Yesterday we had a new family member join us; a seven year old rescue dog called Lady. She is a Collie cross German Shepherd who was flown over from Cyprus around 4 years ago. Before she becomes my norm, I felt like I needed to take some time out to write about Marshall, who we lost last year. If you’ve ever owned a dog, I know you’ll understand what I’m going to discuss. If you’ve not ever had that bond with a dog, or a cat, rat, horse etc, then you might consider me slightly nutty and probably shouldn’t bother reading on.
Six months ago, on Monday 4th September 2017 my world changed forever. I was on holiday in Antigua, to celebrate my cousin’s wedding. My best friend, Marshall, a 12 (ish) year old Collie cross Labrador had gone to stay with a wonderful friend and her family. At 06:30am I received the call every pet owner dreads. My lovely friend had the terrible job of breaking the news to me that Marshall was seriously ill. He’d collapsed earlier in the day and had been rushed to the vets, where a multitude of blood tests had revealed he was suffering with what was described to me as ‘catastrophic abdominal bleeding’, likely to have been caused by a tumour rupturing an artery in his spleen or liver. I was given the devastating advice that he was too elderly to survive surgery and that not much else could be done to save his life. I had to make the utterly heart wrenching decision to have him put to sleep. This would have been horrendous regardless of where I was, but to have to make this decision whilst thousands of miles, and an 8 hour flighty away, was horrific. Within an hour of my conversation and consent being given to the vet, my beloved dog fell gently to sleep in my friend’s lap.
Marshall and I had met by chance six years earlier. I’d attended an open day, with my girlfriend at the time, at our local dog rescue centre. I’d gone along with no intention of getting a dog, although I desperately missed my (now sadly late) dog Maffy, who had remained with my Mum and Step-Dad when I left home. Wandering around the rescue centre I came across Marshall. He was curled up in a tiny ball in his bed in the corner of his kennel. After some gentle persuasion he came and pushed his nose against the cage and allowed me to tickle his snout. At the moment, I knew he had to come home with me, no question about it. I immediately went and filled in an application form to begin the adoption process. Little over a week later I received contact from the centre to say that unfortunately I’d not been selected and Marshall had been adopted by another family. I was devastated. Our brief meeting had left such a huge impression on. I obsessively checked the rescue pages on a daily basis in the hope that the ‘reserved’ sign across his photo would magically disappear. And one day, it did. I called the centre straight away and they confirmed his adoption had fallen through.
Marshall had come to the centre as a very overweight stray with a skin condition, having been found eating out the bins at a local retail centre. He was picked up in a Marshall’s hire van, hence the name. They estimated him to be 7 years old when I met him, though this could never be confirmed. Prior to my meeting with him he’d been adopted by another family but promptly returned when he found himself in a dog fight. The family who adopted him before me also returned him when they found out about his feisty tendencies. Lucky for Marshall and I, I was about to become his (at least) fourth and final owner. His stubborn and feisty behaviour was no match for mine!
Two weeks later he came home with me. We became immediately inseparable; he’d sleep by my bed (and sometimes in it) and was rarely far from my side. We had some difficult times during our six years together. I came close to losing him in November 2012, when he suffered from a life threatening bowel complication that required emergency surgery. But ever the trooper, he pulled through and was soon fighting fit.
Marshall became my best friend, my closest ally and my therapy. Through a relationship break up and numerous bouts of depression he remained by my side. My coping strategy quickly became spending time out in the fields with him when I was feeling low, or simply lying with him in my lap. He was the most affectionate creature, who considered himself to be human. Despite his dog aggression, selective deafness when off the lead and penchant for eating my unattended food, he was the most perfect companion. My wife and I often joked that he came before her in our marriage. If there was a spare seat next to me you could guarantee he’d be the one to fill it.
Since losing my best friend, I have felt an absolute hollow emptiness that seems unable to be filled. I feel lost and alone, pining for him to come back. No human will ever greet you at the front door the way that a dog will. The unconditional love and joy is utterly incomparable. I’m never, ever going to get over losing Marshall, but hope that having Lady joining us will help ease some of that pain. Knowing that we are giving another unloved animal a home and show her that humans can be trusted definitely goes some way to making me feel better. Plus, I want my son to grow up knowing the bond that can be had with dogs.