Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wee Mac

Wee Mac - Sep 16th 1993 - Nov 21st 2009

the winged messenger

Linda and I married in June 1993. One particular day a few months later, I'm home from work briefcase in hand, and asking her what's for dinner. "There might be a clue in the living room," is the cryptic reply. Okay that's odd, I think, but we'll come back to it. "Any mail?" I ask.

She hesitates, then "There might be something in the living room."

Suddenly curious what I might find in that room, I'm slowly opening the door. She's come through from the kitchen behind me, peering over my shoulder. I'm getting a bit edgy.

A brightly multicoloured patchwork quilt lies on the floor at the foot of the sofa. Cautiously approaching it, I resolve a little matt black bundle in its middle. The bundle moves. It breathes. What is small, matt black, and breathing?

"It's a puppy!"

I'd mentioned before to Linda that I'd like a dog. In the past few months I'd complained - in fact, both of us had - whenever we saw someone walking their dog, how unfair it was that other people had dogs, aye and some had two or more. And we had none at all! Not even one!

So this is her surprise for me, a conspiracy hatched with her father, who's driven to collect the pup this day; and her mother, who's responsible for the swaddling. We name him "Mac". He sleeps through it all, blissfully unaware of daddy's arrival home.

Venus godess of love

Collies, and Border Collies in particular, are among the very cleverest of dogs. They spoil you absolutely for other breeds. After you've owned one, anything else is just a dog. Mac was easily trained, and learned many commands. Linda had plenty of experience of the breed - her previous dog, Sam, was legendary for his intelligence, both at home, and in Highland Shows where he'd often put the local working dogs to shame (winning so many awards, they changed the rules to exclude him).

Linda with Sam and Wee Mac - 1993

We used to joke that Mac was "a dog with a sense of humour," for example when you told him, "I'm gonna eat your dinner!" and he would growl, all the time wagging his tail.

Sometimes of course he'd be a little less clever than usual. Then I'd be forced to introduce him as "a genetic anomaly, the world's first border collie without a brain!" Wee Mac - as he'd come to be known, despite his absolutely average 20kg - didn't mind. Dog with a sense of humour, remember.

He was well loved. When Linda and I were both at work, he would spend days with my father, and my aunt. Mac was simply too clever to be left alone, and they doted on him too. Linda had already made an impression by training dad's previous dog Kerry, a Kerry Blue terrier of course, to walk on the lead, sit at the kerbside, and come back when recalled. This was a unique novelty; we'd never had such a clever dog before! But all that was as nothing to the range of tricks of which Mac became the master.

Whenever we went on holiday, well as Linda would say, "There's no show without Punch!" and so we had to ensure that our accommodation, cottage, caravan, or other, welcomed pets.

His first summer, we took him on his first of many trips to Embo, by Dornoch, Sutherland. Grannie's Heilan' Hame, to be exact. Once he discovered the beach there was nothing we could do to keep him away from it. We might think that we had him completely under control on an extending lead; next minute he was off, racing across the sand and rocks and into the brine, with his useless lead reel bouncing and clattering along behind him.

Mars bringer of war

Wee Mac's life was sadly blighted by being viciously attacked, while still only weeks old, by a neighbour's adult dog. The attack was a sustained one; I had of course put Mac on a lead, and was unable to let him go or pick him up to safety, so all I could do was pull him around in circles trying to get him away from his uncontrolled attacker, while the idiot owner stood back laughing. Mac had extensive surgery to repair his head and face, and was lost to us for a few days.

As a direct result of this, and subsequent similar experiences with the same attacker, Mac was never socialised. Despite numerous visits to training and obedience classes, he never learned to approach another dog without attacking it. His insecurities could occasionally lead him to turn on people too, particularly when someone pulled at the side of his collar, which I'm certain reminded him of that terrifying first attack.

Jupiter bringer of jollity

That aside, Mac's development was unremarkable, and he liked almost any other type of animal - with a particular fondness for cats, oddly enough. He displayed almost parental affection for a friend's guinea pigs, when once they were left in our care for a few days.

Nothing, obviously, was better than being at the seaside. Mac would always chase the waves, trying to catch them in his mouth, and end up with a belly full of salt. He'd swim out to retrieve floating sticks and toys, occasionally substituting one if he lost it.

He'd cheerfully pick up a "stick" that could actually be anything up to a fallen tree trunk, between three and twelve feet long, and three inches thick; adjust his grip by increments until it balanced in his muzzle; then run to you, dropping it at your feet. Waiting for you to throw it.

Actually, he'd drop it just far enough from your feet to make you do the work.

He had a slight heart murmur, and spent much of his life on medication for that. Not so much as you'd notice though, his spirit was strong, and his personality could not be suppressed by a little water tablet, or ACE inhibitor.

Mac was always first beneath the tree every Christmas morning, looking for his treat & squeaky toy stocking, which he would invariably unwrap for himself. In fact, he didn't always wait for Christmas morning! And if he visited you any time around then, your tree would get the same treatment.

His obedience, cleverness, and sense of fun, endeared him to everyone who knew him.

Saturn bringer of old age

Time brought him cataracts, at an age and a condition where nothing could be done about it. And so time also brought him near total blindness - or at least presbyopia.

Old age brought him deafness too, which signalled an end to his ability to respond to commands, except for one: he would still recognise as a recall signal, an arm waved in a circle, sufficiently far away. On the positive side, he was no longer freaked out requiring tranquilizers on fireworks night.

Then came arthritis, and his medication had to be supplemented with painkillers, first anti-inflammatories, then opiates. He began to have trouble standing up and - particularly - sitting or lying down.

Uranus the magician

We extended the steps into our house, lengthening the slabs so that he could get in and out more easily. We'd earlier tried out a dog ramp, but once he'd decided he didn't trust that, then it was never going to get used - he went out of his way to avoid it. Personally I think its metallic construction reminded him of the decks and walkways on the bridges and ferries he'd encountered on holiday when younger, and he didn't like those. Particularly on one tragi-comic occasion - on a ferry to Orkney I think - when we'd just managed to get him to calm down in our arms, before a previously unnoticed ship's horn blasted his ears from a range of two feet.

Mac generally slept on a Snoozee Dog blanket in our room. But as he got older, his trips upstairs at night grew less frequent. That made it all the more special when after a good day's rest, he would suddenly find the stamina to follow us, looking for company. We would hear him, slowly shuffling upstairs two or three steps at a time, sometimes finishing with a burst of half a dozen in his race to the finishing tape.

These were good times, when we felt that we had our wee boy back with us, and they gave us hope that the various medications, and his diet, were helping to make his later life a bit better and more comfortable for him.

Neptune the mystic

Inevitably and inexorably, these magical interludes grew less frequent, and more troubled. Sometimes he would fall back downstairs, while most other times he could not summon the effort to make the attempt. His pains grew worse, and he began to go off his food.

follow me down
to the valley below
you know
moonlight is bleeding
from out of your soul

Eventually, Mac stopped eating almost entirely, and couldn't even be hand fed. When it seemed that his life contained nothing but pain, we prepared ourselves to face the inevitable.

my David don't you worry
this cold world is not for you
so rest your head upon me
I have strength to carry you

Today we both held him, kept him calm and reassured, while our vet administered the sleeping jab. It was a very peaceful end. Then we cried. He had gone so quickly.

come to us
it's time for you to go

Tonight, we toasted the immortal memory of our little absent friend. Wee Mac was 16. Or to put it another way, he was 113.

He's been with us for all of our married life. He's been with us, ever since Linda and I have had our home together. We have always been three. But now, our identities have changed, we're no longer mummy and daddy. Now there's a ghost in every room, in the garden, in the back of the car. I glance over by the sofa, and for one instant, think I see him there again.

It's just a pair of slippers.

Headings inspired by "The Planets" by Gustav Holst
Words from "Lazarus" by Porcupine Tree written by Steven Wilson

1 comment:

  1. I tip my hat respectfully to your fallen companion. A wonderful tale of innocence and love. Well managed John, this must have been a trial to document. Your proud tears are apparent. Good on you.

    Much Love PL