I'm enjoying a cup of coffee in the Linen Hall Library where Fiona and arranged to meet. But I am alone. Moments after leaving Cousin I found a message on my 'phone saying that Jake, the family Westie whose arrival in the McSpec household a few years ago when he was adopted by them brought such joy, is seriously ill and Fiona was dashing to the vet with him. Ominously, she said she did not expect to be bringing him home. I do hope she's wrong, and that Jake, whose health has not been great, can be put on the road to recovery and exerting his grumpy charms again. I have never met him, but he sounds a great wee character, and the Internet has secured him fans beyond his home.
The death of a pet is always hard, the anticipated death equally so. Those awful heart lurching moments of mixed fear, love and anxiety; dreading the vet's verdict even as you hope for a miracle. When we came back from Homeplace last night we watched the second part of The Secret Life of Dogs. For any of you reading this who struggle to understand friends' and neighbours' love and respect for their pets, do watch it, as you may begin to get an inkling of what immensely rich and wonderful relationships you are missing.
A loved pet is never just a dog/cat/rabbit etc. S/he is an integral part of the family, a giver as well as a receiver of love. There's a line in Christopher Smart's poem My Cat Jeoffrey where he says his cat is something on which children can practise benevolence. He's right, but it's not just children. Pets are a tie and a responsibility, but it's my belief they make us better, kinder people at any age. I used to know a woman who worked in the office at Number 10. Her 'phone was full of pictures of Larry the Cat. She didn't think much of his mousing skills, but she said he made the office a much more pleasant place to work as no one wanted to upset him.
I have received a text from Fiona to say that Jake didn't even make it to the vet's. I'm having to keep my head down here as the news made me tearful. The McSpecs world will be a sad one today. They can be glad they adopted Jake, that they had these last years with him, that they have a shared store of stories and memories. But that will probably be cold comfort now. There will be a Jake shaped hole in their home; they will still leap to turn off the television when images of swimming pools appear; still think they see him in the places he liked to lie; his empty bed, his bowls will be poignant reminders of a redoubtable family member. They will mourn together and separately; hurt together and separately. It will hurt less in time, and he will take his place in the shared family history, remembered and talked about for the rest of their lives.
As Lorely's husband so wisely said, we don't have them for ever, but they have us for their-ever.