|Lulu. The last picture|
Lulu. She arrived as a puppy 12 years ago, soon to be joined be her sibling Lucy, and was a charming ball of fluffy cuteness. Who quickly grew into an adolescent whirlwind of uncontrollably bouncy territorial chutzpah, and then nearly 13 stones of unstoppable, unholdable friskiness.
If she ran into you, you went down and stayed down. If she stood on your foot, you were trapped until she decided to move. Not that she meant any harm. She would greet visitors by slobbering all over them and then leaning, in a convivial fashion, against their legs until they buckled. St Bernards like to lean. They like human contact. It’s what they do in avalanches - they dig down to the victim and cuddle up to keep them warm. And to feel less lonely. Because St Bernards hate being alone.
Lucy, her sister, died a few years ago and we acquired, quite recently, Rug, a rescue dog whose chequered life has not affected her equable temperament in the slightest. For the past couple of years Lulu has done a great deal of sleeping, interspersed with barking at tourists and engaging in lead-twanging standoffs with the neighbours’ Great Dane. Gone are the days when she would spend hours bouncing up and down on the kids’ trampoline.
Twelve is a good age for a St Bernard, and to be honest we’ve been expecting Lulu to run out of road for the last six months or so. She’d lost weight, became breathless easily and stumbled going up and down stairs. Still, it came as a shock when, during last night’s ramble to the shop and back, she suffered some kind of attack, possibly to do with her heart, and became unable to use her back legs. She’s always been such a fit animal, even at the equivalent age of 96 (with giant breeds it’s eight dog years to one human).
Rug was taken home, and the operation to rescue an immobile, panting 12-stone St Bernard began. Somehow, we lifted Lulu into the back of the old Merc estate and then into the house. A call to the vet indicated that we should wait and see how she was in the morning.
When she woke, she still couldn’t walk, though she seemed a little better. But her inability to perform her ablutions properly was distressing for her and us, and it became clear something would have to be done. She had her (buttered) toast and lay in the sun. Jim the vet was at the house within an hour of us phoning.
Big dogs take up such a lot of physical and emotional space. I look about and wonder what’s wrong. Where is she? Rug is wandering around, confused. But then she always looks confused. Phoning James, Martha and Magnus to tell them the dog they’d grown up with had departed was hard. It’s only a dog, I know. But for them, and for me, Lulu was their childhood.
I dug a deep grave next to the wooden picket fence, over from the trampoline she loved to bounce on. It looked too wee, but wasn’t. She was smaller in death, physically.
Until I went back into the house and felt the massive, yawning absence.