I was sitting in a tiny palm-thatched bar, watching a tropical storm whip the sea into white-crested waves on a small island off the coast of Phuket, when my sister telephoned me from London.
It had become clear that Posetta Baddog, our beloved Miniature Dachshund, had reached the end of her particular road. They were just waiting for me to return to England.
And so on Friday 16th January, two days after I came back to London, we said goodbye to darling Pottles.
I haven’t been able to write about it before – it’s just been too hard. But not talking about it here on LLG felt like I was ignoring the elephant in the room. I know that some of you knew from Twitter, Instagram and from allusions on the blog, and had left the kindest, most thoughtful messages, but I wanted to explain properly to you, my lovely readers, what had happened, especially to those of you who have been reading here since the early days and loved hearing about our naughty little dog’s antics. So naughty and with so much attitude that Briony came up with the nickname P Bad for her, which we just loved.
I’ve also had some delightful people write spiteful letters suggesting that I have abandoned an old, boring Pottles for the novelty of a shiny new Lettice.
Her given name was Rosebud, Rosie for short, and we changed it to Posy when she came to live with us. She quickly became Posetta, then Posetta Babydog. And then when we realised how naughty she was, Posetta Baddog. When I was living in America she was my sister’s constant companion.
Posetta was always a tricky doglet. Re-homed thrice before she found a home with us, her aggression was off the scale when she arrived, and it took much love and patience to live with her at the beginning. Truly we were her last chance saloon.
But we never gave up on her, seeing the terrified and lonely little dog behind the aggressive mini monster and, over time, she became the most wonderfully idiosyncratic, naughty, food-obsessed, squirrel chasing, loving and beloved sausage dog. And so very clever, and so very loved.
But Posetta still had a hair trigger – she nipped us all over the years. She knew she shouldn’t do it and abased herself immediately after each incident. But it meant that she could never be left with strangers – or friends – or go on with walks with anyone other than my sister, me or my parents, never go into kennels, never be tied up outside a shop, never go to a meeting, never be around children.
Several years ago the wonderful dog trainer and psychologist Louise Glazebrook of The Darling Dog Company explained her behaviour to me thus: Dogs have a reaction scale of 1-10. 1 might be a headshake, 10 is a severe bite. Most dogs, in their interaction with humans, learn than 1-2 is enough to get the human to stop whatever behaviour distresses them.
But some dogs, especially those teased by small children, as Posetta had been, eventually learn that only 7-10 will get those small humans (sometimes literally) off their back. And so they go straight to the bite the very instant that they feel threatened.
This was Posetta. She couldn’t be lifted or touched by strangers, and heaven forfend you tried to pick her up from behind or above. But we loved her, and we knew her ways. And with my sister always around, no longer able to work full-time, Posetta was assured of a kind and loving home, far from marauding children or irritating adults.
God we loved her, Holly most of all. She was the perfect dog in every single way bar the obvious, and I think we were the perfect owners for her.
But, over the last year or so her coat had begin to thin, her hunger, always extreme, was off the scale. She put on weight – and became not flabby, but a round barrel of sausage. We consulted several surgeries but the vets had no answers.
My mother thought that the arrival of Lettice last autumn might have upset her, but she never once went for Letty and they often slept together curled up in a tight, sausage-y ball.
Just before Christmas something began to go very very wrong. She couldn’t walk properly, and couldn’t lift or drag her body over the smallest step or bump.
Her aggression went off the scale. Poor Holly could barely touch her without being bitten. Clearly something was appallingly wrong. Posetta was a very distressed and very unhappy little dog. We thought it might be excruciating pain in her legs – Dachshunds are prone to severe back problems – causing her to lash out when anyone went near her rear.
So when Holly had to try to lift her over a step, Pottles would go for her. There were still no veterinary answers. The situation was becoming untenable.
But, in the end, it turned out to be Cushing’s Disease, with a tumour on her pituitary gland. She was medicated and the pain subsided but it was clear that this was a short term fix.
Posetta was twelve years old and Holly and I have always agreed that we do not believe in invasive surgery and chemo for elderly dogs. They don’t have the cognitive abilities to understand the pain and trauma, and we loved her far too much to put her through the countless tests, daily injections and pills, and painful procedures that ultimately might only prolong her life by a year or so. And the quality of that year would not be good.
Enough was enough we decided.
I loved Pottles but she was, all told, Holly’s dog. She didn’t want to take her to our local vet for the deed and leave her body behind, returning for the ashes a fortnight later. We grew up in the country and we had always buried our dogs. Dumping her at the vet seemed wrong, wrong, wrong. So Holl found a pet crematorium in High Halden in Kent, coincidentally a few miles from where we grew up in Smarden, and a vet near by who would help us.
I wasn’t keen – it’s a four-hour round trip and it seemed a bit over the top. But Holly was so right, as it turned out.
Arriving home from Hong Kong on Wednesday, very early, I unpacked, did the laundry and the rest, and as soon as I could, I set an out of office, switched off my phone for 48 hours, and went straight to Holly’s house ten minutes away from mine. Posetta was ecstatic when she realised I was home, bouncing and snuffling on the doorstep with joy, and it was hard to believe she was a few days away from the end. We spent the evening in bed, snuggling with our dogs and talking.
On Thursday we had a lovely morning doing more down duvet snuggling, with Pottles licking Holly’s face and cuddling up to us, her back seemingly pain-free.
I thought more about the 6am start and long drive to Kent during the rush hour the next morning to get to the vets for 10am – Holly had decided it was an hour or so drive, but I knew it was at least two, and possibly double that in the London rush hour.
So I got on my smartphone, and ten minutes later had booked us into a last minute deal on a self-catering cottage in the stable yard at Eastwell Manor Hotel, a few miles from the vet. We drove down that afternoon with both dogs on Holly’s lap; stopping at the shops to buy supplies for supper en route.
It helped that we were travelling to and through a part of the world that we both know well: it distracted us as we drove through the countryside, recognising old landmarks and passing our childhood home.
The cottage was perfect – I cooked Posetta a huge and most delicious last supper of pan-fried pork chops and, with a big bone to chew, she was in seventh heaven.
Then the nightmare began: she howled with pain on and off all night. We could barely touch her without screams of pain. She kept falling off the bed and we couldn’t pick her up without wrapping our arms in coats because she would attack us with bared teeth and lightning fast reflexes. We didn’t sleep much.
In the morning I took both dogs for a final walk around the grounds of Eastwell Manor. Pottles had a splendid time sniffing and pottering about on the lawns and flowerbeds, but she couldn’t climb any steps or explore beyond a flat path. And then, when we tried to lift her into the car for her final journey, she went for us both again.
At the vet I stood in the corner with Letty, and Holly held Posetta tight in a blanket in her arms, and afterwards we drove to the crematorium. I cannot write more.
We had two hours to wait for the ashes, so I took Holly and Letty to The Three Chimneys near Sissinghurst for a late lunch. It’s a perfect low-ceilinged Elizabethan pub that we knew well from our childhood, and we holed up in a corner by the fireplace, sitting side by side, with Letty between us, as we ate and cried and laughed and remembered and cried some more.
TheFriday afternoon rush hour drive back to London was interminable, the container of ashes sitting there in the footwell, as we stopped and started our way around the M25.
I am glad however that we did this, that we made a ritual of this goodbye, that we said farewell to Posetta in our own way, out of London in the countryside where we are most comfortable, in a place we loved, but that we would probably never return to, that wouldn’t remind us of her final day on a regular basis. And, most importantly, that we were able to make her passing as calm and kind as possible.
My sister has been made bereft by her absence and we, none of us, will forget our funny, intelligent, scruffy little dog.