Our old dog
Sadly she died last week. Thanks goodness for home ed: the boys (who were always her primary carers) were able to be with her 24/7 in her last few days, to hold her while she died, to dig her grave, perform a dignified burial and to take time out to mourn her passing. This has been vitally important to them, because it meant they could do their best for her and also duly process their feelings of bereavement.
She's been a great education to them throughout her life actually, as well as in death. At 10 and 11 years old, they were desperate for us to keep her, even though I knew I wasn't willing to commit to her care. She was one of my mother's dogs, but due to her incompatability with my mother's other dog, she had to be rehoused. It took weeks for Tom and Ali to persuade me to agree to take her and they had to promise to do everything she required, themselves.
I believed they had the best of intentions to undertake the daily duties of dog ownership but I must admit I had my doubts as to whether they'd actually follow through all the time. They were very young to take on such a responsibility. I really didn't want to end up having to nag them into walking her every day, and was slightly worried I might end up doing the job myself instead.
But my concerns were totally unfounded and I never had to remind them to walk, feed or clean up after her. They've been as good as their word day in, day out and done everything she needed. I only had to supply the dog food, which I didn't mind in the least. She's had a great life with them - in fact, as time went on she learned exactly how to get what she wanted from them, over and above the call of duty! She had a very Gandhi-esque way of passively resisting things she didn't like - she'd just sit down and refuse to be moved, until they had to pick her up and carry her around the place. So there she was, this big heavy labrador-cross, being carried around by my sons like an empress and looking quite smug about it, too.
She knew how to keep them in the field all day if she didn't want to come home and she even slept on one of their beds every night - taking up three quarters of the space, like a co-sleeping toddler does. And she still played in the snow like a puppy, old as she was, and she still wagged her tail when one of us came in the room, even up to the day before she died.
She'll be sorely missed, but I'm grateful to her for teaching my sons about the true meaning of responsibility. They know now what it means to be there for someone every day, even when you don't really feel like it and you might rather be doing something else. That's the kind of thing people say school attendance teaches, but if they'd been full-time compulsory school pupils they'd have had no choice about whether to attend every day, for fear I'd be prosecuted for their non-attendance, whereas they looked after the dog every day out of love and they're definitely the better for it.