Cape May Chronicles – Thanksgiving Eve

First of all, thank you to all who took the time to read the Jake piece. There is another one to come, more than I put in this diary journal below, but from me, it meant a lot that lots of people told me how lovely a tribute it was. Thank you so much.

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It’s 10pm US Eastern time, and I’m sitting in my bedroom, typing away. Not quite my mum’s basement, but my mother-in-law’s guest room. It has been 50 or so hours since we touched down in the USA, and it has been the usual mix of bargain clothes shopping, trying out the local sandwich places, walks along the Delaware Bay, driving silly distances in cars with ridiculous gas guzzling tendencies (my hire car is an “Eco” car that does a princely 24 mpg) while my American wife moans at petrol prices the equivalent of around 50p a litre. I shit you not. I love America, for reasons that are obvious – the sport, the area we are in (Cape May really is lovely), and family – and not so obvious. The people are really friendly to me, wherever I go. There is politeness and civility in this area. There is a lovely ambience to the place, a sense of community, a sense of togetherness. Local newspapers, with local news, bought by local people. The area is, it has to be said, very white. It recently changes its political stripes in the House elections, voting in a name recognised Democrat, rather than the replacement Republican who tried to get in after La Biondo retired.

New Jersey gets a really bad rep, but that’s because everyone thinks of the world of Springsteen, the urban grittiness on the other side of the Hudson from Manhattan, the poxy Jersey Shore programme, the nonsensical Atlantic City and so on and so forth. But there is some nice parts, and I might be biased, but I think Cape May is still the nicest.

I’m over for Thanksgiving. As with much of life at the moment, the real reason I am over is because of Jake. When Jake passed away, and Friday 23rd is the month anniversary of that, it became very, very clear that I needed a break from the grind and so did the wife. We managed, after a very fraught 24 hours where the price went up and then down again, to book a package of two flights, and a hire car for the duration, for a price that would not ruin Christmas. It is an escape from the emptiness of the house. My mum in law has a dog, Roxy, and while not a Jake by any manner of means, we took it for a walk in the biting cold this morning and it felt right. Roxy used to run away from me on previous stays, but to my pleasant surprise she’s being very friendly early on in this visit. Maybe she remembers me and knows I know her no ill. Maybe she’s a bit older and wiser. She’s a very small dog with a small dog attitude!

But Jake is there. Still is. In our minds, in our heights, in our soul. Both the wife and I shed a few tears on the flight over as we both knew the reason we had come was, yes, to visit family, but was to try to heal a little more after Jake. Let’s be frank about this, it has been much, much harder than I expected. Previous pets I’ve had died and I was “over” them in a matter of days. There are very few days when I feel better than the days after his death. I am putting together pictures for Facebook and Instagram of his life, enhancing them, tidying them up, and Jake looks majestic, charismatic, energetic, handsome etc. It is me pretending to do something cathartic, when it is, in fact, anything but. I want to tell everyone who has had a pet, who has a pet, that it’s perfectly understandable to grieve, and for as long as is appropriate, and also to tell everyone that they are special. Jake was special. He will always be special. Christ, I miss him.

But I am here in the States. It’s a little unnerving. On the outside, this place hasn’t changed a bit. Cape May is still Cape May. The town I married in. The town I’ve been to around 10 times now. Who knows, I might even move here one day if the healthcare system didn’t frighten the bloody life out of me. But wherever you go, whatever you watch, whoever you see, there is Donald Trump. If a nation is ever defined by its leader it is the USA by Trump. There’s almost a shrug that this shit might go on in Washington, but life goes on in sleepy Cape May. But he’s there. No-one in Cape May should give a crap about a “wall”, but they do. No-one in Cape May is going to be “swamped by illegals” but this is an area that went for Trump in 2016. Trump is not of them, never will be, but yet this is a Red town. A sleepy little outpost, used by Philadelphians as their weekend jaunt (the properties on either side of my mum in law’s are owned by out of towners), is as in thrall to Trump as the rest of the nation. It’s really quite odd.

I’m not sure what to make of all this at the moment. We have a 180 mile drive up to my sister-in-law’s tomorrow morning to eat a turkey, then we come straight back down to the hell of Black Friday. All this was inconceivable a mere four weeks ago when Jake was about to be put to sleep, but I’m here. It’s just the way life goes, I suppose.

On that subject, on the walk down to the beach this morning, we passed by a house where a lovely guy called Steve lives. He lost his wife to cancer a couple of years ago. When he saw us previously he would always stop to talk. He was a genuinely warm, loving, friendly guy, the sort who would stand in local parish elections for the betterment of his local community. Outside his house is a large Stars and Stripes on a flagpole – we would think that sort of patriotism gauche, whereas it seemed right being there. On Monday night, an hour or two after we had arrived, an ambulance and police turned up to Steve’s house (he must be in his 80s) and left, ambulance dark, no lights on in the back. We do not know what happened, but we fear what might have. The word will go around soon enough, and I hope we pass his house one day on this trip and he is there to say hello, but we fear the worst, we really do.

I’ll try to write some more in due course. It is going to be -5 celsius tomorrow, which is the MAXIMUM temperature in New York. Can’t wait. A long 180 mile drive for dinner. The American way. I’ll see you soon.

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Jake – A Life And A Death

Loch Tay – June 2009

This is a post I never wanted to write. It is a post that I was always going to have to write. It’s a post that is going to be tough for me to write. It might be tough for anyone interested to read. I am writing it because writing helps me. It’s a way of getting my emotions, feelings, thoughts down, without the agony of me saying them and getting emotional in front of you. I hope people read this, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t.

This is the story of a dog, me, my wife, and the impact his death has had. It starts by talking about how he came into our life, and the things we did as soon as we had him. It ends with some stories of his life, and the impacts he has had. In the middle, the tough bit, is the story of his death. It is something I needed to do. First as a semi-permanent reminder of the passage of time, but second as a form of catharsis. At least that is what I am telling myself. I could continue trying to polish its raw edges, but I have now decided to press go. Any errors, well I’ll just have to try to see them.

Jake In The Snow – February 2009

So let me begin. I’m now a 49 year old man, but when we got Jake, I was 39, coming off a horrible couple of years, but with hope in the form of a great wife, and a sharing of a common purpose. To raise the best dog we could. You can fill in the other blank if you want.

I got married in late 2008, and my wife had been the owner of a dog that she had to give up to come and live in the UK. She wanted to get a companion here, and while I was reluctant at first, I gave in. We agreed to go down the rescue dog route and try our luck. We wanted a smart dog, and the obvious breed was a border collie. I quite liked the idea, although it would be a daunting proposition, because my previous dogs owned by mum and dad were a mixed breed and then a Lhasa Apso. Neither had the energy of a border collie. As a first owned dog, this was going in at the deep end. We registered with Battersea and just after Christmas a new puppy appeared on their site. A cute little border collie by the name of Jed. My wife got in touch, all seemed good, we were approved and we could come and get him.

The first little snag was that our original pick-up date of 23 January was put back by a week because Jed had a little stomach issue, but we were more than welcome to visit him to meet him for the first time. We journeyed out to Old Windsor to see our little puppy, and hearts melted in an instant. My moans about Friday on the M25 disappeared. We were given the green light to pick him up on 30 January 2009 and our lives changed forever. He was friendly, he seemed to like us, he got into the car beautifully, he was calm on the journey around the M25, he was great in Pets at Home when we went to get his crate and food, and our life as a trio had begun in earnest.

Jake, When He Was Known As Jed. The Day We Picked Him Up

The name. Jed was never going to last. For the South East corner of the M25 I had Henry in the lead for his name. But it didn’t seem right, and we finally settled on Jake. Or as he was also known, Jakey. Not inspired, not different, but right. Jake the border collie, 3 months old, born around 7 October 2008, was now part of our family.

The first good news was that he’d been toilet trained. That was a huge relief, as it was one of my main concerns about owning a pet. Yeah, I know. We also crated him at meal times and night times, or if he was naughty. Some pet owners we know don’t like that, but it did instil some discipline in him early on. We personalised it, put lots of soft toys in there, blankets, covered it. It was Jake’s little den while he was a puppy.

The first night was fun. We put the crate on the landing outside the spare bedroom. Jake wasn’t having it, and therefore we weren’t having a lot of sleep. But it was a little battle of wits we had to win. Jake cried a lot, but finally gave up. Once we opened the crate in the morning this little bundle of energy would jump on the bed, showing his delight to see us, and then getting an early morning walk. We were as excited as he was. We made the silly mistake of letting him sleep with us on the second night, but then stuck to the discipline of the crate, instead leaving it downstairs. We would put him in there when we went out, for short periods, as we knew of the collie trait of separation anxiety and damaging furniture, but in truth we never really had that with Jake.

The first few weeks, as Jake grew rapidly from puppy to full grown dog were exhilarating. I have to say that he brought out a new lease of life in me. There’s some personal context here. I lost my parents within 9 months of each other in 2005-6. When I got married I was coming off the back of two horrible years, where my confidence was shot, my personal conduct was different, where I was more angry, where I got upset much too easily, and where on the back of all that, someone still loved me enough to marry me! Thank heavens for her (I’m not going to name her, but she will be called G throughout the rest of this piece).

What Jake did for me in that first year was get me out of the house. We travelled to the coast, as Jake got familiar with beaches and the sea. We have pictures of him in Deal, and memorably Bexhill, as a puppy where he clearly ignored a horse on the promenade until it started walking away and he started barking at it. This would not be the only animal Jake would not take a shine to.

Within his first year Jake had inspired me to go to John O’Groats and Land’s End. The holiday in Scotland, still one of my favourite breaks in my life, was stupendous. Jake showed so much cheekiness, but he was a lovable little rogue. He went into other people’s cottages, he’d bark at sheep or cows, he’d get the hump if we left him on his own, he would jump on the beds (against all rules), and yet he melted you when he gave you those eyes. But importantly on that trip, Jake learned to swim, at the foot of Cairn Gorm. I believe it is called Loch Morlich. We should put a plaque down there – Here Swam Jake – June 2009.

This new found skill of swimming, nearly got us into a ton of trouble in Cornwall as at Tintagel he swam out to sea, and went a fair old way. The sea wasn’t smooth either. Each call was ignored.  I was just about to cast off the clothes, when he turned back, struggling a little, but getting back to shore. To say I got a bit more protective of him after that would be an understatement. Every time he waded out, I got worried. Sometimes I wonder that not having kids has saved me heart failure!

This Cornwall trip also saw him tear up his bedding when we left him alone in the crate, and at the age of 1, we used it for pretty much the last time. Jake had got a little big for it, and a little big for his boots. One night, on his evening walk in Cornwall, he heard the cows in the neighbouring field. He barked. They went mad. I’m surprised the farmer wasn’t out on his rounds looking for our naughty little boy!

There are lots of great photos of Jake on some of the best beaches and locations in the country. He loved the expansive beach at Tenby (off season) which gave him the chance to run free, in and out of the water. There was also a superb beach at Whitesands Bay where again, he got to run around like crazy, enjoying the vast sands as me, the wife and my mother-in-law wandered to the various ends. He played on Hunstanton beach, Southwold, West Wittering, Barton Sands, Chesil Beach, Lulworth Cove, Bexhill, Herne Bay, but for me, the best was a beach north of Wick. It’s near the golf course, off the A99, and it is simply stunning. It’s bloody cold, but the sand is pure, the scenery lovely and stark, and Jake, a young Jake, loved it. And frankly, so did I. I would love to visit there again. Scotland won me over, and we would never have gone but for Jake.

Jake at that beach in Wick

(Note – we have thousands of pictures of Jake. This will be one of the last ones on this post. I will post many, many more later).

For the 9 years and 9 months we were in the presence of Jake, we enjoyed life and went to many parts of the country. We had a great holiday in west Wales, a couple of lovely weekend breaks in the Wye Valley, he saw much of the south and east coasts of England, as well as the New Forest and Dorset. With his presence we went out and about in those early years. I saw parts of the UK I’d never have thought we would. Jake was the catalyst.

Jake also became my social media presence. I would take lots of pictures of him in these locations, or over our local playing fields, or with some prop or another, and while he never particularly liked it, he got used to it. Out of this evolved the Jake calendar. We sent this to friends and relatives, each year it was enhanced, made better, played with, so that it became a little bit of an institution around our way, and people wanted me to do one of their dog. Close friends and family only, I’m afraid. I had a lot of material in the can for 2019, but we’ve decided not to go ahead with it.

One event though, changed me, and made me more restrictive when it came to trips. In 2011, when Jake was 3, we took a visit down to Camber Sands. If you are familiar with the beach, it’s a fair hike over sand dunes from the car park, but it’s a great beach for dogs. Jake loved it. Absolutely loved it. He would play, and play, and play. He would seemingly never get tired. After three or four hours of great fun, relaxation and playing with Jake, there was a problem. Suddenly Jake went downhill, he got listless. We made him drink water, but there was an issue. We decided to immediately go home. Then, as we were about to climb the dune off the beach, and with Jake just about walking, a damn “Staff” attacked him. It was one of the most pitiful moments of my dog ownership. The scum owner did nothing and I could not do anything. It was over in seconds, and Jake looked at me. I felt awful. My poor little boy was attacked in a vulnerable state. There may have been no real physical damage, but the scars on me never healed.

Jake managed, wobbling a little to walk back to the car, but he was really struggling. He slumped in the back of the car. He was wheezing, he never moved, he didn’t respond to anything we did. We were frantic. We got home, unloaded the car, phoned the vet and rushed him to an emergency vet. He had ingested too much salt water and needed to have injections. It might not have been life threatening, but it still felt like it. He never went to Camber Sands again. That was down to me. I wasn’t putting him in that position again.

Having a dog like Jake is a privilege and I am quite protective, no make that very protective. He had a propensity to damage his legs while running and chasing because he was so “locked in” on the fields, and sometimes that meant vet visits where we possibly over-reacted. One time when we took him to a beach near Ramsgate he sliced open his paw on some carelessly discarded glass, and left a long trail of blood into the car. We couldn’t get the cut to stop bleeding for most of the journey home. Another vet visit, another set of treatment he didn’t want. The subsequent requirement to wear a sock for a week went down really well with him. His main purpose in life was to get the thing off. He succeeded more often than not.

But for all the dramas, taking Jake to play was always terrific, and he loved nothing more than water. He once swam across the pond on Mitcham Common. He loved the coast, he loved playing in the Darenth river, and most of all, he loved Dash and Splash at Paws in the Park. Before people like us took advantage of it, the guys used to run a training session for £20 the day before Paws in the Park. We took him a couple of times and it was great value for money. Jake got a lot jumps, didn’t have to queue as long, and loved it. There’s a terrific video on Youtube of it. He is so familiar with that clip that Jake recognised it when I played it on the laptop. The opening line of “The Guys are Taking Jake In Hand” set him off. Regrettably they stopped that open session and made it open to campers only, and he never got many goes again. Good things don’t last forever. But the pictures and videos will sustain us. He wasn’t great at it – not 27 feet great – but he got the hang of it, and one pic in particular shows his utter love for it. As it has me in it, it won’t be shown on here!

The home Jake was as entertaining. He would nick my spot in the bed regularly, stubbornly not moving. He did the same on the sofa too. When he was young Millwall played Leeds in the Play-Offs, and we were 1-1 on aggregate. When Jimmy Abdou got the vital goal for the Lions, I jumped up off the sofa, celebrating the goal. Next thing I know, Jake is launching himself at me, play-biting and attacking me as if we are having a little fight (we did this often). Either that, or Jake was a closet Leeds fan, a fate too awful to contemplate. Sorry, not sorry, Leeds fans.

G bought Jake a bed when he outgrew his puppy one. The damn thing is five feet long and about three feet deep. It’s enormous. Jake, of course, loved it. He had full sight of all that was going on in the room, including the front door, it provided a cushioned landing for throwing the ball at him, and he could stretch out and be uber-comfortable on it. It’s now all packaged up, ready to be put in the loft, for any new dog to have when they are old enough. I’ll wager it will be down in three months!

Jake loved human bath time, hose time, watering can time, chucking water at him time, but not his own bath time. He loved to be brushed. He would not allow you to stop until he was ready. You stopped prematurely, the paw went up. Oh, that paw. The signal for “I’m not finished yet”.

Jake loved our playing fields, and G would test him out with the frisbee and ball. His love for those fields, and the friends that he made for us will also be a legacy. Some of those friends have given us great support, but we also know how much they loved him. His lack of presence on the field since October has been noted, and his friends have communicated their sadness to us. “We can’t believe it, he looked so healthy……”

I will get to the tough part now. I promise to finish with the good stuff.

Jake was certainly slowing down a little, but for a near 10 year old dog he was still very active. We took him up Leith Hill in late August, and he was full of the old vitality. We took him and his great friend Snowy to Sutton Valence for a photo shoot on 1 September to prepare for this year’s calendars. On that trip all seemed well, with Jake in fine form, climbing up hills, pulling hard on his lead as always.

But a clue had been dropped in early August. I took Jake for his evening walk and he seemed to lack energy. I put it down to my own fears but when he got back in he didn’t demand his treats and he slumped onto the floor. I was worried enough to phone the vets on this Saturday night. They put it down to him having a stomach ache, that we should put him on the chicken and rice diet for a bit (he loved the former) and keep an eye on him. Sure enough, he was back to normal the next day. We put it down to the heat. About two weeks later, he had another, and we were a little concerned. The Saturday before Leith Hill he had a really small slump that could have just been my imagination. Then the week after Sutton Valence he had another, and we took him to the vet.

When we got him there, he’d recovered and looked a perfectly fit and healthy dog. This was clearly what the vet thought, probably thinking we were panicking a little, but not so much to put out there that it could be a neurological issue. We were pretty clear in our descriptions, leaving knowing this probably wasn’t the last time. But not completely worried.

He was fine for the rest of that week, and then on Sunday he had another, and on the following Tuesday another slump and this time we got him to the vet in the middle of it. He took blood tests, emphasised that it really could be neurological and G and I were distraught. He promised to phone the following day. It was a call I was terrified to receive. I genuinely thought that we would get the death call then. We mentally prepared for the worst.

When it came, mid-day the following day, it wasn’t disastrous. There was a slight kidney issue which would mean lifetime tablets, change in diet and constant monitoring. OK, not great, but we were confident we could handle that and at least we had an explanation. I got the new food, the medication and off we went. Jake didn’t take to it at first, but seemed to like it (he preferred the chicken we gave him as treats, thought), especially when we merged the wet food in with the dry. We were optimistic. It has to be stressed, that in between these slumps, Jake was the same dog we knew. He’d play over the fields. He’d run about at home. There seemed to be a sensible diagnosis that explained everything to us. But doubts remained. We were optimistic, but realistic.

In the immediate aftermath of the visit on that Wednesday, things went well. Then Saturday came and Jake went into another slump and my heart slumped with him – surely the drugs were there to prevent this sort of thing? He lay there not being able to walk, totally exhausted, but after 18 hours he would, again, come out of it. But that it happened at all suggested this wasn’t all it was going to be.

Another issue loomed. G was supposed to go to the States, so he would need to be looked after by my brother and his wife. So we had to give him a flea treatment, despite the worries that it would seriously impact him. When we gave him his flea treatment he went into the worst slump of all – it was horrible. The legs went totally. He did not move. He did not eat. He had no energy. We were horrified. We decided not to go to the emergency vet, to see if he came out of it. He did, but we were, by now, getting worried. This was the worst one yet, and the vet had not told us to stop the flea treatment, even though the side effects could be neurological (and they were still suspecting that).

A week of a little more stability followed. He wasn’t himself, but we put that down to the tablets really kicking in, but he didn’t have those awful slumps again, rather a set of mini slumps every three days. As G and I would say, his lows were higher and his highs were lower. But more warning signs were coming – he initially liked the wet renal food, but then completely went off it. He would get some chicken but we really needed him to eat the food, so we had to balance the depriving him of his favourites, while trying to get him to eat what he didn’t like. All the time his spine became more prominent on his back and he appeared to be losing weight. He was losing power. He couldn’t jump up on the bed anymore. Concerned at this, and knowing we had to go back to the vet the following week, I phoned our vets to get some advice. This was needed because a new issue had arisen. His belly was getting very much bigger. G had cancelled her trip to the States, because we knew things weren’t right. I got through to the senior vet at our practice, Dr Lockerbie, and explained everything.

That conversation will live with me because I wilfully ignored the hints. The senior vet said to give him what food he wanted, which seemed in direct contrast to the dire warnings of the other vet who said it was urgent he got on the renal food. He had said the kidney chemistry was very marginal so not to worry, but that there were clearly two problems here, not one. I mentioned the neurological prognosis and he said that could be it, but he needed to see him. He said he wanted to see Jake on Monday (the call was on the Friday). I trust him implicitly, still do, and booked the morning off to take Jake. With the proper people food, Jake perked up no end on the Saturday, and was a lively little boy, although the abdomen was now very swollen, and he would often trip down the stairs. He wasn’t up to going to the the fields, but he seemed more himself (he was 100% in the brain department, believe me). Sunday was not so good, but still not awful, and we left on the Monday morning for the vest with trepidation, but not knowing what to expect. As I got into the car I allowed myself the thought – 20% chance this is his last visit today, that he might not be coming back. Part of me expected really bad news. But not the majority view. Rarely for me I allowed myself some optimism bias. Big mistake.

We weighed Jake as we got into the waiting room at the vets to see, much to our surprise, he had put on 2kg, despite his spine being even more prominent. Shocked, we thought there was an explanation – all the water he had been drinking, that we’d made him drink. Even then I thought this was just water retention. After a couple of minutes we went into the senior vet’s room and he took us through the urine test he’d asked us to get a sample for, the spinal issues (caused by lumbar muscle wastage) and then took us to the abdomen. Even at this point, I was confident of a relatively harmless explanation. Blind optimism is really not for me. A lesson learned for the future.

He felt Jake’s abdomen. It was fluid in there, he said. He pointed this out with a little test. He put in a needle to see what it was in that swollen tummy. Jake was a trooper, not flinching. G saw the contents before me. It was blood. She gasped. I didn’t know what to think. In hindsight, the vet had hesitated markedly at one of the urine test results, and this sample was his back-up evidence for his diagnosis. I couldn’t process a thing. I think I know things. I know nothing.

It was a blur. I heard the word tumour. I tried to think positively as my beloved little boy sat there, and my beloved wife was getting upset, but what could I say? How did this make sense? He was up and down, up and down. That isn’t how cancer patients are? But it made sense with the swelling, of course it did. And the blood……

We were told that it was aggressive, the prognosis was really poor, and that they could take him to the Veterinary College for an ultrasound, but he knew what it would show, that it would cost us a lot of money, and that in the end, this tumour had probably done too much damage. It was aggressive, probably in the spleen, probably spread to his kidney (given the results there), and that even if they knew what it was, there was nothing they really could do – unless there was a miracle. He went through options – I think there were four. The beloved and I knew that the last one presented would be the one we would have to choose – the one all pet owners dread. It had dawned on us. At that point we knew we had to have Jake put to sleep.

Immediately I benchmarked it. I remember my mum ringing me to tell me she had cancer, and the moment the doctor a few weeks later, brusquely and rudely, told me to make the arrangements because she had weeks left. It’s the main reference point I have for these issues. It felt just like those two points. And my mum is sanctified in my world. That was the impact. The beautiful family member in front of me now would be subject to our decision. It was the easiest decision, with the gravest consequences. It’s the ultimate mental scar.

Part of me wanted to do it there and then, get the pain over with – be it mine, or poor Jake’s – by now everything was an utter mess in mind. I now knew the suffering my poor little dog had been going through, and had an explanation, but it doesn’t help, not really. How can it? You think of you not deserving this, that it isn’t Jake’s time, but that’s no use. It’s destructive. If we put him to sleep then, it had advantages – I wanted to end his pain. I wanted to whisper “I love you” as he passed away. I wanted it done. But I also didn’t. I wanted another two weeks. At this point the mind is a dangerous device. It can’t focus. It makes snap, emotional decisions. It is not to be trusted. Putting Jake to sleep then had the upside of immediacy and so-called “closure”. I flashed back to asking my mum not to die before my birthday, as if she had any control over it. Selfish, ignorant, but the feelings I had. Now I wanted another two weeks, give him as much love as I could. Not dump him on a table and have people thinking that I couldn’t be arsed with it. Notice no thoughts for G here. In the immediate moment, what can you do?

While immediacy had its “benefits” I also knew plenty of people would not forgive me, maybe a bit strong to say that, would regret that as a selfish decision, and we had to give them, our friends, their chance to say goodbye. In any case, the vet strongly urged us to take our time, to process the news, to perhaps give Jake a really nice day out or two, but then to get back to him. He’d made his recommendation. I asked how long should we take to decide. He suggested no more than 48 hours. Jake had his death sentence. So did we. We absolutely collapsed. Jake looked on, heaven knows what he was thinking, but he knew crying. He had always known that.

Writing this now, I’m crying. G and I left the surgery with Jake, and we were numb. We both knew what had to happen. We talked about what we should do, almost obsessively. G said we should take him to the beach, which seemed a lovely idea, but again my protective nature railed against it inside. It was Monday, so we thought Wednesday would be the “best” day. We drove home in tears, agreeing we should euthanise our boy, sitting in the back seat oblivious,and planning his next days. When we got home, saw the weather was set fair for the rest of the day, and that there was no certainty that Jake would live very long, we decided to make our way to the nearest beach he was familiar with, Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey. We went that Monday afternoon. He had spent many happy times in the sea there, and leaping the groynes, so we thought he would like it.

The visit was heart rending. I had in my head that awful song by Terry Jacks, where he sings the line “Goodbye my friend it’s hard to die – When all the birds are singing in the sky”. Stupid? yes. But the mind takes over, and there’s little you can do to control it. We drove through some horrible roadworks, parked up on the coast just to the east of Leysdown, just by a set of pretty steep steps. We let him out of the car, and he did so gingerly. The steps were steep, and slippery. I didn’t think I could carry him down if I had to. Undaunted, Jake got down the stone steps under his own steam, and on to the beach, and got to the water. But his energy wasn’t there. He stood still, taking in the lapping water, but not partaking in any active pursuits. The mind was willing, the body betraying him with every passing moment. In many ways beautifully calm, in others a horrific sight of an active, enthusiastic dog rendered shot of his power.

I have to say I was in turmoil. We took a number of pictures, got him to lay on the sand with the sea behind, taking in his last visit – it is excruciating writing this – as I was welling up and so was my wife. I wanted to get him out of there. I knew what we were doing was nice, but it was also causing us immense pain. Jake posed beautifully, as he nearly always did, and then, we came to leave. Those steps looked daunting, but carrying him up would have to be the last resort. With the pain he had to have, he ascended those stone steps with huge courage, me cradling his hind quarters to stop him falling. I cannot tell you the pride, the admiration, I had for his spirit. What a dog. I wanted to be like him, not the weak, wailing individual I can be. But Jake possessed different stuff to his weak human owner. A pride that will live with me forever. I was so, so proud of him. I never loved him more than that moment. My hero.

I wanted a picture of us as family. We posed on the wall, took a number of selfies with all three of us together as a family, our hearts breaking apart – at one point or another G or I were in tears in those shots. Jake got into the car, and his two owners cried some more. When I had got myself back together, we drove away, to go back home. The journey took an hour or so, each minute thoughts of when and how we should conduct the final decision smashing at my brain. Conversation went back and forth, saying so much and not much at all. Trying to find sheep on the side of the motorway for Jake to bark at. To bark that bark for a final time. We needed to decide the timing. Tomorrow, Wednesday end of the week? What was best for Jake? Never what was best for us. A bit more clarity of thought, if raw of emotion. Energy levels boosted by something, a crash for both of us inevitable.

As we got home we pretty much agreed it was going to be on Tuesday – the following day. Jake was clearly suffering. I said I’d make the call the following morning after we had slept on the decision. We had to let our neighbours and near relations know to come and see him if they wanted. Every one of them said yes. My neighbour Sue, with her Westie Snowy, Jake’s brother in arms, came round to console us. She has been such a major support that we can’t express our feelings of gratitude. I know I can’t. My brother came around, talked through the issues with us, gave us some really good advice, and played with Jake on the stairs – again, he would not stop, he would not relent, he carried on playing demanding more – but when my brother left, we are sure he shed tears. His emotional farewell to a great friend will live with me for a long time. Jake touched people like that. Jake touched my brother like that.

I started composing Jake’s obituary for my Facebook friends. We had decided not to tell anyone outside the close circle until the deed was done (a note at this point for my manager David, and my team at work. They were brilliant, understood, covered, supported me. My gratitude towards them is immense. Thanks to all of them).

We still had two more visitors to come, to pay their respects and have their final farewells on the Tuesday morning. Bridgette, another great friend of my wife’s was calm, and gave us some lovely words. A lady of great faith, now, in my darkest time, it was time to summon up what faith I had. Then came Sue from over the road, a dog lover in the extreme, in pieces at what was happening to the border collie she adored, and who she plied with treats at the merest hint of begging. By this time, in a barely controlled croak, I’d called the vets to book the final appointment. I barely got a word out before I cried. “Can I book an appointment to have my dog put to sleep”…. we discussed a time. 2pm. The end had been set.

There came a surprise last visit from Sue’s husband, Alan. They helped us just before we left for the final journey. Alan, not a dog man, was quiet. Very quiet. My wife thought there were tears. Jake did that to you. He did that to nearly all that he met. (After the death my neighbour’s husband knocked on our door for a parcel that had been delivered. This tough, unemotional man choked up. That stuff hits you. How much he was loved).

At 12:45 we left the house with Jake for the last time. First stop was the cemetery. My idea, in my mentally frazzled state, to just let mum and dad know that a family member was on the way. It helped me at the time, even if it might sound really stupid to others. I implored mum and dad to look out for him, to take him in, and to look after him. It was short. I cried. We left.

The next stop was the playing fields. The fields he loved. The fields that he had played on all his life. Playing frisbee, playing with the tennis balls. Running after us, herding us. This was his manor. He had covered every blade of Foxes Fields. But today he couldn’t run now, the tumour now so large that we both had seen an increase within 24 hours. Maybe we were looking for it, concentrating on it, but the vet thought so too.

We threw the ball and he caught it. Nothing too strenuous, but you couldn’t help noticing his co-ordination was ever so slightly out, as he kept missing the catch. But that wasn’t deterring him. Play on, play on. We took more pictures, final selfies, a picture of me kissing Jake, a picture of my wife throwing the ball at him. It was tough. But it was what he wanted. I had never been more proud of him. As we left the fields for the final time, for the final journey to the vets, a silence and calm descended on us. It was time to go to that state of mind that I describe as auto pilot. another level of behaviour. I spoke in just over a whisper, fighting to be calm. At 13:45 we got to Allpets. I didn’t come out of that mental state until I got home. Low, monotone voice, rationalising, trying to be calm. What a fraud.

The actual euthanasia itself was conducted with great professionalism by Doctor Lockerbie at Allpets, and for that our great thanks. The memories of that are too sad, even for this piece, but will live with me forever. He was beautiful in his last moments, serene at rest, at peace, and without pain any more. If only I could say this about the owners. I may write about it in the future, but to do so now would be much too painful. I will just say he was dead in a couple of seconds from the injection and he died with his head in my hands and G stroking his back and sides. 13:55. Time of departure.

The aftermath has been wrenching, and I’ll talk about that a bit more. But this piece has wallowed in sadness for long enough. In recalling the events of the past few weeks, and I’m writing this some two weeks after the deed now, you cannot help but look at the seriously happy times he brought us, and that the last three weeks should not be the defining point of his life. Jake was much more than his death. His death hitting us so hard shows that. Jake was a star. I know, I’m biased, but he really was.

Jake’s main abiding charm was his cheekiness. He was a typical border collie in many ways, smart, work (play) focused, headstrong, a suave manipulator of emotions, and a loyal companion. But he brought his own little traits that melted your heart even when he was being naughty. Like demanding biscuits from my next door neighbour by barking outside her window. Like demanding you play the hose game with him by sitting outside until you followed. By dropping the ball in your lap when he wanted to play. Like banging his bowl when there was no water in it. Like hiding in his own space in the back garden when you could all see him. Like reacting to “are you sorry” with a sloppy kiss. Like staring at you when he knew he’d done wrong. He won over sceptics.

He had great friends in our window cleaner, who loved playing with him when he came around each month, and we haven’t yet told him he’s no longer with us. He had a friend in the postman too, who liked him despite that usually interesting relationship through history. He was sad when I told him the news. Even the delivery people notice there’s not a bark there any more.

He also adored kids. He was one of them. He played ball with them, got kids to love dogs in a way only playing with one like Jake could do. Kids scared, nervous of dogs, soon saw Jake was just like them, and they’d play well with him. We credit a young kid who lives on our estate for that element of training. I’m not sure young Leighton knows the news yet, but if he does, thanks mate. You were just a young boy when you started with Jake, now you are a grown teenager. You were great with him. We owe you so much.

Jake was also a conduit for me on to social media. We (I) lived my life through Jake. There are thousands upon thousands of pictures of him on my computer, many shared online, some on this article. We had the annual calendar, the Christmas card shoot, the visits to beaches and ancient ruins, hills and streams. All documented on line, giving information to his friends around the world. His death was met on social media with support messages from London, Brazil, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, India, Austria, South Africa, Canada, and of course the USA. They meant so much, because he meant so much. All that saw him or met him loved him, well nearly all. That speaks volumes for him.

And now, life goes on, so they say. A different kind of life, a different kind of grief to losing parents – my main experience of death – but one that hurts in different ways. This was the first death of a family member who depended on me through their whole life, who I (and the wife) shaped, influenced, trained, indulged, punished, played and raised. We think he was an utter credit to us. Our greatest achievement, our love of all love. His death, in my eyes painfully early (they are supposed to live until 13), is the largest gut punch, the heaviest heart strain, the most dizzying smash on the head that I could imagine, and it is nowhere near over yet. Memories stir, love pervades my heart, but the pain tears inside me looking at his pictures. A gnawing, rending pain, setting me off in tears, at the joy we had, and the love we lost. The joy hides inside, like a dog scared on Bonfire Night, as the pain sets off bangers and rockets and scares the nice thoughts away. But they say the pain clears. And going back to an earlier point, it does, to a degree as evidenced by mum and dad. But the memories remain of the good and the bad. Jake deserves the former. He touched so many.

Rest in peace my beloved boy.

There’s So Much To This Life That I Don’t Understand

Hello everyone.

I have decided to take a break from the grind of Being Outside Cricket, and to take on a little bit of writing on this blog. As you will see from the August post below, the intention is there but the flesh is not willing. Writing so much over the past few years has been rewarding but also very tiring. Concentrating on one sport, cricket, which forms a decent, but not total part of my range of interests limits my capacity for others.

This will be a short introduction post. Those who have come here, and who follow me on Twitter or the cricket blog, will know that on 23 October, at 13:55, my wife and my beloved border collie, Jake, passed away after a short battle with a very aggressive form of cancer. He had passed his 10th birthday on the 7th of October. We had taken ownership of him on 30 January 2009, having secured him from Battersea Old Windsor. There will follow, when I’ve polished, amended, added, taken away, corrected, retracted and then re-done, a very long post, or series of posts on what Jake meant to me. On how his death took place, and what anyone in my shoes can learn from it. On what the loss of a dog can have on someone who feels quite often that he is on the brink of mental health issues. I’m not pretending that you’ll like reading them, or that they will be easy. But they will be about me. And more importantly, about the lovely, lovely companion I’ve lost. That my wife and I have lost.

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Jake In The Grass!

I hope people will read it, and comment upon it. I hope people will understand the level of grief. I also hope that I might be able to fully shed the cloak of anonymity. Some of my best pictures are with Jake. But I’m still nervous of putting the real me out there.

I hope the Jake post will be up at the weekend. It’s over 4000 words at present – not a Cook opus, but not far short – and still has some more things I need to say. Blogging is, by its very nature, self-indulgent. Indulge me.

Peter

Comical Little Geezer, You’ll Look Funny When You’re Fifty

I remember, back in the day, I used to write a blog called Seven and Seven Eighths. Friends liked it, because I moaned about pretty much everything. I enjoyed writing it, especially in the difficult days towards the end of the first decade, because I had a lot to moan about. Much of the stuff was cries for help. Mental health issues, low volume when compared to many, but still bad enough to have me worried, but not worried enough to seek help. Things instinctively feel better these days.

But not always. If you’ve come here, it’s probably because you’ve read my stuff on Being Outside Cricket. When I first split off a blog from Seven and Seven Eighths (it’s my baseball cap size), it was cricket based and called How Did We Lose In Adelaide (now referred to by its acronym HDWLIA). The blog chuntered along, me barking at the moon, or putting up pictures, until it exploded in 2014 in the wake of the Kevin Pietersen sacking. The next two and a half years especially were mad. Absolutely edge of sanity stuff. If it wasn’t defending the blog from attacks, some real, some in my fucked up mind, it was arguing my corner when my mental health really wasn’t in the place to do so, while my working life was in turmoil. This is not a good mix. When I put the shutters down on HDWLIA I dreamed for a few hours of not having this any more. I then started Being Outside Cricket, the 2015 World Cup gave ample reason to continue, rinse and repeat. I got a death threat, I was threatened with doxing, I had friends in the cricket writing world, and lost others. It became a fucking soap opera, and the lead actor had little left to give. I’m the Ian Beale of cricket blogging. Help and brilliance came in the guise of the fellow administrator and the two co-editors, and the blog rumbles along at a pace of our choosing. I’m immensely proud of what we have collectively achieved. I think I should be.

But in the interim I’ve set up other blogs I’ve given up on, including this, to talk about things other than cricket. My mind is whirling away all the time, never staying still, always thinking about stuff. I tried here – looking back on the musical stuff etc. I tried on football, but I don’t care enough about it these days. I tried on US sports, but that requires a lot of devotion. So maybe I’ll come back to this.

I do have one blog which is on another user name which involves a toy bear, a toy duck and my travels. It’s for me, and I enjoy it.

So what am I up to other than cricket?

It’s the start of the football season after a hugely enjoyable World Cup. These things do not cross-pollinate. I want to despise football. There’s so much wrong with it, and then my team has a season like last year and you remember why you used to love it, and what is utterly wrong with it still.

I am following the Boston Red Sox and their amazing season with great interest. As it stands we are ridiculously 51 wins above losses, and by far the best record in baseball. Then I stop and think that we have one of the highest, if not the highest payroll in the sport. We’ve become the Yankees or Dodgers, whether you care about dead money or not. As I walked to work this morning I thought even if this team wins it all, it won’t match 2013 or 2004 (for very different reasons).

The NFL season starts in a few weeks, and I’ll be cheering on/moaning at the Miami Dolphins as per usual. Stuck in a mediocrity rut, sharing a division with the loaded dice, and wondering what it would take to make us relevant again will dominate Sundays. You know, how no lead is safe, why we took the third QB in a two QB draft and stick with him, and is Gase really a fraud? Still, the Football Outsider’s 2018 Guide is due to drop through my letterbox today, so looking forward to that.

The NBA isn’t starting for another two months, and now it is looking like being off BT Sport, lord knows how I will follow it. I’m a Bulls fan going back to the Michael Jordan days, but they are a bit like the Dolphins these days. I do like Steph Curry, always did like the Warriors back to the Run TMC days, but they’ve become the unstoppable behemoth and it doesn’t look like ending soon.

I like a lot of other sports too. It’s why running a specialist cricket blog seems to hem me in a bit.

There’s not enough hours in the day to do what I want. I get to travel with work a bit, I get to go over to the States every so often. I have a ton of books, loads of music, masses of TV series to watch. But most of all I want to write, and I want to take photos.

So maybe I’ll be here a bit more. Let’s see how it goes. Anything will be on here, other than my real name and job. I respect my employer, who has been really good to me, as family. My lord we argue a lot, but we sort of get by and at the moment, things are good with them. Maybe I won’t go into the 2000 word epics on Being Outside Cricket. Maybe I will. That’s still the number one priority, and for the medium to long term, it will remain that way.

Maybe some of my fellow cricket travellers will come with me. You never know.

Lord Canis Lupus / Dmitri

Dmitri’s Tune Of The Day – 6th June – Saturday Super Play

 

On Saturdays I’ll try to post tunes that have dominated my playlist this week, have a presence in my most played tracks on the Ipod, or something new I really liked. This week it is from the most played on the Ipod. The top track, the one I’ve played most, is this….

Few words to add. The build up to 4:15 still gets the old adrenaline going. Amazing.

Tune of the Day – 5th January – Flashback Friday

OK, this one goes back into time and is an old favourite. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a bit of a soul-boy, and especially a fan of the New Jack Swing phase, especially the works of Teddy Riley. However, for this Flashback I am going to take the other stable of music writers (well I liked LA & Babyface too) Jam and Lewis and the criminally under-rated Alexander O’Neal. It’s 30 years since Hearsay came out, and this was (is) my favourite off the album.