Dogs and death

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The week has passed, holding its loved ones that little bit closer at its end than at its beginning.

I watched the aftermath of Manchester with a sort of numbness, scrolling down social media feeds, reading newspaper articles, trying to avoid rolling news but drawn to it like a moth to the flame.

Impossible to find words, especially as my default position is ‘make them laugh’. How can you laugh after that?

I don’t know.

And that, increasingly, is the answer that pops into my head when I look at the world. How can (awful thing) happen? How could someone do (second awful thing)? What can we do about (third awful thing)?

I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know.

There are plenty of people who seem to know. I envy them their certainty, their ability to look at any news item and instantly declare ‘I understand the nuances and complexities of this massively difficult issue and am not afraid to shout my opinion from the rooftops’.

Perhaps they should run for President.

For a couple of days I scrolled and read, read and scrolled, absorbed and pondered. I tried to put myself in the shoes both of someone who could even consider for a second inflicting this kind of suffering on fellow humans, and of the victims of this unutterably barbaric act.

I failed. And flailed. Numbness set in.

And then Minnie died.

Full disclosure: I didn’t know Minnie. I don’t even know her owner, not ‘in real life.’ Minnie was the dog of a Twitter friend.


A few months ago I took some time off Twitter, the balance of my love-hate relationship with it skewed by world events. Too much stress, too much shouting, lalalalalala fingers in ears.

Then I went back, lured by the memory of the good things and people to be found there, and making a conscious effort to seek out stuff that chimes with my Fotherington-Thomas side. Hello birds, hello sky, hello friendly strangers with a penchant for sidelong glances at the ridiculous in life.

And of course (TWITTER AS METAPHOR FOR LIFE KLAXON) I found the good there as well as the rude, the angry, and the criminally batshit insane.

Emma is firmly in the Fotherington-Thomas category. She makes beautiful things, spreads positive vibes, is a force for good. We struck up a friendship, based partly on a shared interest in the mesmerising qualities of the smew.

And she has, or had, or still has, because you can still have something that’s gone if you hold it dear and allow it to inhabit you metaphysically, if that’s the word I mean, because what I mean to say is if you remember it after it’s gone and can imagine it back into being just by thinking about it, which I should imagine Emma is doing a lot at the moment, a dog. From the photos, Minnie seems to have been the kind of dog that makes you say ‘oh yes, you’ll do’, and ‘now THAT’S a dog’, and, it seems, ‘get away from that cheese’. The kind of dog, in short, who makes you realise how good dogs can be. Pictures would be posted of Minnie, with updates on her declining health, and reports on her ability to eat all the cheese and then look at you with the ‘oh no I haven’t eaten any cheese please give me some cheese why haven’t I had any cheese in, like, forever?’ eyes that are the stock-in-trade of any great dog.

On Thursday morning Emma posted the sad news that Minnie had died.

Somewhere in south London, no more than a foot from me, someone started slicing onions. Tears sprang to my eyes in a way not entirely appropriate for someone reading of the demise of an animal they’d never met, belonging to a person they’d never met.
And then of course I realised I wasn’t weeping for Minnie at all (sorry Emma). I was weeping for the victims, and for their families, and for everyone affected by this atrocity. And, now we’re on the subject and not to get too maudlin or anything, for this world, which if not actually broken, sometimes feels as if it’s an empty coffee mug being nudged ever closer to the edge of the kitchen table by the cat’s paw of destiny (the metaphorical floor is in this case the kitchen floor of my childhood and is therefore made of grey flagstones which will break something fragile – work with me).

I’m sure it’s an acknowledged syndrome. The repressed shock of a major event is only triggered by a relatively minor occurrence (again, sorry Emma).

Grief by proxy, if you like.

Manchester was too big for my brain to comprehend. If I get too close to it, try to imagine the horror of being there, of witnessing the violence, the blood, the devastation, it shuts down (lalalalalala fingers in ears). But the death of a family pet is within the realms of my imagination.

We had a dog. His name was Poops and he was glorious and stupid and loyal. Here he is.

Poops and friend
Poops and friend

A cross between a border collie and a husky, he retained vestigial instincts of both those fine breeds, occasionally embarking on long trots round the garden or trying, to no avail, to round up the local rabbit population. He was a prolific moulter, extremely good at begging for scraps, and the finest friend two small boys could ask for.

The time came, as it must. At the age of twelve I understood something about death, and had intuited that something was up. He had no energy, was sometimes very obviously in pain. I remember seeing him limping round the garden and in some obscure way knowing there wasn’t long left.

My mother picked me up from school one day with her serious face on, prepared, no doubt, to cope with my devastation. It was a delicate situation. She knew how devoted I was to Poops.

There had been other pets, but none like Poops. When the lovely Tig died, I was too young for it to register.


There might have been a short-lived hamster or a guinea pig – I don’t remember. Fairground goldfish came and went, as is their wont. One sticks in my mind, a bug-eyed monster we called Harpo. Harpo was a poor swimmer, but, as it turned out, a good floater, my father’s desperate attempts to flush him meeting with what he thought was success, only for the dogged piscine to pop up again half an hour later ready to greet me when nature called.

Poops was different. We’d grown up together.

’I’ve got some bad news about Poops.’

No tears. No devastation. I merely turned and said, in a knowing, world-weary voice, ‘Had him put down, have you?’

And that was that. I stared out of the window all the way home, upset beyond endurance but desperate to show how much I understood about the world, and equally desperate not to show anyone how much it meant to me.

So RIP Minnie. And, of course, RIP Saffie Rose, Nell, Sorrell, Eilidh, Olivia, Megan, Chloe, Georgina, Liam, Courtney, John, Martyn, Kelly, Philip, Angelika, Marcin, Elaine, Alison, Michelle, Lisa, Wendy and Jane.

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  1. Thank you, again. I find your insights and reflections so beautiful to read. Poignant and real.

  2. So well put. Numb helplessness for all those broken families. And a lump in my throats thinking that Minnie is no longer tip tapping over to have her velvet ears stroked … yes, I’ve met Minnie from time to time over the past decade and like you learnt of her passing by reading the news on Twitter.

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