We didn’t have dogs when I was growing up. We had goldfish. They often came from the fair and lasted a matter of days, if not hours. When I was a teenager, we got a rabbit and a guinea pig, of whom I was quite fond (but not fond enough not to throw a huge strop whenever the time came to clean out their hutch). Honestly, I think the biggest arguments my little sister and I ever had all stemmed from my mum asking on Sunday afternoons ‘have you two cleaned out the rabbit..?’. Cue genuine shudder at the far-too vivid memory of pissy newspaper and carrier bags full of hay and dried poo.
I was into my twenties and living in Brighton when we met Lily. She belonged to an acquaintance of my mum’s who, due to various divorce and relocation dramas, could not keep her. My mum – never hitherto a dog person – agreed to look after her for six months, as a favour.
It was love at first sight, for all of us. I looked into her eyes and I swear that we were instant soul sisters. This was unprecedented. There was nothing I would not have done for her, uncomplainingly.
Lily was the prettiest Yorkshire terrier I had ever seen, but labouring under the misapprehension that she was some sort of fierce wild beast. We should all go through life with the misplaced confidence of Lily. I am also convinced she thought I was the dog and she was the human, and that I was far below her in the family pecking order.
Lily was full of character and sass and idiosyncrasies. She loved eating apple cores, licking empty yoghurt pots, shredding any tissue she could get her paws on, gracefully sidestepping any body of water on tiptoe, savaging her toys, chasing pigeons…
Whenever I went back to my mum’s (which I started doing more often so that I could hang out with my new favourite sibling), she would greet me with the most enthusiastic of welcomes reserved for anyone, because she knew it meant she got to sleep in my bed. Not to mention share my dinner.
I would go and housesit whenever my mum was away, taking days off work so that I could do nothing but hang out with Lily. We would nap together under a blanket, share shepherds pie (‘what shall we have for dinner tonight, Lily?’) and go to bed early so we could hang out and watch TV.
She would come and visit me at the seaside. I would take her out for long walks that I enjoyed far more than she did. There was the time I fell over a tree root and cut my knees, and she tried to attack any animal or human that dared to come within a ten-metre radius of me until, limping and crying, I managed to get us both home.
After six months – thankfully – Lily’s previous owner decided to sign her over to my mum for good. If she hadn’t, my mum, Lily and I were plotting to flee the country together. I will be forever grateful, but also mystified that anyone could have given her up – I would genuinely rather have lived on the street.
We were meant for each other. A shaman told me that my mum and I have been related for lifetimes. I believe Lily was with us, too.
When my mum unexpectedly found herself living alone and going through the worst time imaginable, it was Lily who saved her life. When I was in the depths of depression, sometimes the only thing capable of cheering me up was my mum putting Lily in the car and driving her down to see me.
‘Lily loves you,’ Mum would remind me, whenever I was in need of a boost.
Lily saved us all at one time or another, as my sister pointed out. It’s true.
Nearly two weeks ago, I was staying at my mum’s. Lily was acting strangely. We hoped it was the weather. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t. We slept together on Sunday night but didn’t sleep much. On Monday morning, my mum and I agreed we should take her to the vet. I told work it was a family emergency and I wasn’t sure when I’d be back.
There followed three days of dread, uncertainty and heartbreak. But still, I savoured every moment. How could I not? My mum and I agreed that she would not be left alone for a moment. I stayed up all night stroking her head and listening to her breathing. We cooked her favourite foods and carried her up the stairs to bed. When she became too weak to drink from her bowl, she licked water from my fingers.
She went downhill quickly. She got weaker and weaker. She was brave to the end - and still sassy, growling at the vet when she came for the final time.
We were with her. ‘You are so loved,’ I told her again and again. She knew.
I still can’t believe it. I hated leaving my mum in the house without her; I am dreading going back and Lily not being there – my poor mum is having to deal with that every day, constantly. She can’t go down to the kitchen in the morning or even get home from work at night without crying uncontrollably.
I am sleeping every night with her favourite toy and wearing the tag from her collar. I am so, so sad that she is gone. I wonder if I will ever believe it.
Lilian, nobody could have been more beloved. Our hearts are broken. You gave us all so much. We miss you.