Yesterday afternoon I had to do what any animal lover dreads. I had to take my sheepdog Jess to the vet to be put down and I am heartbroken. She was 13 ½ years old and we had her since she was 8 weeks old. My wife's aunt is a sheep farmer up on Dartmoor and I went and fell in love with one of her old sheepdogs many years ago. When that dog had pups we got Jess, and I could always remember how many years I have been married because it's one less than Jess was old if that makes sense. Anybody who has dogs as a part of their family will know how crushed you feel when they are suddenly not there anymore. I came downstairs early this morning and my friend was not there to say good morning to me and it hurts like hell. It's mad I know, but we get so attached to our animals. I am going to go for a walk this morning on my own and it's going to feel awful not having a dog to go with me. Or me to go with the dog.
I had vowed to myself that I would never let Jess suffer. She had far too much of a good life for me to let her be in pain as she got older. OK, so she had been essentially deaf as a post for a few months now (made for interesting walks at times !!), but I never for one second sensed that she was not enjoying life. Only a week or so ago all of us were down on the beach and Jess was running around chasing sea gulls as she so loved to do. I walked her at least twice a day every day and I can't imagine how many miles we have trekked together over the years.
But I took her out on a walk just before it got dark yesterday afternoon and I could see immediately that something was wrong. It was like Jess was drunk in that she could not get her body to do what she wanted it to do and I knew that something was very wrong. Although they don't call it this anymore, essentially she had had a stroke. I got back home, rang the vet to get an appointment and then my wife and I explained to our two girls that we should be saying a proper goodbye to Jess as there was a high chance she would not be coming home with me from the vet. Children are amazing how they understand and I suppose work it out in their heads in their own way. I had to pick her up and take her out to my car.
The vet was great and they told me what was going on. Jess always hated going to the vet, but this time she was as calm as you like. Can dogs know when it's time to go ? In the end it's the owner's decision to say yes or no, but I knew from the moment I stepped outside the house to go for a walk earlier on that this was it. The least we can do for our animals is to give them a great life and then be selfless enough to do what has to be done to prevent them suffering. I signed the consent form and then held Jess's head and stroked her as she died. I had not shed a tear since England won the rugby World Cup on Nov 22nd 2003, but I don't mind admitting that I have shed a few for my dog.
This is how I know that my family and I will remember Jess - running around on the beach chasing sea gulls and as happy as a dog can be. I trained her myself and when I used to fish an insane amount it would be Jess with me each and every time. From fishing Devil's Point to scrambling down some south Devon cliff on a rope, Jess would be with me all the way. I even took her over to Ireland a bunch of times and she loved it as much as me. She would bark at the fish and she loved it when you were casting a bait or a lure out. I used to get emails from people asking about Jess when they saw her on a few of my TV programmes. I think she secretly loved the camera. When our girls turned up I was convinced that Jess saw them as her own flock of sheep and would always be turning around to make sure we were all there on a walk (of which there were many !!). All dog owners think their own dogs are perfect, but Jess was the best dog for us that we could have ever hoped to have. Man's best friend could not have been more apt. Jess was my best friend and we are missing her like crazy. You were the best Jess.