As of 1 October, I no longer live in the Forest of Dean. I’ve secured a job, and a room, and I’ve gone away. Before I went, on 29 September, I took the two dogs for a walk, along with my brother Jim. I wanted to go around the Forest as a sort of ‘goodbye’ to the place. Thanks to his reminder, I took a few pictures. It was a lovely day, the kind of crisp end of September day that, but for the chill, wouldn’t be out of place in the heart of summer.
As we walked, I reflected that it would be nearly a year to the day since I properly moved back in with my parents; I’d had to arrange collect my things about six weeks after leaving Salisbury. I never came to love living in the country-side but I did come to appreciate the forest itself. Each day I would take a short run through it as part of my exercise regimen. Slightly less frequently, we would take the two dogs for a long or short walk depending on the weather and our mood.
In Sky’s death, I mentioned that I used to walk with her and it helped me by giving me time to myself, outside of the house, to think. It remained as that, a location removed from the dreariness of life where I could think freely. When walking the dogs with Jim, we’d discuss what we were writing, or thinking of writing or, most recently, my plans for a theoretical 13th Age game.
One half of the help of the forest came from getting away, but the other half was undoubtedly these chats with Jim. I think, with all sincerity, I would be in a much worse state if he had not been around to talk to. I’m genuinely grateful for his friendship in what has been a properly difficult time of life for me.
Most days, to properly exercise the dogs, we’d take hour-long walks. The Forest is well traversed, with paths marked out with stones. Around you, thick limbed trees give the false impression of the periphery of an untouched wilderness. You can see marks on the earth, there are stacks of uneven stone, and if you are lucky you might encounter a deer or a wild boar.
We went off of the usual paths, opting to take a detour on this last trip, to make it a last adventure. A muddy path, which he soon diverged from, took us across a shallow bit of marsh, past disturbed earth, and all the way to a tiny road running through the forest. It turned out to be a non-starter, and we went back around to where we had begun. Pointless but absolutely worthwhile.
Otherwise, much of the forest looks like much else of the forest. That’s neither here nor there, good nor bad, it’s just something that is. Still, I’m glad I took the time for this last walk.
 Also, to Freya and Daisy or Thuggle and Doozer as I think of them. It’s a contrast between cats and dogs that I hadn’t thought of before – I have never gotten to say goodbye to a cat.
 And, it should be noted, drive me around the country in pursuit of employment, lodging, and a more fulfilling scotch egg.
 I once ran in to a jet black deer with a white tale. I’ve seen a young stag, his antler’s bright in the summer air. One late evening, Jim and I were startled by a sow and her piglets. It was rather exciting.
Today, 28 August 2015, my mum and my brother took our Sky, our oldest dog, to the vet to have her put to sleep. It’s a recurrence of a tumorous growth, perhaps a cancer, that she had two years ago. Then, it required operation. Now that it is back, it’s worse, and there’s nothing that could be done: the tumour had become infected, and either one would have killed her. So today is a sad day.
When I first moved back in with my parents, following the disintegration of my life after an ill-timed moment of trust, I would take Sky for a walk in the forest. It was a way to get out of the house, and have space with my thoughts; there is nothing like the (mostly) silent constancy of a dog to provide space for your thoughts. After a while, those walks became runs. Though Sky is – was, it will be past tense from now on – was old, already eleven, she loved to run. To begin with, she ran faster than me, loping ahead in her particular, peculiar doggy stride. It encouraged me to push harder and go a little faster. It was good, but she deteriorated quickly. The last time we ran together, I was outpacing her and it was only after I turned a bend and stopped to see her loping so far behind that I realised she couldn’t keep up. Even then, once she had reached my heel, she tried to start running again, still filled with a doggy enthusiasm for life. The runs turned back to walks, but eventually she couldn’t manage that. I noticed a growth on her back leg.
I remember the first time I met Sky, both vividly and not. I was back home in Portsmouth, visiting and checking my post. I still had my key, and let myself in as no-one answered the door. As I opened my letters, I heard a little yip and looked down to see a fluffy grey pup poking her head nervously around the corner of the sofa.
That was Sky, an anxious puppy. She never overcame that shyness, always happier to let the more boisterous and inevitably smaller dogs take the lead or boss her about. But that grey pup is old now, and quite sick.It’s gotten to the point where Sky struggles to stand, her back legs shaking so much it is painful; where younger dogs playing causes her to be so upset she hides; where her eyes and her nose have failed her so that she has to get so close to something to see it that she frightens herself with its proximity. It’s my mum, whose love for Sky can’t be doubted, who has been the closest witness to Sky’s deterioration: mum feeds her, walks her, sits with her, washes her with water and, when that got too hard for Sky, with baby wipes. Last night, Sky’s last night, my mum turned off all the lights and locked all the doors as normal but, when it came time to leave Sky on her own, she couldn’t do it. My mum sat up all night so that Sky’s last night would not be lonely, and sat with her at the vet so she would not be frightened in the end.
Sky has had a good two years since her previous diagnosis. It might feel like when the tumour was first spotted, she should have been let go. But there have been runs and walks in the forest, sniffing this plant and looking at that wild animal in mild but not aggressive interest; new dogs came in to the family, which though at first they made her nervous, she befriended and until very near the end she would wrestle with Freya, or clean Daisy (the newest, and noisiest Spry dog); the Forest was a place of belly rubs and treats and away from frightening roads and cars. It helps somewhat to think of Sky as a grand old lady, enjoying her retirement out in the woods in the sunset of her life, but that’s really a human projection on to a different type of thing entirely.
Dogs are magnificent creatures. They are not human, though we humans project ourselves on to them in ways large and small. It’s a human foible that dogs haven’t picked up. Their love is not a human love; their loyalty, as immortalised as it is, is not human loyalty. But they are things that are real, and that exist, and perhaps most important of all that we can recognise. It’s a strangeness about us that we can’t reciprocate, not in them that they love us so fully and without limit, that we form bonds with them that require no language, transcends the limits of speech. Perhaps that is the greatest gift dogs have passed on to humans, the ability to breach a divide between species without words. It is the privilege of the dog owner to share some space in time with the dog, to share in kinship with a species that, at the last, though not our own, understands us perhaps more than we understand ourselves, and certainly more than we understand them.
Goodbye Sky. You’ll be missed.
Look at this fine fellow of a cat. Behold that smile! Look upon those whiskers! Doesn’t he have the very firmest of paws and the cleanest of limbs! If there is a modelling agency for cats, surely this handsome chap deserves a top rate contract for an indefinite period of time. He lounges at ease, king of all he sees, rightful monarch reclining as he should. There is just one problem. That is not my cat. That is Socks.
I wrote a little last year about the two Spry family pets: Sky the Dog and Odin the Cat. They are quite fine, but the family had an addition early this year. Sky was lonely and, more importantly, so was dad, so a pet was adopted from the local sanctuary. Dad had wanted a King Charles but what they returned with was a Puggle.
Freya gets in to everything, chews on everything, and, unlike Sky, had the most tremendous problem with Odin. Attempts have been made to acclimatise the two to one another which is now starting to bear some fruit. She also terrorizes Odin.2 It become such an issue with her chasing Odin that we had to section off a part of the house to Odin (and to a lesser extent, Sky3) could get some peace.
However, because Freya is in the part of the house with the kitchen and the cat flat, and Odin still longed for the great outdoors4 we had to work on a solution until Freya settled down around the cat. At first we’d open and close the doors for him but also started to leave a window for Odin to hop in and out of just fine.
Further complications arose, though, as Odin has a best friend. That is the cat initially pictured, a fine fellow by the name of Socks. He is more than happy to pop through the open window and hoover up Odin’s left overs. Socks is an affable cat, incredibly friendly and charming, who is no doubt loved by someone otherwise we’d just take him in. Unlike Odin who, though he’s our cat, or we are his, Socks is more than happy to have a hug and a tickle. He’s a difficult cat to dislike.
He also happens to be Odin’s best friend. Unlike what you may expect from a pair of male cats, Odin and Socks are thick as thieves. They go on hunting jaunts together, they do that cat rub faces thing, and Socks stick up for Odin in the face of the new menace Freya. In return, Odin doesn’t eat so much and Socks grows rather fat. Or at least that’s what we thought at first, that Odin was clearly the submissive cat and Socks in charge.
Then, I happened to catch them having a bit of roast pork. As a treat, after a roast dinner, Odin is sometimes given a bit of roast pork as it is his no joke favourite food. Socks had also introduced himself for tea and my Dad, being a softy, also got him some pork too. Odin was having none of it, and gobbled down the lion’s share. Later, in the garden, Odin bopped Socks on the nose to let him know who is boss.
Socks does take the piss a bit, and we can’t really have him coming and going. Odin is a bit of a nervous fellow, and while Socks is his friend, we can’t have Odin thinking he is second cat in his own home. So, sad to say, whenever Socks come in now, he gets carried over the garden fence.
- Alternatively, the Two Moggie Problem (with apologise to Dickens and Cixin).
- Mum insists that Odin winds Freya up. The criteria for this appear to be: a) being a cat; b) being in Freya’s vicinity. My mum is, of course, hideously biased.
- Sky was initially not sure about this new dog but now they are top chums.
- Those mice aren’t going to eat themselves.
- An ongoing process.
About two weeks ago I bought ‘Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man’ by Tom Cox. It was available at a reduced price via Amazon for Kindle and, while it is outside of my usual reading tastes, I thought I would take a risk. I was no displeased. It is a semi-memoir about cat ownership, primarily of the unique character that is “The Bear.” Under the Paw is a pleasant read, comfort food rather than challenging, though the inclusion of Buzzfeed style lists felt a bit like filler. The relationship between the author and his many cats, and their many personalities, is artfully captured for the reader to enjoy. While the aforementioned The Bear is the star of the book, I also felt some fondness for the briefly appearing Raffles, a cat of heroic proportions. As with anyone who owns or has owned pets, Under the Paw’s evocation of empathy prompted me to consider my own pet ownership. I have somewhat stern opinions on pets, in terms of care for them and in terms of what is a suitable pet. I am not going to come along and steal anyone’s snake or rat, but equally I would not consider them pets. Cats are pets, and dogs are pets. Tortoises are a special case, as they are more like a room-mate. Tortoises receive adverts saying ‘A Human is for life, not just for Cabbagefast’ or whatever appropriate festival a tortoise might celebrate.
The most recent pet that I owned, or part owned, was a rescue cat who came to us as Onyx and is now simply Cat. Before Cat I wasn’t a big fan of cats; they’re sneaky animals, duplicitous and would cut you as soon as look at you. Cat was an animal apart.
She was still as full of murderous intent as other cats, and very much a bossy boots, but could be genuinely affectionate. I miss Cat. A helpless little dunderhead at times, she would use me as a pillow for nap-time, pushing aside whatever I happened to be reading. I remember collecting her from the cat sanctuary. My ex-partner Suzie was incredibly fond of cats, a little bit maniacal about it really, and had wanted a cat for some time. Cat rescue centres do take donations for cats, so I agreed to go half on one, and we went to the shelter in Radford. It seemed like a good idea to help deal with the stress of her doctorate (and the somewhat crushing poverty of living on my sole income). There were a variety of cats there, including one very friendly and excitable fellow, and a trio of black cats who had been born and were growing up never knowing an owner. Onyx was a rescue who had been abandoned in a box by the roadside, a really sad story. A tiny black cat with a scrunchy blanket and a ball to play with, she kept to herself. She was also very, very nervous and Suzie, being a bit overenthusiastic, frightened her so much she hid from us. Despite not being a cat person, I coaxed the moggy out of hiding and showed Suzie how to approach her in such a way that she didn’t frighten the cat back in to hiding (and also not shock Cat on facial piercings). After that a firm friendship was born and I came to appreciate cats as more than just pest disposal.
My parents have two pets, a cat and a dog. The cat is called Odin and he, like Cat, is an abandonment case.
My parents found him in the street as a kitten and took him in, intending to return him as soon as his owners made an appearance. They never did so Odin became the first Spry cat in over a decade (previous cats involve my spookiest childhood memory). For the first six months of his time with my parents little Odin was an enforced house-cat; my parents lived in an inner-city at that time and my Dad was afraid he might get run over. He used to enjoy nothing so much as shredding my poor Dad’s head. Cats are rambunctious animals; also, evil. When they relocated to Gloucestershire, Odin was gradually introduced to the outside world. And what an outside for an adventurous cat! Odin is something of a murderous brute and, with the black and white next door as an accomplice, he likes nothing so much as to amble about wreaking havoc on the local wildlife. It’s all fun and games until someone gets brought a dead mouse. He is currently outfitted with a dashing red-collar, as he got caught in his old one. Odin and I get on about as well as a hostage and his kidnapper: Odin needs me to get him food (lacking thumbs and not eating mice) and I pick him up for hugs. So far we are up to a minute at a time. Progress!
However, I and my entire family remain a dog family: Candy, Ben, Kizmet, Sable, Sky and Poppy are just the dogs I remember. From when I was a baby there have been dogs about our house, so I’ve met dopey dogs, smart dogs, friendly dogs and grumpy dogs. My brothers keep dogs of varying character and hues: Neb and Pig are the constant companions of the brother I worked with in my last entry. I believe dogs are pets on Hard mode. Cats mostly look after themselves, but a dog requires much and gives far, far more. The towering love and loyalty a dog offers is both reward and responsibility. A dog can never grow up, but Dog is Your Copilot. Dogs can learn a great deal of things, from hunting to counting to how to climb a ladder. They’re mostly stupid but clever in particularly focused ways.
The current Spry dog is Sky. Sky is shy, so it is difficult to get a picture of her.
I think this is a personality quirk rather than a species trait (conversely I’ve never known a cat not be a full-time photobomber). Sky was brought in to the family following the death of our old dog Ben; our other dog at the time, Sable, just wasn’t very friendly and Dad (who loves all animals) grieved for a companion dog. Sky was (and is) that. I first saw Sky as a tiny grey fuzz ball poking a nervous head from around the sofa and she hasn’t really changed except she has grown and grown; the consequences of being one half Alsatian and one half old English sheep dog. Sky is getting on in years now, so mostly likes a belly rub and a biscuit. However, when the neighbouring dogs aren’t being too horrible (there are bad dogs of bad owners) we go for a walk in the forest, and there Sky is in her element. She likes to go off the lead, smell the trees and look at (but never chase) wild pigs and passers-by. Sky is the dog’s dog, even if she is a bit smelly.
So there have always been animals around me as I grow up. The rest of my family isn’t half as picky when it comes to what they call a pet (snakes, rabbits, rats; they’ve had them all). When I find my feet again I’ll probably look in to the local rescue centres. I’m likely city-bound and, all things considered, I’ll need an animal that knows its own head and can look after itself. Much as I do love dogs, that means it’s a Cat man life for me.