I had been going out with Russell for about a month when he one day announced he wanted a dog. I knew him well enough by this point to know that once he had an idea he was like a dog with a bone (see what I did there?), and sure enough, over the next few weeks he bombarded me with pictures of dogs and Internet links to animal rescue sites.
I must admit I wasn’t sure it was a good idea at first – I sometimes felt Russell had enough trouble looking after himself! But after discussions with some of his friends and family I came to the conclusion that having a pet to love, and to love him back, could be just what he needed.
One afternoon in early December 2010 Russell and I drove to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. http://www.battersea.org.uk He had been out the night before and was feeling a little worse for wear. After a quick interview with a member of staff, he was matched with two dogs. The first was a very young and very bouncy Staffie-cross called Yogi. He was lovely but it quickly became obvious that he was a bit of a handful and definitely not suited to life in a small flat! At this point Russell wasn’t feeling very well at all, and so we took a quick break to go outside for some air. While he was being sick in some bushes (sorry!) I suggested we went back in to see the second dog, a small white Staffie called Callie.
”No, I don’t want a white dog.”
I told him to stop being such a grump, and back we went. Callie was brought in to the meeting room and I am not exaggerating when I say that it was love at first sight! She came bounding over to Russell (possibly because he was holding a tennis ball, but let’s not dwell on that) and he looked happier than he had done all day…
Callie had to have some dental work done, so it was a couple of weeks later when Rose and I drove to Battersea to meet Russell, who yet again, was not feeling too fresh after a night out in London. Callie appeared to remember Russell and it was touching to see that the staff seemed sad to see her go! Rose and I waited in reception with her while Russell was in the pet shop, when Callie decided to have a sniff around the Christmas tree and got her lead caught around the trunk. Cue panicky Rose and I trying to detangle her as we had visions of the tree crashing down, and fake presents and tinsel flying everywhere.
Callie settled in to the flat with Russell straight away. They were very rarely apart and I spent more time than I would have liked clearing up the debris from sticks she’d brought into the pub. She was never happier than when someone was throwing a ball for her. We had to stop throwing sticks, as she would chew on them until her gums bled, not that she seemed to notice!
Russell’s devotion to Callie was always evident. We had many discussions about which was our favourite ear – the black one or the spotty one? He regularly manoeuvred her into a position on the sofa that he liked to call ‘Meerkat Dog’, which she put up with with admirable patience. I was often berated for telling him off when he wound her up by whispering ‘pussy-cats’, and for not letting her lick me all over my face as a ‘special treat’ when she had been good.
In the afternoon of June 17th 2013 Russell rang me to tell me Callie wasn’t at all well and she was going to be put down that evening – did I want to go and see her? Perhaps selfishly, I didn’t go because I wanted to remember her as the happy, excitable little dog I had known. I was very upset all day, and then ridiculously happy when Russell text that evening to say she had perked up considerably and he had cancelled the appointment!
Had I known that that afternoon would be the last time I ever spoke to Russell, there are a lot of things I would have said. I would have told him that despite us no longer being together, I missed him every day. I would have thanked him for giving me the nudge I needed to leave my job and pursue a career we both knew I would love. And I would have told him that he was, and always will be, my best friend.
As it turned out, despite Callie’s brief improvement she really wasn’t well. Two weeks later John, Rose, Sarajane and I made the heartbreaking decision to have her put down. It felt like we were losing yet another link to Russell. Sarajane and I took her for a final walk to the Rye that morning and tried to make her last few hours fun as possible. I will always regret not going to see Callie and Russell on that last day, but at least now I can take some comfort in knowing that two inseparable friends are back together.