Our dear old Nessie has died, aged sixteen and a half, which, in human years’ equivalence for a dog of her size, comes out as around 120. That’s a very good innings.
Nessie was born at a farm down the road from us in Finnis, Bandon. Her dam was a Border collie and her sire a German Shepherd/Welsh collie cross. I seem to remember there were about ten puppies. They were certainly a seething mass the first time we saw them! Benj and Caiti went to the same school as Natalie, who lived at the farm and whose job it was to find homes for them all. We already had Suchie – short for Suchard – but we’ve generally had more than one dog. Little Suchie was a very old lady at that time and not very active any more, so we thought the children would enjoy having a lively young dog to play with. And so we were easily persuaded to offer a home to a puppy, and we plumped on the one that had been nicknamed Squeak. The second she was old enough, six weeks, we took possession of her in exchange for a bottle of wine and renamed her Nestlé Moschops – Nessie for short. (And yes, as you may have spotted there’s a chocolate theme to our dogs’ names!)
Nessie was a typical puppy and did a bit of chewing and digging, but nothing drastic. She always was a very good dog. Her only foible was not being able to distinguish between flowers and grass, and she’d get grumbled at sometimes for ploughing through the daffodils rather than going round them.
She had about an acre of garden at Finnis as her territory, but when we moved to France she suddenly found herself with seventy-five times that amount. She rose to the challenge easily. She also adapted happily to having other types of animals around. When we got our first chickens, Lady Egg and Princess Layla, back in Ireland I’d been worried Nessie would chase them, or worse, but she didn’t bat an eyelid. That live-and-let-live attitude extended to the French hens we acquired, and also the cats, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowl, geese, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas, alpacas, sheep, goats, carp and pigs that we subsequently added to our menagerie. The only animal she was ever unimpressed with was Tobi (short for Toblerone), the so-called Borador we got five years ago. Nessie, who’d been so motherly towards the couple of litters of kittens that had been born at the farm, refused to have anything at all to do with Tobi for nearly two months. She finally cracked and the pair of them played non-stop until Nessie got too old for such nonsense.
When we rolled out our fishing gîte and lakes, Nessie seemed to enjoy welcoming anglers week after week. She was never an effusive dog who jumped up or got over-excited. She’d just stroll over, do a bit of discreet and sometimes indiscreet sniffing with her pointy nose, wag her tail politely and allow herself to be patted and fussed over.
I mentioned Nessie’s mixed ancestry earlier. She had the Border collie look in general, although she was on the large size for one, plus she had German Shepherd ears. Her coat was Welsh collie thick, giving her an almost-square appearance which led one group of anglers to nickname her Minecraft Dog!
Dogs are apparently considered old when they reach the last quarter of their life expectancy. Given that a dog of Nessie’s size is allocated a lifespan of around twelve years, then she was old for seven years since she insisted on playing into extra time. It did seem like a long while, looking back. She gradually slowed down more and more, but remained functional.
The last three years saw us adapting to live with a very old dog. First, she needed heart pills, then Metacam for her arthritis as well, and then an anti-incontinence drug on top of the other two. She also suffered several strokes, each one leaving her more fragile than before. We thought we were losing her several times. Rors got into the habit of saying goodbye to her on a Monday morning before he set off for lycée for the week, just in case. But somehow she kept going.
Neutered female dogs are very prone to issues with continence in their later years. We got into the rhythm of taking her for three short walks – clatters, we called them – every day. Between those we’d take her outside every couple of hours for her ablutions. We wouldn’t leave the house for too long at a time in case of accidents, and when she couldn’t stay dry through the night any more we moved her out to a stable where she would sleep under a warming red lamp on a comfy but short-lived variety of rugs, mats and mattresses.
That’s where Chris found her the other morning, only this time it was a sleep she wouldn’t wake up from. She’s now buried down by the stream in a patch of woodland. I’ll plant some bulbs there.
We miss Nessie, but the sadness is tempered by relief. She had a lot of health problems and was very doddery. She was quite deaf and her eyesight was clouded. We suspect she was confused at times. But overall she seemed content and enjoyed sniffing and rolling when out on her clatters. There were joyous moments too when she came over to demand attention with a poke from her nose, or when she could coordinate her stiff old legs into a happy gambol for a few paces. A far cry, though, from when she used to take huge bounds through the air whilst hunting down dangerous voles, or flying leaps into the lake to swim after a coypu, barking all the way. But I’ll treasure all the memories.
Goodbye, old friend.