Risk brings death but fulfils life.

Risk brings death, but fulfils life.

'Is this your dog, mate?'

It is, as well.  Ah, poor Stella.  How have you gone so still so quickly?

As I walked up to the cars with their hazards on, I'd pretty much known it would be, and from twenty yards away, there is no doubt.  She is just lying there, they have pulled her carefully off the road.  The main guy is chatting away  to me, telling me everything about it.  He's full of adrenalin, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was him who hit her.  I'm not really listening.  His mate is close to tears, silent.

I am not close to tears.  I stroke her head, and look at her eyes.  She seems like maybe there is still something in there, though she isn't breathing.  How long is it before the brain gives up after the heart stops beating?  Does she know I'm there, or is she just dead?  I am in problem solving mode, but the immediate problem cannot be solved.  She is dead.  

I've got a blanket with me.  Ten minutes ago I had picked it up in case I couldn't find her.  I would have left it where she last saw us if I couldn't find her by dark, and she could have smelled it, and stayed there and we would have got her the next morning.  That's not how it worked out, but it is useful now, I wrap her in it and the adrenalin-man gives me a lift back to my house.  His mate sits in the back, the car is fucking tiny, like a Corsa or something, and me and Stella ride in the passenger seat.  She is easy to hold, comfy in the blanket, and blood gets on my down jacket, and on my face where I have got her muzzle pressed to me.

The next set of problems is about dealing with other people's reactions.  I phone Nanny and can hear The Boy, upset in the background but at the moment its just because he is worried, not because he knows she is dead.  Nanny's voice trembles and I can tell she is crying.  Our Lass is not there, she has been woken up from a Boxing Day snooze in front of Dances With Wolves, and has headed out to look for Stella on her own initiative.  I phone her, and she is distraught.

I tidy Stella up, and place her in her blankets in our back garden.  She doesn't look too bad really, we all give her a cuddle, tell her she is a good dog and bury her in the flowerbed she most enjoyed digging up, with her blanket and toys.  No chieftain's dog would have got any better, although I would have liked to included some of her mortal enemies - the local cats, squirrels and birds.  Maybe a Muntjac.  All of us dig, and all of us cover her over with sandy Breckland earth.  

What a disaster.   In a few hours, on Boxing day, tragedy has sprung for us, out of the blue. Nothing in world terms, where kids drown in the Med and others will freeze and die of disease this winter.  But for us: massive and terrible.

For the next day I am obsessed with smelling blood on my fingers.  Its all I can smell.  I am like fucking Macbeth.  I wash my jacket.  Rob, if you're reading this, yours was worse.  See Shrapnel From A Near Miss

Stella loved her life off the lead.

We were lucky enough to live right on the edge of Thetford Forest, and did we not exploit it. We had her out there, every day since the earliest possible chance with her vaccines completed.  On lead at first, and gradually off it, and how she loved being off it.  She would bomb off, patrol ahead.  We got her recall pretty well sorted early on: not perfect, but she was eager to please and clever, and knew I was the boss.  I could whistle, and we let her know what was expected.  She might pull a bit on the way out to a walk but she was really good on the way back.

When we were passed by four wheel drives we got her to sit, and not bloody chase them while they went by.  At first a wheel was just too much like fleeing prey, but not for long, she knew what was expected.

She loved those walks, and she was clever.  She knew the difference between me going to take The Boy out to school (she'd jump on the sofa and watch us go from the window, we would wave goodbye as we went up the path) and going for a walk in the woods, and she'd leap up from her doze if she thought that was what was going on.  The Boy started to love coming for walks, and bike rides too, she worked her magic on him, and gave him a bit of her love for being out there.  Rather than on Minecraft.
Walk? Fuck, yeah.

At night we went out and she would stay closer, still running off ahead, but if we called you would see her eyes light up from our headtorches.

She loved running in the woods, with the prospect of a chase, or some fascinating smells.  Or fox-shit to roll in, it wasn't all good.  I think it was the freedom, and the joy of the movement.  Like climbing for me.  

She was rolling her stone in the garden, playing with it in the afternoon of Boxing day, but I could tell she wanted to walk.

So me and Boy took her out.  She ran off while we inspected an old motorbike helmet, and didn't come back to the whistle.  We walked up where we would normally have gone to leave a scent trail, whistling all the way, but - no sign.  We headed back to Nannies, which is where she would have headed back to.  I still wasn't too worried.  She was used to being off-lead, and she would be back.  She was clever enough to try and find her way home.

The only flaw in that was that she had to cross that main-road.  In the event, that is what happened.  She realised me and the Boy weren't around, so she headed back home.  She was hit by a car, which must have been doing sixty, the speed limit, and she can't have lasted more than a minute or two after that.

She had gone from having the best thing she enjoyed doing- having a run, through two minutes of pain, and probably unconsciousness, and then nothing, peace.    No infirmity.  No incontinence.  No pain, not in any big terms, nothing that lasted too long.  Then back home forever.

I could have kept that dog safe on a lead for years.

The difference would have been that she would have died over a course of twelve years rather than two minutes.  Her spirit - a collie's spirit, with its need to hunt and run, and play- would have been squeezed and crushed.  She would have got used to it, and she was too low in the pack hierarchy to seriously complain.  But she would not have been the same dog.   She wouldn't have had the same life.

Our Lass looks at me and says 'I think she probably chased a car.  You weren't there so she saw her chance to finally kill an Audi.'  

That makes me laugh, its could well be true.  She would have been killed, in self-defence, by prey that was just too much for her to handle.  Too hard, too committing of a route, in bad conditions and with no protection, but nonetheless, something she wanted to take on.

Walking without her is not the same, although actually you would probably still see as much of her as you ever did.  She only had eighteen months with us, but it was a brilliant time, and she was in the peak of her life, getting more used to us, settling down and growing up, but losing none of her spark.  

I feel so sad about her death, but I just cannot regret the full life and love of freedom that bought her to it.

Stella, with chewy bone and toy giraffe.