Stoic, undemanding, loyal and overshadowed.
She arrived as a pup sixteen or so years ago, joining a family with some big personalities, noise and laughter. Chunky Stan was already in situ, solid, demanding and desperately seeking solace. Manchester United level footy skills (in Alex Ferguson days). Out-dribbling us with dazzling paw and head work.
Connor. Laughing Boy. His bond with Stan extended to a special dialect and much face licking [I know].
“How was your day, Connor?”
“Hey Connor, how was school?!”
“Connor, Stan wants to know how school was today.”
“Weioll Schtanny it wasch a gwood dway. Schue was lawghing in aschemblee.. Phwarhawhaw!”
If I said Bess wants to know, Connor would adopt a high-pitched sing-song voice and say something short. And closed. A tick Bess exercise. We knew she was a brief stand-in for the main pooch.
It was always about the Chunky one.
An unusual dog
Bess didn’t like us going away. Dog sitting mates would anxiously report they’d not seen her for a couple of days. She’d not eaten her food.
When friends took her for a walk on the local rec she’d scarper when off her lead. Crossing three roads to home. Sitting patiently on the doorstep. Waiting to be let back in. A comedy catch up caper for those passing…
“You looking for that little dawg? She ran thatta a way!!!”
And fear coated experience for the chaser.
When Connor was admitted to the unit, a mate brought round a large box of homemade coffee cupcakes. A proper cupcake plastic storage box with an airtight lid. We came back in later to find the box on the kitchen floor. Open with several missing cakes.
“Gawd,” we said. “Bloody dogs.”
Rosie woke a few hours later. With a crushed cup cake under her shoulder.
There was a cake under the covers in each bed.
Connor died. We grew older. Stan lost his sight in one eye and then his eyeball in the other. Before the operation to remove his eye, the vet warned Jack Russell dogs were not good without sight. The next day we returned to the specialist surgery in the leafy Abingdon suburb. The vet walked into the waiting room cuddling a contented Stan, and handed him over. He was good to go.
The next few years involved negotiating grief, fighting for accountability, love and family life. The house became quieter as we slowly left childhood behind. The kids, their friends, the cooking, feeding, scrapping, laughter, chafing, chiding and noise reduced. Stan almost imperceptibly withdrew, his exuberance and affection demands became quieter and his presence shrank. He no longer came out to greet (or growl at) visitors, instead hovering in doorways and melting away to find quiet spaces. He died in January 2017.
From March 2020, life consisted of online catch ups with family and friends, short lived quizzes, work and walking round the local park and neighbourhood. Bess became our focus, our comfort stone.
“What about Bess...?” a constant refrain.
Without trying, she filled some of the complicated spaces of love, loss, absence and trauma. The whiff of dog breath, fleeting touch and intimate nearness. Always sitting or laying close by.
Bess in Manchester
We moved. Bess remained stoic and undemanding.
“Christ. How’s a 10th floor, city centre gig gonna work with Bess?” we wondered, as our lives were decanted into crates and we set off for northern adventures.
Bess rolled with it.
A 10th floor routine was soon established in which she would walk to the window and front door to let us know it was time to go out and about. She became a city dog. Frequenting cafes and bars, canal walks and frequent petting.
The building we’re living in is dog friendly with resident red carpet hounds. Milly the British Bulldog. Branston the French Bulldog, dachshunds, chihuahuas…
Only two weeks ago, a young couple in the lift commented Bess was their favourite dog in the flats. A week later, after speedily deteriorating, she was put down peacefully.
I dunno. She was old and had heart issues for the last three years. I thought her dying would be sad. Inevitable. Almost welcome given her increasing discomfort and the 10th floor hikes in and out. A friend messaged. Clear the decks of meetings tomorrow and ignore your emails. Nah. I’ll be ok.
Bess was a beautiful soul and much loved family member. I agree with George. I hope you are chilling somewhere with Connor and Stan and they ain’t treating you like a tick-Bess exercise. You were always so much more. It just took us [me] a while to realise.