My Mum had recently reversed her car into Becky – our elderly Labrador – and she died on the spot. My soon to be ex stepfather Michael had left, my sister Polly was at boarding school and my eldest sister Lisa had left home. It was just my Mum and I now.
My Mum called our cousin John to help us move the heavy body of poor old Becky and dig a grave. It was the kind of ritual that made us more aware than ever that we were without man power, literally.
After a while I started to ask if we could get another dog. My Mum was so resistant and she’d say things like, ‘who will look after it?’ It was so traumatic when Becky died!’ I would insist that I would do everything for the new dog.
‘Let’s get a small dog!’ I pleaded thinking that if it died or it was injured we would easily be able to manoeuvre a small body on our own! An old friend of my Mothers was always having random litters of puppies. She told me tentatively that we could go and look at the latest batch of Jack Russel mix.
It was a dark winter night, but I remember wearing a stripy blue crop top with long sleeves and Levi 501’s. I was 13 years old but felt much older than my years. We walked into her kitchen and the puppies were in a little pen next to the Aga. They all became excitable and scrambled out over the low fence of the pen, except for one. This little porky puppy had his front legs over the fence and his back legs writhing around in a breaststroke motion trying desperately to follow the other leaner pups. His belly was just too heavy and kept him trapped. He was irresistible and he was the one I fell in love with.
We took him home on the premise that he was on loan and if we felt like we couldn’t handle a puppy he could always be returned to the breeder. He was my puppy and I decided to call him ‘Percy.’
My Mother insisted that we would build him a kennel and a run up at the stables and he would be kept there when he was a bit older and the weather is warmer. I loved the idea of having Percy keep me company during the long days that I would be outside with my horses. And he could come to horse shows with us!
This irresistible little Jack Russel puppy, the cutest little face you have ever seen. His coat was black and white and his face brown. My family had never had a small dog and my sisters were against him at first. ‘Urgh, those snappy little dogs, why would you want one of those? That’s not a dog, it’s a rat!’ they’d say.
We had grown up with Labradors and Retrievers. We were used to peaceful and well behaved dogs – nothing like Percy turned out to be.
But soon enough everyone fell in love with Percy and he would bring us more joy, laughter and love than we could have ever imagined. He turned out to be the worst companion for me. He hated the cold. He cried and cried and cried when we tried to leave him in the kitchen at night. We got into bad habits right off the bat and before we knew it he was sleeping in my Mother’s bed. Literally inside her bed! And my Mum hated the cold. She would always have an electric blanket on and he would love to be under the covers down by her feet. Sometimes he would even rest his head on the pillow right next to her!
My Mum could never have imagined that she would have such a relationship with this little puppy. She used to joke sometimes that she thought my Father had been reincarnated as Percy! And he was a stocky little dog, much like my Dad!
We lived on a lane, a small road, with few houses. The funny thing about our house was that it felt like a rural area because of surrounding fields but it was very close to a freeway exit or the “junction of the Motorway,” as we say in England, and on this exit was a MacDonald’s.
Percy was home alone all day whilst I was at school and my Mum went to work. We had a little flap made for Percy so he could roam around free and do exactly what he pleased and he had quite the reputation. People would walk down the road with huge branches or sticks ready to protect their ankles as he was notorious for terrorising people walking down the lane. He was frequently seen in MacDonald’s and he was even spotted on a public bus once by people who knew him and they would always take him off the bus and bring him back to us. He would always bark furiously at men because he was raised in a female only home!
His coat was smooth and glossy and we loved nothing more than kissing and stroking his silky ears. That little dog got so much love and affection from everyone that knew him. My Mum would often wake me up by opening my door and letting him spring up on my bed. He’d madly circle around trying to find my head as I hid under the covers. He was such a force of love and joy. He took on many different names, Perse, Perse the Lerse, Perceroo, Roobs, Rooby.
There’s a little Percy memory that always gets a lot of laughs from my close friends that knew my Mother and how she prided herself on staying slim and was always commenting on what I ate or how I looked. One day she was stroking Percy while he was sitting on her lap and she lamented to Percy and whoever else was in the room, ‘how is it Percy that everything I nurture is overweight!?’
Somebody recently pointed out to me that God is Dog spelt backwards and how Dogs are gifts from God. Their purpose is to give us humans unconditional love. Looking back on those years that were so tough, full of turmoil I can see that our little Percy was a true gift from above.
When my Mum was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer and she revealed her shaved head to him he seemed traumatised. He was barking and barking at her. It made us all cry. He would watch her changing her wigs, recover from Cancer and then get it again. He sat and slept in her bed as her condition deteriorated. He was such a source of comfort to her which I am so grateful for. He truly was her dog and a real companion for her. My Mum became much more in tune with animals in the last stages of her life. In the days before she passed he sensed her death more than anyone. He was getting depressed. Two days before my Mums death he chose to stay under a side table in our living room as if he could sense her imminent departure and was beginning to grieve her death.
The day that she died friends and family came to say goodbye. Once everyone left, we had time to ourselves. My sisters and I laid on the bed with my Mum. We were crying and preparing ourselves for when the coroners would come to take her body. We heard Percy scratching at the door. He came in and jumped on the bed with us and we noticed he had a little tear running down his face. He knew his best friend had died. It was quite amazing how intuitive he was.
I honestly can’t say that I witnessed much of his doggy grief journey. I was busying myself with boyfriends and life at university. After my Mum died, Percy went to live with my eldest sister Lisa. He lived with her for about 5 years. When her son was around 2 years old he started to get a little snappy and she decided it was too risky to have him around small children. Percy then went to live with my Aunt.
I had now graduated and was well into my working years. I got a phone call at work. It was Polly, ‘I’ve got some bad news, Percy has died!’
‘Oh my God, what happened?’ I asked, ‘how did he die?’
She said, ‘we think he suffocated in a chip packet!’ Of course I was sad but it was so apt that this greedy little dog died doing something he loved, eating chips (which we call Crisps)! Polly added that it was a family size bag of ‘Walkers Sensations’ which were a great choice! Way to go Percy with your chops full of high-end chips!
Before calling me, my sister had called her then boyfriend (now husband). He laughed so much that she had to slam the phone down on him! I mean, by this stage in our lives I think we had buried so many family members and pets that we could laugh in the face of death. Quite honestly, it was the most momentous end of his life he could have possible had.
Percy didn’t become old and degenerative. He went out with a memorable bang much like my Father did.
And then we had the quandary: what were we to do with his body? Polly and I were in London and he was with our Aunt in our hometown Reading. It was a scorching hot summer. How in the world would we dig a hole in the hard ground of the garden? Polly took care of it. She found a doggy undertaker and we got him cremated. Some time after that we took his ashes to our Mums grave and sprinkled him there with her. It wasn’t a sad occasion. We laughed and remembered him so fondly and always will. Our fun, greedy, mischievous ball of joy.
Side note, sadly not the best photos as mine are in storage in England.