Last week my lovely little dog Sasha died. She was fourteen years old and she’d had a really good life. She was part of my family for a long time, so I wanted to take the trouble to remember her and honour her – she was a top notch little dog.
We’ve always had dogs in our household, first it was Rupert the independently minded West Highland Terrier who did exactly as he pleased for almost seventeen years. When he died we went into mourning for about four months, we couldn’t believe he’d gone. Then eventually we realised we wanted another dog. Andrew is allergic to animal fur and wanted a non-moulting beastie. Being the organised sort of fellow that he is he fiddled around on google and decided that a cross breed would be suitable and came up with a Cairn Terrier and Poodle Cross, often called a ‘Cairnoodle’ or a ‘canoodle’. In true husbandly style he located a litter of puppies and suggested that I go and see them. I drove four hours east across the country from Cheshire to the furthest corner of Yorkshire, if I’d gone any further I would have fallen into the North Sea. There I met a friendly lady, was offered a welcoming cup of tea and was introduced to a raucous group of little pups who were busy causing chaos in the playroom of the breeder’s home.
I chose the chocolate coloured one, a little girl, with a tiny white smudge beneath her muzzle. The lady put her in a cardboard box. I put the box in the footwell of the passenger seat. She then howled all the way home, deep, blood curdling yowls, as she expressed, loudly and clearly, her sadness at leaving her doggy family. I was so relieved when that journey came to an end. The howling dog was almost as bad as a howling child and as any mother will tell you those plaintive cries cut you to the quick. Never have I been so relieved to step into my kitchen at home and introduce our new dog to the family.
My four children were in the kitchen at the time; Edward, William, Alistair and Lucy. Lucy (aged 10) swept the little bundle of brown fur into her arms and balanced her on the computer keyboard where she was doing her homework. The boys showed a bit of interest, but for Lucy our new puppy was the absolute star of the show. We wanted a short easy name for our new dog. Something we could shout in the park without feeling like an idiot, so Gertrude or Samantha was out. I can’t remember how we came up with the name Sasha, but I remember thinking that’s a great name, short, succinct, rolls off the tongue, that’ll do.
Sasha fitted into family life very quickly. She was always in the garden with the kids or curled up asleep on her bed in the utility room. She had free run of the downstairs of the house and was often to be found awaiting snacks and titbits in the kitchen. She was also great friends with my sister’s dog Lily, a Jack Russell by profession. In fact the pair of them would go racing off across the fields, in search of small rodents or the occasional rabbit. One day we decided to get some chickens and Lily and Sasha thought it would be great fun to chase the chickens and actually managed to terrorise one so completely that it dropped dead. That never happened again, both dogs were seriously told off.
Terriers are naturally very tenacious hunting dogs, they have been bred to catch rabbits and small rodents. Sasha was always very brave and keen to chase whatever absent-minded rabbit or pheasant strolled through our garden. However from a very early age she did demonstrate a certain lack of perspective, in terms of vision, not ability to have complicated political debates! If she was running after me into my office, which was across the yard and into a converted barn, there were three sandstone steps and she would often misjudge the steps completely, take off to early, fly through the air and crash like a cartoon character straight into the top step. She was tough and resilient, so with a quick squeak and a shake she’d be back on her feet, only her pride was a little bit wounded.
Like most dogs Sasha was intensely territorial. Delivery men and postmen often bore the brunt of her tenacity. She was also selective. She really disliked our lovely postman Pete, who was always gentle and kind with her. And she reserved a special place in hell for the UPS man, who she really didn’t like at all. He did have a very strange greased-back hair-do and a slightly supercilious attitude. Maybe it was these she objected to……………..
When the kids went off to university and later to live overseas it was just me and Andrew and Sasha at home. Andrew was often in London during the week, so during the summer months Sasha and I had a little routine. I’d organise some chairs in the garden and take a glass of wine and nibbles outside, Sasha would share the nibbles with me and stand guard. I was always her person, she tolerated Andrew (just about) but she was quite clearly my dog. One evening during my cocktail hour, a strange looking creature meandered out of the bushes, took one look at Sasha and let out a blood-curdling shriek. I later learned it was a pole cat, similar to a weasel only bigger and pretty intimidating. Sasha leapt into action and chased the pole cat, at top speed, across the lawn. Fortunately the pole cat disappeared into the undergrowth with Sasha the thwarted terrier barking hysterically.
About five years ago I started travelling in Europe during the summer months and Sasha would accompany me. I organised a cage, with a bed, in the boot of the car. She had her own pet passport and her own travel bag, filled with her own supply of dog food, biscuits and chewy treats. She was a great companion on the road. We had a routine, I’d drive for two hours and then stop to exercise the dog. Good for me and good for her. Sasha travelled on numerous occasions through France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. She was great, easy going and flexible. She’s even sat under the table in some pretty swanky restaurants. Although her favourite restaurants and bars were always the ones where there was plenty to eat on the floor, croissant crumbs, bits of cake, anything like that – she was never a picky eater. In fact food was a defining characteristic for Sasha, she loved food, especially fish and fish skin. She was also very partial to a bit of steak!
Last year Andrew and I rented a town house on Lido di Venezia, the island that separates the lagoon of Venice from the Adriatic Sea. Sasha took to her new environment like a fish to water. She loved it. Two minutes walk to the beach and five minutes to the local cafe, where an endless buffet of crumbs and bits of cake awaited her. Heaven. I found a dog groomer for her and then when I had to return to England I was recommended some lovely dog-sitters. The kindest couple I could ever have hoped for. Silvio and Simonetta lived just round the corner from me on The Lido and kindly welcomed Sasha into their home as a paying guest. Sasha was treated like a queen, endless cuddles and affection, daily walks and a calm, safe environment.
Just about one month ago I had to return to London to meet up with my children and Andrew. Our youngest son was having a small wedding celebration in Portugal and we had decided to congregate in London first. I delivered Sasha to Silvio and Simonetta’s house, it never occurred to me that it would be the last time I would see her. I was aware that Sasha had slowed down in recent weeks and I did give her a special hug as I was leaving. Unfortunately poor little Sasha was not well. The lovely Silvio and Simonetta took her to the vet and he prescribed some medicine which did help for a week or so. However she was getting more and more tired. Silvio did everything humanly possibly to make her comfortable. The situation was complicated by the spread of the Corona Virus across Europe making it impossible for me to get back to the Lido. Effectively I was stranded in London and I could not get back (I’m still in London now and who knows when I’ll be able to return to Italy).
Last week Silvio and I spoke – he told me that he’d spoken to the vet again and once again the vet had prescribed some medication for Sasha and she seemed a little better. I was relieved and felt very happy. Perhaps I’d get back to Italy after all in time to see my little Sasha. Sadly it was not to be. That very same day I got a phone call from Silvio telling me that Sasha had died, just moments earlier. A wave of emotion poured over me as I though of Sasha and the loyal and consistent friendship she’d given me over the years. Poor Silvio and Simonetta were distraught too.
The next morning Silvio sent me some beautiful pictures. A nice shady spot in the garden had been selected as Sasha’s final resting place. She was buried in the garden, on a sunny day in late March. Poor Silvio and Simonetta had found Sasha’s death very upsetting. As often happens in these situations the actual moment of departure came as a shock. It certainly did for me. And yet the pictures of Sasha’s grave in the garden and the little Robin, who appeared at just the right moment to stand on the grave was like a little miracle for all of us. I’m sure it was Sasha’s spirit saying, ‘Thank you very much everyone, it’s been great, I’m off to chase chickens in heaven now, I was only allowed to do that once on Earth’.
- Sasha was actually quite a decent writer – you may be interested to read a couple of the articles that she wrote during her life:
- Firstly: Sasha considers Germany and Austria, at this link:
- Secondly: A European Road Trip – A Dog’s Point of View:
Thanks for reading!
It’s true what they say ‘A Dog Really is Man’s Best Friend‘!