 hours, so the time difference made no difference.) I was able to speak with one of the vets who had treated Shadow.
The very one who, on Sunday, April 30th, had put her to sleep. The medics tried to stabilise her till we could be reached to make decisions, but it quickly became obvious nothing could be done. In our absence, unable to contact us, the kennel manager requested private cremation with return of ashes, exactly as we wouldn't chosen. And have done, for our other dogs.
Shadow was 12 and a half years old. While she remained lively and bouncy and full of fun, at her age every day was a gift, and we knew it. I think she was too well-mannered to die while we were around to see it. I'm not letting myself feel sad or guilty for not being there for her...because once she went into hospital, she wouldn't even have known.
We lost her to an aggressive disease--the kind that presents itself only after it's too late to do anything.
Had I been aware of the terrible situation back home, and its tragic outcome, I would never have made it through the press conference, or book fair, or any of the things I needed to do, or lived up to other's expectations. So I can't regret not knowing. By the time I learned what had happened, I was free to sit in my plane window seat, and weep all the way across the Atlantic.
Normally when we return from an overseas trip, we spend a night at home unpacking and getting settled before picking up the girls. This time, we were desperate to re-form our diminished pack as quickly as possible.
It was an absolutely beautiful evening when we drove to the hilltop kennel--sunshine on the greening fields, crystal blue sky, views of mountains and lakes on all sides.
Lola was overjoyed to see us. The kennel manager said she'd been very unsettled in the days immediately after Shadow was taken away, but was better.
The drive home was painful. So unlike other drives, during which Shadow, in the back seat, would lay her big head on my shoulder, happy to be reunited. Lola doesn't do that, she sticks her nose through a crack in the window, sniffing the world outside the car. But this time, she licked my face a lot, and whined.
We hadn't put anything away, thinking it best for Lola--and us--to accustom ourselves to the empty bed, the unused dog dish, the silent sqeaky toys. Shadow did love and use her toys, whether they came from Harrods, or a Parisian pet shop, or Target.
Watching Lola search the house for her companion of a decade is difficult. She sometimes takes up the same spaces Shadow did--the spot at the top of the stairs, so perfect for chipmunk spying, under the dining room table at my husband's feet.
In the evening, she curls up besides me on the sofa, keeping me company as I read and watch television. Unlike Shadow, who settled in and never moved till bedtime, Lola hops on and off. She doesn't usually linger, but she always returns.
She's restless, she's lonely. There's not much we can do.
It's been more than twenty years since I lived in a one dog household. We've always had two, if not three. It's a different rhythm, and strange to us. We're making no future plans yet, knowing we all must heal first.
Soon after our return, I got the call from the emergency vet that Shadow's ashes had been delivered. They came in a sealed wooden box, very pretty, with a detatched name plate (which I shall keep) and a little bouquet of dried flowers.
I've been through this twice before, so I know how it feels to take home that small package of what used to be a vital presence in my life. As I expected, I was very teary on the drive home, resting my hand on the little box.
One of these days, when the sunshine returns, we'll bury her beside Daisy and Killian, in the little cemetary visible from my office window.
For eleven years, Shadow was my constant companion--writers have the luxury of working at home, and both the writer and the dog benefit from that. A Border collie/black Lab cross, she had the best and the weirdest traits of both breeds. She loved eating pizza crusts, bananas, raw and crunchy vegetables. She had a habit of placing a paw on my knee and looking up with those great, dark, loving eyes. Lying on the sofa next to me, comfortably dozing, she actually would purr whenever I petted her--a low, rumbling, contented sound. Taking walks around the lake was one of her favourite things. She liked going into the water, but only as far as her feet could touch the ground. Not a swimmer, our Shadow. We're so glad my husband took both of the girls on one only a little while before we drove away to the kennel.
She was gentle, playful, usually active, sometimes lazy, and until a couple of weeks ago seemed destined to live an even longer life than she did. I'm glad there was no protracted decline. She wouldn't have made a very good invalid.
I won't post her picture now. There are too many to choose from, and besides, her personality and activities are already well documented on this blog.
Our household is in mourning. But we have the great comfort of many, many happy memories. A dog can leave no greater legacy than that.
Thank you, Shadow. I'll miss you for the rest of my life.