I have been avoiding writing this. I have been avoiding writing this. I have been avoiding writing this. Repeating that phrase three-times is further avoidance. How can I truly write this? How can I tell you about how much one dog meant to me, my Pooka Loo? A life of fourteen years that gave me more, that made life more than.
I want you to understand how amazing she was and how much she means. Perhaps to justify the weighty and hefty sadness which has settled into me, but more because remembering her is the beautiful part of that sadness. To tell you all of it and all she was to me is impossible, you would have to climb inside my heart and wear my soul to know that, and so I write with an acceptance that this is going to be hard, writing this will make me cry, writing this will make me smile. I accept that at the end, I will read this back and it will be lacking because one life holds much more than can be written about in a million words. Perhaps though, I can tell some of it and there is comfort in the telling.
‘No writer, even the most proficient, could re-enact in words the flow of a life lived’. (Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being).
‘Grief: a cause of great sadness.’ The word grief holds so much, it is different to other emotions; it isn’t momentary or fleeting, it is sustained and carried over a long passage of time, it deepens and lessens and deepens again as it flows and ebbs between the moments of your day. Perhaps, this is my first real encounter with grief, the first time I have been able to fully understand loss, old enough to know the fullness of what that means. Perhaps, when you lose a pet it is an invisible type of grief that not everybody can understand. I’m angry because it is cruel that we have hearts that can be broken and yet, I’m comforted by the beauty of feeling so much for somebody else, so much love for them that our hearts break when they go. Imagine if our hearts could not feel love and so were never broken, better to have had a heart broken many times over because it has loved many times, than an intact, pristine heart that has never loved enough for it to be broken. I think that would be a heart that lacks, a heart whose purpose has been missed, a skeleton heart. In fulfilling its purpose it must accept it will one day break itself. Thank you Pooka Loo, for teaching me this.
Yes, I have felt a great sadness and know there are ‘causes of great sadness’ undoubtedly ahead of me in my life. How to feel my sadness? How to excavate my sadness? How can my sadness right now be understood to teach me what I need to learn from it? Feelings are the most honest truth, they never lie to you. I’m a great believer that you have to let yourself feel them fully, be entirely in them, they are the marrow of life. Too often, we live in a society that shuns feelings and is embarrassed by them, when they are the most natural and fundamental part of being. Writing is one way to excavate my sadness and to fully be in that sadness and so I write the story of me and my Pooka Loo.
This is a true story. There was once a twelve-year old girl who needed a friend. You see, her supposed friends acted as if they weren’t her friends at all. She didn’t just need a friend, she needed a real friend, one that would stick by her- no matter what. Even by the young age of twelve; this girl had begun to realise that humans have their flaws, humans are mainly concerned with themselves and humans are flaky creatures. The idea began to form in her mind that she needed a dog, in a dog she would find the selfless loyalty and love she thought all true friends should have.
She begged and begged her parents to get her a dog because then everything would be ok. They said no and then they said no again, and the girls’ heart shrank as her hope deflated. It wasn’t to be. Her dad tried to cheer her up by taking her on a trip to see a bird of prey; you see this girl was fascinated by animals of all kinds. When they arrived, they walked into a normal looking cottage, through the hall they went and into the lounge, strange place to keep a bird of prey, thought the girl. Behind the sofa came soft squeaking noises, the girl peered round the corner and her heart burst right there and then, because there was a litter of tiny puppies, bundles of warmth and joy tumbling and playing. Drawn like a magnet, the girl was on her knees, in amongst them. In that moment she learnt that puppies and dogs could instantly make her happy, something of their joy to be alive, rubbed off on her.
The girl decided she never wanted to leave this room filled with puppies. A particular puppy was being placed in her arms, a puppy with a pure-black head. “That one is yours”, said her dad…the girl was astounded, the girl’s soul climbed out of her body and danced a little jig right there and then, the girl beamed, the girl’s heart grew to fill the whole of her chest. The girl would always remember this moment as one of the greatest in her life. The puppy with the pure-black head was sleepy but fit perfectly into the crook of her arm. Who knew then, how these two would live the next fourteen years together, side-by-side, souls cut from the same cloth. Did you know guardian angels can exist in the form of a puppy with a pure-black head?
Two long and agonising weeks the girl had to wait, until her little friend could come home with them. She spent those two weeks dreaming of it; she read every puppy book she could find, a new basket was bought and toys, collar and lead, a hot water bottle and loud ticking clock to help the puppy sleep. Names were thought up, in the extravagance of a 12 year old girl’s imagination the name, Poppy Suki Rosie Moss was decided upon. Finally, the glorious day arrived, Sunday 15th October 2000. This time the puppy was not sleepy, she was running around, climbing onto the footstool and trying to chew the wires. The daughter of the breeder was crying; this was her favourite puppy from the litter, about to go. There was something special about this puppy, something different, she charmed anybody she met and in her fourteen years would be loved by all that met her, converting people who had been unsure about dogs into dog-lovers.
In the car, on the way back, Poppy was given her first toy, a yellow plastic duck with bits of rope dangling down. She cried and whimpered to be taken from her mum and it broke the girl’s heart to hear it, but she vowed everything would be done to make this dog’s life a happy and good one.
The next few months were a blur of vaccinations, playing, chewing socks and puppy training classes. At puppy training classes, the girl and Poppy began to understand each other, they began to work together. The girl realised that Poppy was very intelligent and eager to learn new things. Poppy had learnt that cheese was one of her favourite tastes (the trainers at the class encouraged the dog owners to bring cheese as a training incentive) and that if she did what the girl asked she might get some more cheese. The girl was later to remember this when she gave Poppy the last piece of food she would eat, a piece of cheese- how things come full-circle.
Poppy could sit and lie down when asked to, she came when called, she could offer her paw when asked and stayed and waited when told to. The girl and her puppy practiced out in the garden and they became an inseparable team. Poppy learnt what different tones of the girl’s voice meant and they began to be able to look at each other, and understand what the other was thinking. Poppy started to realise that finding and retrieving was her thing, in fact, chasing balls and bringing them back to the girl for her to throw again, was perhaps the best thing ever. Her life motto became ‘live by the ball, die by the ball’ because she would happily have run off a cliff after her ball.
It soon became clear to both of them that there was nothing better in the world, than going for a walk together, where the girl threw the ball over and over, and Poppy brought it back again and again. Walks like this must have happened thousands of times but neither ever tired of it, because it was the two of them together with no other distractions, getting away from it all. The beach became a favourite place; when the tide was out they could walk and walk forever. When they got right up to the cusp of the sea, all they could hear was the wind howling and the girl would throw the ball into the shallow part of the sea, and Poppy would bound in after it, splashing water everywhere in her joy of the moment. Towards the end of the walk, they would sit on the concrete step of the promenade looking out to sea. Poppy could only sit for a minute or two, before she was very carefully dropping the ball at the girls feet ready for it to be thrown again.
Poppy had a very particular way of putting her ball down. She would bow her head down and look at you out of the top of her big brown eyes and she would move the ball around in her mouth, biting it between her jaw (savouring it) until you could hear all the saliva the ball had absorbed squelching away, and then she would pretend to put it down, nudging half of the ball out of her mouth on to the ground, enticing you to think she had dropped it, and then if you made the slightest movement towards it, she would gleefully throw the ball back into her mouth, a smug and cheeky glint in her eye that the ball was hers. This process was repeated until she was satisfied that she had got the ball-thrower interested, and then very delicately, she would let the ball go, and she did it just so, so that it rolled towards you. Then, she would take a few steps in the direction she thought you were going to throw the ball in and do a 360 degree turn to be facing you, so she could read exactly where the ball would be thrown. She made ball retrieval into an art form that she was master of.
Every moment of the day was turned into a ball throwing-opportunity. One of her favourite games, was to place her ball under the coffee table or drawers in the lounge and then use her paws and nose to try and nudge it out of the other side. This involved her lying her body as flat as possible to the floor, turning her paw 90 degrees and swatting after it, then she’d stick her nose under to find out where the ball had been positioned after a swatting. When the ball became close enough to the gap, she would pull it out with her mouth and do a lap of glory around the lounge, proudly displaying that the ball was now recovered and in her mouth.
Hundreds and hundreds of balls must have been bought for Poppy over the years, but there was a particular type she favoured; a hard rubber ball often painted to look like a basketball or football, that invariably ended up looking like a eroded grey rock. These types of a ball had a good bounce on them which made the chasing of them all the more challenging. Poppy knew when a new ball had been bought for her, she would stick her head into the suspect, plastic bag and sniff very loudly, and try to use her nose to dislodge the new ball from the bag’s contents. The girl would increase the excitement by announcing that there was indeed a gift for Poppy and asking ‘Where is it?’
There was lots of games they played together, a favourite was when the girl told Poppy to stay and then would go into another room or garden and hide the ball, once hidden, the infamous words ‘Where is it, go get it?’ were uttered, and Poppy would come bounding in, nose to the floor on the hunt, and she would of course find it and then there would be a great celebration between the pair. One of Poppy’s shining moments is when her ball was hidden on top of the hammock (made of a large plastic-type sheet), she found it and knew it was up there but could not reach it. In pursuit of the ball, nothing would get in her way and so, she went underneath the hammock and pushed her nose to where the ball was on the hammock, this made the ball bounce up, she kept doing this, bouncing the ball along until it bounced off the edge and into her mouth. This confirmed what the girl had always known, this was no ordinary dog.
Poppy truly became a member of the family when in the first few months of her life, her name was changed from Poppy to Pooka Loo. Poppy was her official name but everybody called her Pooka Loo or Pooks for short. In this family, nobody is called by their real name, everybody has a nickname and having a nickname bestowed, is a sign of affection and belonging. Hence, dad is not called dad but Peds, and mum is not called mum but Merts. In the same way, Poppy became Pooka. There is some mystery how this name developed but the girl is pretty sure that she was the first one to coin it. The girl thinks it could originate from the fact that when Pooka was a puppy she used to eat her own poo…and so somehow this turned into poo-ka- loo. Nobody is quite sure, but it is agreed that this strange mixture of sounds somehow ended up suiting Pooka perfectly.
Pooka was usually the vision of a perfectly behaved dog…obedient to the letter, in fact, you could not have asked for a better behaved dog but on two occasions Pooka proved that food can at times outweigh obedience for a dog. The girl and her boyfriend had ordered in two Domino pizzas; they ate some and decided to go for a walk, leaving most of the two pizzas in their boxes on the coffee table in the lounge. They thought they had closed the lounge door but unbeknownst to them, it had clicked open. Pooka sought her opportunity. When the girl and the boyfriend returned, they found their pizza boxes on the floor with most of the two pizzas gone. The girl laughed and laughed because Pooka had favoured the meat toppings of her boyfriend’s pizza, as opposed to the vegetarian topping of her own pizza, and hence, the meat pizza had pretty much gone but there was a fair amount of the vegetable one left. That’s my girl, she thought.
On the second occasion, the girl’s brother’s dog, Twiggy, was round. The brother had left a very expensive and large steak on the side, in the kitchen, ready to be put in the oven. He went out of the kitchen for a few minutes, when he returned the steak was gone, only Pooka and Twiggy had been in the kitchen and hence became culprits at a crime-scene. Both were held up against the kitchen side, to see who was tall enough to have reached the steak. Twiggy was taller and could reach and so, was sentenced as guilty of the crime, and was put outside to think about what she had done! The girl chuckled to herself and always wondered if Pooka had been the mastermind in the crime; getting Twiggy to get the steak down and then eating it herself and framing Twiggy. Pooka seemed to have a certain twinkle in her eye.
As you can see, the girl and Pooka had many happy years together and lots of good memories. They made each other happy but they were there for each other as well. Sometimes the girl could not sleep very well at night, in fact she would put off going to bed in fear of trying to get to sleep. In those dark, lonely nights she had Pooka and that made all the difference. They had a night time routine. The girl was often the last person up and when she rose to go to bed, Pooka knew and would follow her upstairs. Patiently Pooka would lie on the floor at the foot of the bed, as the girl took out her contact lenses and brushed her teeth. Then the girl would get into bed, read for a while and then turn the light out. After the light was turned out, a few seconds later, Pooka would get up and go and lie in the basket on the floor right next to where the girls’ head was. Once settled in the basket, Pooka would let out a deep sigh and the girl’s hand would instinctively drop down and stroke her for a while before she went to sleep, the comfort of her presence. The girl still finds herself putting her hand down after the light goes out.
On the nights where she couldn’t sleep, the girl would go and sit at the top of the stairs. The girl didn’t know why she always went to the top of the stairs; she just found it relaxing sitting there on the landing, hearing the sounds of her family sleeping. The top of the stairs became a place that she and Pooka shared. When the girl sat there, Pooka would join her, usually the girl would sit a few steps down and Pooka would sit on the top step and so their faces would be level. The girl used to put her arms out in a v-shape and Pooka would come and lie in them and they’d just sit like that, looking at each other. Pooka would then come and sit on the girl’s lap and they would sit together in the early hours of the morning, looking down onto the hall below. They had certain habits, another one, was for the girl to kneel down and Pooka would lie with her head on the girl’s lap and then the girl would put her arms around Pooka and snuggle her face into the velvety fur and the girl would feel warm and comforted by the sound of Pooka’s steady breathing. The girl promised she would always be there for Pooka, until the end.
Sometimes, the girl tried to do Pilates in the lounge and when she was in a lying-down position, Pooka would come and lie down with her head on the girl’s chest so she couldn’t do the exercises anymore but the girl didn’t mind. The girl used to try and get her nose near Pooka’s face, and Pooka in turn would try and lick the girl’s face before her nose touched, it was a game they played. Later, the girl was to realise that these were their quirky things that they did together, that one day she would do anything to have them again and that these moments could never be replicated, that is when the grief would hit.
The girl and Merts thought that Pooka had human eyes. Eyes that were filled with her soul and showed her emotions. Pooka became a mirror of the emotions that the humans around her were feeling; she felt what they felt too. The girl confided in Merts that she thought Pooka might be her guardian angel sent to look after her, Merts agreed.
Pooka began to learn that the sound of a suitcase zip was a bad sound, it meant somebody was going away. Pooka would be sad then; staying in her basket, eyes full of sorrow and ears back. It was so hard for the girl and for Pooka when it was time for the girl to go to university. She’d be away from home and Pooka for ten long weeks at a time, but there was the long holidays to look forward to when she returned, and that moment of reunion. After university the girl was away for another year, a miserable year in Norwich, but then she lived at home for another three years after that.
Three more years of the girl and Pooka being together. The girl would rush home after work to see her Pooka and then they would go for a walk together. The woods became the usual place for their walks. The girl developed a fondness for getting up really early, before anyone else was around and quietly going out of the back door and over the road into the woods. Pooka always slightly ahead, but turning her head back to check the girl was coming. All they could hear was the birds singing the dawn chorus and see the first weak light of the day breaking between the leaves. It was just the two of them in the whole woods, walking and being together in those quiet moments.
The girl soon decided this was her favourite way to start a day. They had a route which they both knew; there was a spot where they would always pause, the spot where Pooka would always try to deviate off the path into a clearing of grass, surrounded by trees where she particularly liked her ball to be thrown. The girl of course, always gave in and deviated off the path to Pooka’s favourite spot in the woods, and she would look on in wonder that Pooka was her dog and rejoice in their time together.
Other people began to notice how happy the pair were, when they were out on walks, often the girl was told that, ‘they’d never seen a happier dog that wagged its tail so much’. In fact, the girl became pretty certain that the wagging of her tail was Pooka’s way of propelling herself forward, at a greater speed, after the ball. This is why, when Pooka lost all the nerves in the bottom half of her body and her tail hung limp and lifeless, the girl knew that the real Pooka she loved, had already gone. The girl had been living away in London for a year and a half before this happened. A new job and living with her boyfriend had taken the girl away from her Pooka Loo. She wanted to take Pooka with her but, with no garden and out late, several nights a week, it wouldn’t have been fair. Instead, the girl carried Pooka in her head and believed they were with each other in spirit, the girl often tried to imagine what Pooka was doing right at that moment.
She would get home to see Pooka when she could, but it was never enough. The girl cried each time she left, and Pooka would look at her with those eyes and follow her to the car door, looking bewildered and lost that the girl was leaving again. The girl saw Pooka in August this year and took her to the vets because her back legs were not moving like they used to and she was starting to be incontinent. The girl barely coped at the vets and had to run out because she couldn’t stand the idea that her Pooka was getting old and edging towards the end of her life. How can that be? But, Pooka was still chasing after her ball, limping a bit but still Pooka and enjoying life. The girl took Pooka to the beach in August and didn’t know at the time it would be their last trip there together.
At the end of September and start of October, Peds and Merts had begun to sound ‘down’ on the phone when the girl asked about Pooka, ‘she’s deteriorating’, they said. The worst phone call was as she walked over Westminster Bridge and sat at the foot of the London Eye, Merts was in tears and seemed to be suggesting Pooka wouldn’t be around for much longer, she was suffering- not able to walk, sitting in her own poo and wee. The girl felt the first bit of her heart break and she wondered why hearts were made of porcelain. The girl knew then, that hearts were there to love and therefore, would one day get broken. In fact, by the end of her life, she knew her heart would be cracked and put together more times than she cared to imagine. For the first time, her heart was breaking and it hurt, it was a sharp and searing pain. The girl felt guilt and frustration, her Pooka Loo was suffering and she was hundreds of miles away. It was agreed that the girl would need to come and see her. In some ways, the girl had known this was coming, she had dreamt as much, but she was naïve and thought she would visit Pooka the next weekend and revive her, and then as organised, she would return for a whole week at the end of October to spend with Pooka Loo.
Despite being told, the girl was not prepared for the Pooka she saw when she returned home that Friday night. Pooka was just lying there in her basket. Gone was the ecstatic greeting, as she turned and turned in delirious circles at the excitement of seeing the girl. The girl knew that Pooka felt it, but couldn’t show it anymore. The girl sat by the basket and put an arm around Pooka and looked into her eyes and knew the real Pooka had long-gone, the life of Pooka had gone out of those eyes. She was wrapped in a blanket because she was shaking with cold…the bottom half of her body was nothing more than a skeleton, she hadn’t eaten for two days and the girl knew this was it. Later, the vet would tell them that the nerves had completely gone in the back half of her body, which meant all the muscle had melted away, she was effectively a skeleton in the back half. She couldn’t chase her ball anymore, she couldn’t walk, she couldn’t go to the toilet, she couldn’t get up to get food or drink, her life was just lying in that basket, staring out of empty eyes. The girl saw her and knew; Pooka was gone. The girl cried and cried that night, she had prayed all along that Pooka would die naturally, that she would never have to make that decision but now she found herself having to make it.
There was no way she could leave her Pooka like that, she thought and thought about it. Ultimately, Pooka wasn’t happy anymore (she couldn’t do any of the things she loved), she was suffering and miserable and the girl knew that the real Pooka, the life of Pooka had already gone. She asked her parents what she should do, what should she decide and realised that she would have to decide- Pooka was her dog. The girl realised her parents weren’t her ‘saviours’ anymore, they couldn’t make everything right, she was an adult and had to rely on her own strength.
She wailed and wailed and wondered if she would be able to go in with Pooka when it happened, how could she cope with it?
She’d run out of the vet before, when there was hardly anything wrong. The girl remembered though, that she had always promised Pooka she would be with her until the end, and remembered all they had together, and all Pooka had done for her. She prayed for the strength to fulfil her promise.
On Saturday morning, the girl told her parents her decision. Merts would ring the vets, whilst, the girl took Pooka to the woods in her pram (now that she couldn’t walk). The girl sat by Pooka and just sat by her in silence, an unbelieving silence. The girl’s tactic was to stop her brain from thinking about what was going to happen. Instead, like she always had done, she told Pooka how much she loved her and how happy she had made her and they played the nose game and Pooka managed to lick the girls face. Merts and the girl bathed her because she had pooed in her basket and on her fur, and blow dried her, she was fresh and clean for her last walk in the woods. Then the girl picked Pooka up and put her in the pram and took her in the woods one last time. Pooka sat looking ahead and the girl walked with tears in her eyes remembering all the walks they had shared together, how could this be their last one? When they got home, they were told the vet said they could go now. The girl was shocked, she thought it would be tomorrow or much later on in the day, not right now.
They waited for the brother to come round and say goodbye. As they waited; Pooka lay in her basket and looked at the girl and the girl looked at Pooka and they both knew. Pooka knew like she had always known, she knew all that the girl felt and thought. The girl gave her some cheese (the girl thought of the puppy training classes all those years ago) which she ate and held her water bowl up for her, her last drink. The girl had always wondered about the last things a person did in their life, the last song they would listen to the last conversation, the last eyes they would look into.
The drive to the vets was long, too long. The girl doesn’t want to go into details about what happened at the vets but the girl was so relieved she went, and was strong enough to stay with her Pooka Loo, it felt right in the end. The vet remarked how dignified Pooka had been in death; somehow he stumbled onto the perfect word for her- she was dignified in everything she did, she lived a life of dignity where she gave so much to those she met. The girl saw the final bit of life go out of those beautiful brown eyes and knew she had gone peacefully and that it was Pooka’s rightful time to go.
The girl was left devastated, shards of her porcelain heart rattling in the hollow of her chest. Sometimes only she could hear the rattling, not everybody understood. Yet, she enjoyed remembering all the happiness they had together and remembering that her heart could love so much.
Pooka had the best possible life; full of play, fun and love and she gave it all back. The girl still believes Pooka was her guardian angel and has started to understand how lucky she was to have her. The girl believes she will see Pooka again but until then ‘she will carry her in her head, in her heart and in her soul’.
Pooka loo had been with her when she needed her most.