On Thursday, 18th June 2020, the wonderful soul known as Mr. Blue went to sleep for the final time. I just wanted to pay tribute to my dog, because he deserves to be known, and he deserves to be remembered.
He was the best dog.
On Thursday, we took the heart-breaking decision to lay our beloved dog, the Bedlington terrier Mr. Blue, to rest. He was thirteen years old.
Since Tuesday, when we realised that was the decision that would have to be made, the world has seemed a little darker, the smiles are followed by sadness, the laughter accompanied by guilt. A moment of joy followed by the remembrance of loss. A shadow that hangs over every ray of light. As with any death, the world goes on its way, while the mourners have to fight to stay present when it's so much easier to slip into the memories. And it is so much easier to slip into the memories, when the memories of your time together are so special, and the world is filled with such anger, division, fear and uncertainty.
For Mr. Blue, there was none of those things. His world was filled with the attention and love of people who adored him, and the constant presence of his loyal companion, the one-eyed Patterdale terrier known as Bella. From the moment he walked into our lives until the June afternoon we said our farewells, his presence was cherished, his tummy was full and his life mattered.
It could have been so different for Mr. Blue. He came to us from a rescue centre, and his first 18 months of life had clearly been rough. He was very jumpy, occasionally snapping when stroked unexpectedly. If he was touched when he was in his bed, too, he would snap a little with his teeth. There was never any real malice behind his actions, it was more of a defensive gesture to ensure he was left alone, an indicator that all had not been well before he joined our family. Another hint at his past came when I tried to step over him to get back into the house. I'd done this on many occasions without issue. This time, I was wearing slippers, not shoes, which seemed to make him extra-protective of his space. These little actions might have been too much for some people - "why take the risk? He's just a dog." We knew Mr. Blue was more than that. We don't just abandon our loved ones because they are scared.
About a year after he entered our lives, I went on anti-depressants for the first time. They reacted poorly with me, sending my anxiety through the roof and doing little to alleviate the darkness that permeated my brain. Mr. Blue and I weren't close at that point; he was still adapting to his new home, learning how to be in a family, understanding that he didn't need to be on the defensive. I was still a little nervous of him; wary of pushing him too far, moving too quickly and scaring him into a protective reflex. As the weight of the world bore down on me, I slumped to the floor on the second-top step. After a few minutes, someone joined me, sitting on the top step and resting against me. That someone was Mr. Blue. I spoke to him for about half an hour, relaying my fears, verbalising my terrors, putting into long, rambling sentences the things I could never say to a human. Throughout it all, Mr. Blue sat there. When I finished, I said to him, 'I just don't know what to do, Blue.' In response, he snuggled up to me, and we sat there in silence for a while.
The clouds that followed me slowly evaporated over the coming weeks. I walked away from a toxic relationship, I started working more, and eventually found my way back into care work. My life starting improving, as did my ability to support people, because Mr. Blue taught me the fundamental value of being heard and the profound impact it can have. He didn't need to talk, to advise, to interrupt, or to offer a viewpoint. At that point, I'd never been lower, and he helped bring me back simply by being there, by allowing me to share my biggest fears, my private agonies, and by responding with nothing but love.
It wasn't too much longer after that when we were in the garden one day, and I watched this fly torment him. All Mr. Blue wanted to do was sit in the sun, yet this pesky little bugger kept landing on him. Every time he did, I notice Mr. Blue snap at him, like he sometimes did when we tried to stroke him. I wondered then if the reason he was snapping wasn't always out of defensiveness, but out of irritation; our nervousness about upsetting him causing us to stroke him too softly, to feel like a fly buzzing around and landing on his back. I called him over and gave him a big, firm stroke, the firmest I had ever dared stroke him. He responded by snuggling into me. From that day, I only ever stroked him firmly, and he never snapped at me again.
A few years down the line, and my mental illness flared up severely. For a short while, I lost my grip on reality. I spoke nonsense with the conviction of profundity. I acted recklessly, damaging everyone around me. The people I loved became scared of me, of how steep my decline had become. I tried to explain my reality to people, and they could not understand, my body language, my words, my zealotry to my own distorted vision of life creating barriers between myself and everyone I loved. Nobody could listen to me, try as they did, because to be around me for too long, to listen to my fractured philosophising, was to ensure you were brought into my darkness in a way that was too much to cope with. Too much for everyone, that is, except Mr. Blue, who listened again and again to the internal pain that spewed incoherently from my soul, and who sat there, snuggled into me, every time. When my inevitable hospitalisation happened, I thought I had lost everyone. When I returned home, Mr. Blue came and showed me love, without question, without reticence, without fear.
"He was just a dog."
In the years that followed, I got better, much better. I strengthened relationships with friends and family, I was able to return to work, I became a Samaritan, and I'm in a relationship with a wonderful woman. There have been bumps along the way, of course there have, but I have rebuilt my life into something that I had always hoped for, yet never felt was possible for someone like me. None of that would've been possible without Mr. Blue. In a world where everyone has to have an opinion, he taught me the power of silence. In a world where everyone has to have a solution, he taught me the power of acceptance. In a world where people feel an overriding need to save people, he taught me the power of being beside them, of hearing them, and of just loving them. I don't always get it right, but then, I am just a person; flawed, damaged, anxious and emotional. Mr. Blue, he was something so much greater than a person.
Mr. Blue was a dog.
I have felt such sadness these last few days. I find myself forgetting for a while, allowing myself to laugh, to enjoy things, to escape my pain, and then his face flashes in front of me and the hurt is renewed. I don't ever want it to go away, because that hurt reminds me that Mr. Blue was real, he existed, and what he did for me mattered.
After a few moments of sadness, I remember the good times. Him jumping on my lap to watch wrestling with me. Stroking his back legs, which always made him jump from side to side in what we called the 'silly-arse dance.' Taking him for a walk, which I wish I'd done so much more, and watching him explore the world around him. Seeing his joy when he received a treat. Watching him prance around the garden like a supermodel after having his hair cut. I think of his final great adventure, when he snuck out the side gate and went into town, getting some kebab meat from the Greek takeaway, going to the Board and Elbow and then staggering over to the chip shop before coming home looking like the cat that got the cream.
Mostly, though, I remember how much he loved. How he'd run up to the back gate whenever one of us returned home, always barking to alert us in case there was danger, then wagging his tail in the reserved way he did when he realised it wasn't. How he bounded with joy when his lead came out of the cupboard. How he protected Bella when she lost her sight, leading her, being there for her, allowing her to irritate him because her anxious little soul needed so much attention. How he loved every member of his family, and how sometimes the love he felt was too much, and he had to stare at the floor for half an hour to process it all. How he'd curl up in front of the fire, his back to us all, knowing that he was safe, he was cherished, and he was loved.
Mr Blue was a rescue dog. What people never seem to realise is that it's not the people that are the rescuers, it's the dog. He helped rescue me from the prison I'd built for myself inside my head. He rescued Bella from the anxiety she feels by being her loyal companion, from her first day with us until last Thursday, when we lay him to rest. He rescued us all, in thousands of ways that nobody ever realises until it's too late. He was never "just a dog." He was Mr. Blue, the best dog, and the world is a better place for his having been in it.
Mr. Blue, thank you for loving me, and thank you for the privilege of sharing your life. I only hope I can live the lessons you taught me. I hope I can have the effect on others that you had on me. Most of all, I hope I do you proud. I miss you, son, and I'm so glad to have known you.
Farewell, my friend.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave bereft
I am not there. I have not left.”
― Mary Elizabeth Frye