My Laughing Girl
The Hairy Healers
The early death of my husband and friend since childhood had devastated our little family. We had fought cancer together for years, with laughter and water pistols and general silliness. I had lain wakeful beside him in the night just cherishing the sound of his breathing, and touched his skin every morning before opening my eyes, to make sure he was still there. Every day was precious. Our life was organised to minimise the impact of the disease on our children. He hid the pain, stubbornly clung to normality and did the hardest thing of all - he lived for us.
Our eldest son was at the rebellious, love-hate stage, symptomatic of his 15 years. Our youngest worshipped his father and we all found common ground in laughter and a love of vintage aircraft. When the end came, suddenly and when least expected, it cut the ground from under all our feet. My days had been regulated by need and I felt lost. My eldest boy was devastated and blamed himself for the less than perfect relationship he had shared with his father towards the end. My youngest was only 12 and felt his heart was broken. He sank further and further into depression until I found him one day, with a carving knife pointed at his chest, sobbing uncontrollably.
I took him to the doctors to try and get him some help.
After leaving the surgery, my son called at the local shop. I waited outside, and in the window was a small notice:
“Free to good home, excitable collie cross. 10 months old.”
The ad said it all. This was someone’s unwanted problem. We had long since decided that although we would love a dog, they were a major responsibility and an expense I could ill afford. So there was no way I was going to take the phone number.
Rummaging in my bag, I found a pen and a scrap of paper and scrawled down the number.
My son and I went home. He had school later and even if I made that call, it certainly wouldn’t be while he was still with me.
“Yes, I still have her,” said the voice two minutes later.
Quite obviously I would have to go alone, or there would be no way of saying ‘no’.
We knocked on the door and a streak of brindled fur launched itself at my son. The house was appallingly dirty and I saw in horror the muddy paw prints that reached four feet up the French windows where the dog had tried to get in. There was excrement trodden into the floor boards, filth and rubbish everywhere and the place was unpleasant.
The offending animal, the size and shape of a greyhound but with as much flesh as a starved whippet, was greeting my son by the simple expedient of sitting on his chest, wagging a disreputable tail and barking in a lunatic manner. My son had the glazed look one sees on Christmas morning, he was ecstatic.
Molly, for such was her name, came home with us. In the driver’s seat of my car, with her head out of the window, grinning broadly.
It took months to drag her through the separation anxieties. Two carpets, a pair of curtains, the contents of the laundry basket and several bottles of antiseptic went into her rehabilitation. I still have the scars on my forearms where she clung in her desperation not to be left alone. In the end, she graduated to my son’s bedroom and curled up at his feet. We never cured the lunacy, but it became more user-friendly and cost less in furnishings. We even got her house trained.
Good food, plenty of patience and loving and lots of walks from the boys soon had Molly strutting around like a queen. She had been beaten at some stage and was a very scared dog at first. A bath had disposed of the dirt and the fleas and her wonderful blue merle markings gleamed and rippled over her muscles as she grew strong and healthy. It was a joy to watch.
As she healed, so did my boys. Time is itself a great healer and wounds close whether we will or no. But this wound was still raw and aching. Yet, Molly made them smile. She made them laugh and run. She snuggled close and listened to them when they poured out their hearts. She read their moods, and mine, and when the tears came, would lean quietly against a knee till the storm subsided.
Molly never quite forgot her insecurities and we daily found bones, treats and toys carefully stored for later, as an insurance against starvation. Usually under a pillow or buried beneath the sofa cushions. She hated to be left alone and gradually I came to the conclusion that a puppy for her to mother might help. Not a sensible move, said my common sense. One is enough, and this one more than most!.
Curiously, when what was left of the local paper came through the door (Molly objected to the intrusion), there was an advert for collie/ setter cross pups, which took my eye as it stated that both parents were pedigree dogs and the mating was ‘Mum’s choice, not ours.’ I had grown up in a household full of the madness of red setters, so I called the number. The pups were just four weeks old and Mum was struggling. However, the owner wanted £160 each for the pups. I couldn’t afford that, and regretfully said so. For some reason, the lady asked why I wanted one, so I explained.
“Come and see them anyway. I lost my daughter recently.”
I was ushered into a spotless room, where Mum was curled, exhausted, in front of the fire. A fat, black and white ball of fur waddled over and sniffed my feet. She looked up, eyeing me with wisdom beyond her short lifespan and I fell in love. She rolled on her back, all four legs flopping, and demanded to have her fat little belly rubbed. I was hooked.
The following week Mum gave in and couldn’t care for them. My youngest son came with me to collect the puppy, which I had been given as a gift with love and tears by the owner. His brother stayed home and looked after Molly. Or she looked after him!
ide me in the car, beaming in wonder at the small scrap of fur in his arms, my son said,
“She’s like an echo of love.”
Holding back the tears, much as I am as I write, I had to agree, and so we named her.
Being so young, I put her in a tall box in my room overnight, so she wouldn’t be alone. I woke in the early hours to find her snuggled behind my head with her face on my shoulder, next to mine. Every night I increased security on the box. Every night I woke to her snoring in my ear. She won that battle. Even though, when fully grown and, standing on her hind legs she was as tall as I, that was her place. If I lay on the sofa, she curled in behind my knees with her head on my thigh. If I sat in an armchair, Echo would sprawl across the back with her head on my shoulder.
I admit, she was not an obedient animal, and discipline was a matter of choice as far as she was concerned. She was stubborn, the laziest thing in nature and the most laid back. And I loved her.
She and Molly ruled the house between them. Molly never calmed down and Echo was her partner in crime. The pair worked as a team when they were up to something. One would distract your attention, while the other helped themselves to any unattended dinner plates in the kitchen. Or Molly would suck in her cheeks and look thin and soulful while Echo just watched and waited, knowing that treats always came in pairs. They would tear round the room at breakneck speed, weaving in and out of the furniture, never touching it. Echo’s tail was a barometer for her mood, a great, black, feathered flag that could sweep the entire contents of a coffee table to the floor with a single swipe. She laughed a lot, my Echo, my laughing girl. I got rid of the coffee table.
Bath time was always fun. Moll would obligingly stand and turn as required, as docile as a lamb, but as soon as the water stopped would shoot out of the bathroom like a cork from a champagne bottle, making strange noises and rolling on anything absorbent. Echo would put her front paws in the bath and then look at her rear end in disgust. It was far too much effort to lift those legs over the bath.. That was my job. Her curly hair and classic black and white collie markings disappeared under the weight of water and the lovely setter shape became apparent as she stared accusingly at the perpetrator of this torture.
Not that either of them disliked water! Take them to the local lake and they became water hounds. They swam like fishes and played games of their own devising. Whoever reached the bank first would run up and down, mock fighting the other to stop them getting out. Then the pair would chase, side by side, around the fields to dry out.
Some nights I would miss Echo, and would follow the snoring to my son’s room where she and Molly would be snuggled tightly to his sides, all three in the single bed, with my son having the least space. Next morning he would tell me of his nightmares. They had known, my girls. They always knew. Those two beautiful girls healed my sons and made them learn to laugh again. In turn, they helped Molly to heal and to learn to trust in love and in life.
I learned a lot about joy from Molly and Echo. I learned to love and respect them both as wonderful and loving creatures and I thank all the gods for sending them into my life. In caring for the damaged Molly, my son learned to put aside his grief and live again. Then, when he was ready, it was Molly that helped him grieve. My eldest son laid aside the burden of guilt he had imposed on himself and cried into Molly’s fur. My laughing girl, my Echo, taught me that my life was not over when I lost my husband and taught me how to love again.
Sadly, my girls are gone now. My personal circumstances changed dramatically and on one never to be forgiven day, when I no longer had a choice, and could no longer give them the loving, happy home and the care they deserved, I took them to the dog’s home at Windsor for re-homing. We stopped near the river for a last run together, a last swim, a last shared moment of joy and laughter. A last cuddle.
The staff at the centre could see how it hurt and were as wonderful as anyone could be in those circumstances. They promised to try and re-home them together. They even said I could come back and get my girls if I could change my circumstances before they were re-homed. I will never forget the half hour sitting on the floor of the office hugging my girls goodbye.
It broke my heart to leave my girls. I don’t even have a decent photo of them, as my hands were shaking too much that last morning. I miss their lunacy and their laughter every day. I never dared to write to Windsor for news of them, afraid of what I might hear. Now I no longer have the reference numbers to trace them. Even now, nearly two years on, as I write the tears make it difficult to see. Not a day passes without thinking of them, I cannot drive past a dog without looking… just in case…But I remember and at last I can write this in tribute to the love they both gave and the joy they brought into our lives. Whoever gave my girls a home has my eternal gratitude.
When a dog is re-homed, people must wonder about the stories behind them. I have heard people ask why anyone would get a lovely dog and then abandon it for re-homing. Sometimes we have no choice. I owe my girls so much and I love them still. Losing them was as much bereavement as losing my husband, and in many ways, harder to bear as it should not have had to happen. I made the only choice I could and will never forgive myself for it, though it was done with love and with their happiness and security in mind. They taught me so much, my two girls. Most importantly, they showed me that logic and common sense are not always enough.
Sometimes we need to just listen to our hearts.
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