By Steve Smyth
We never had pets at home growing up.
I’m not sure if it was my mother’s reluctance to clean up after it or if she had allergies or issues with germs, but pets, dogs in particular, were not to be allowed in the house. Since my brother and I were usually at the arena or on a bus and never home, it’s probably just as well.
Due to this lack of experience with animals from a young age, I was somewhat taken aback when 20 years ago, my wife began pressing me to accept that we needed a dog. “A house is not a home without a dog,” she’d say.
Easy for her to say, she grew up in homes with dogs and other pets. For three years, I remained steadfastly opposed to pets in the house. “They serve no purpose”, “They cost money” or “They make a mess” were my expedient responses.
After three years of asking, in February 2000, she took it upon herself to get a pound rescue dog for her birthday and “her dog” Annie entered into our lives.
It did not go well at first. Annie was a small Corgi/Sheltie cross who barked…a lot. She barked at the door, barked at neighbours and barked at the wind. She chased people, cars, squirrels, birds and other dogs. She had long blonde hair which she left in profusion everywhere she went. Our car had a carpeted black interior, which quickly became matted in corkscrew blond hairs.
She also cowered every time anyone moved suddenly around her. While the ladies in the house got along perfectly, between the barking, the shedding and the chasing, this little dog was proving to be far from man’s best friend.
Over the years, “her dog” gradually became “the dog” and then after another five or six years “our dog.” A détente was slowly reached and I was only barked at two or three times a week. As we both aged, the escape incidents from the yard became less and less frequent. Over this time, Annie also became accustomed to grandchildren who couldn’t wait to pick up “Annie Bananny”, much to her dismay and annoyance.
Annie enjoyed travelling in the car and like most dogs, enjoyed sticking her face out the window at speed. As a motorcycle rider, I understood this fondness for wind in your face. She loved a Sunday trip to the dump and milk bones provided by the kindly attendant. She enjoyed rooting in the woods on trips to find rocks for the garden and was even once unintentionally left 15 miles up Bornite Mountain road when she quietly jumped out of the truck on a pee break.
It was on a road trip where she achieved her swankiest nickname. We had stopped for a break when two dear older ladies wandered over to say hello to her. “What a beautiful dog,” they enthused, “what breed is she”? In the past when asked this question, I would say “she’s a pound dog” and people would always be visibly disappointed.
So this time, to avoid disenchantment, I said without missing a beat; “thank you ladies, she’s a Welsh Rabbit Terrier.” After a long pause one of the elderly ladies said “How lovely, I don’t think I’ve heard of one of those before.” “Yes,” I answered with a smile, “they are quite rare.”
On that summer day, and quite by accident, her name Champion Queen Anne of Pontlypool was created. (We call her Annie.)
Our relationship with Annie lasted 17 wonderful years, which I’m told, is a good long time for a dog. As we neared the inevitable end, she had very few teeth left, a ramp to get up the stairs, breath that would stop a raven and no hearing left.
One day, just after New Years, she finally became unable to walk and my wife and I had to make the difficult choice to say goodbye. The vet was professional, kind and gentle and we know that she didn’t suffer as we said goodbye.
Pet owners will know the sadness of losing a family member but I was wretchedly unprepared for the emotions that followed. There is a deep and profound sadness that comes with watching a loved one die quietly and gracefully and while knowing in my head that it was the right thing to do, there is a large hole in my world that my heart keeps falling into. Diolch a hwyl fawr Annie, a Welsh thank you and good bye to you, my hairy little friend. Thank you for 17 delightful years. We will all miss you.