My dog has cancer, so this is officially a fucking horrible year. We don’t know how long he has, but basically bone cancer in his front leg has metastasised to his lungs.
I remember getting up at four am for three months’ worth of Saturdays, in order to get down to a greyhound sanctuary in Bramley, walking from our old flat in Clarence Dock down to the railway station, then catching the first 28 bus at 6am from Sheffield station, to get to the village by seven, to walk across the fields to meet the dogs. I remember being told that, as a single person, they’d never let me have a sighthound. Still, every day I walked Meg and Fletcher, two eight-year-old brindles, around the field with the guinea fowl. Every day I mucked out the kennels, exercised the dogs, said hallo to little old Nosey (Ten years old! How could a greyhound ever be so old?), poured out buckets of kibble and boiled coppers of water to make up their food.
I want to remember how I got a phone call, standing outside the town hall in June 2009, saying that the Sanctuary had found a dog for me, that they didn’t have room for and that needed a home urgently, and asking if I could go down to a park somewhere in Sheffield to meet him. They sent me photos, and I looked at them, one standing in a field of bluebells, one sitting on a moor, and I remember thinking that he didn’t look much like a greyhound, with that big bull neck and squat muzzle, he looked like a bull lurcher. Three years and eleven months old, born on the 4th of July 2005, 35 kilos of dense muscle and red-fawn fur with a white star on his chest and pink bald patches on his thighs, neck and belly. I remember his owners saying that he was a bit ugly, for a greyhound, with his chunky shoulders and lopsided nose, but I remember thinking that he had the most amazing, soulful brown eyes, and that he always looked like he was wearing eyeliner.
I want to remember how I went down to Sheffield on the train after work, and met his last owners, two vets, Australians, having to move back to the antipodes with their newborn son. Lamenting how their boy wouldn’t grow up with a British accent. The four of us walking through the park, with Paddy (as he was then called) trotting at-heel, first with him, then with her, then finally with me. I remember her saying that I seemed to get on amazingly with him, and that he loved kids, and would never hurt a fly, and that he was the best dog. And she was happy to give him to me. She asked if I’d keep his name, and I said that I would probably have to change it, since a good friend’s name was Paddy. I asked what his racing name had been, which was Danny’s Spark. Already knowing a Danny, I realised that this meant that I would have to name him myself.
I remember two days after that, the family coming to meet me in my new house (the house I had bought specifically so that I could home a dog) and us taking him for a walk in his new park. We sat in the rose garden and ate chips. On the way home, Sawyer, a massive Weimaraner dog, barked loudly at him over the fence. I jumped a mile, as did his owners. Paddy just ignored him.
I remember sitting in the house on the first evening, with Ozzy as he was now called, and thinking “Well, what do I do now?”
I remember hearing a two-tone whine from the kitchen that night, and Dearest going down to investigate, only to find that Ozzy had grabbed a whole box of gravybones from the top of the freezer (It’s six feet tall) and was eating them. Upon being spotted, he belched loudly then started to eat faster.
I remember quickly running up a painting, a bright watercolour of Ozzy, surrounded by bluebells, based on the photograph I had been given of him, to give to his previous owners. They loved it, and took it with them to Australia and then New Zealand. I saw a photograph of it on the wall in their living room, above their new greyhound, Diesel, another big, happy ginger.
I remember, in a spree of teaching him tricks, teaching him to leap up to his full height and stand on his back legs with his front paws on my arm at chest-height. The command for this was “Pirate!” as he was able to walk around with me, like this, looking like a parrot on a pirate’s shoulder.
I remember learning that he was afraid of cats, and rabbits, and taking him for a walk in the wildfowl park in Boldon, only to discover he was afraid of ducks, and him being so horrified by water that not only would he not go out in the rain and not step in a puddle, but recoiling from his water bowl when I filled it in front of him.
I remember him learning to fake a limp to get affection and usually food from strangers, and how nobody would believe that it was fake and a ploy for attention until it suddenly switched sides in the middle of a step.
I remember him discovering cello music, by watching Departures, and how somehow it would always keep his interest. I wondered if it was because it sounded like other greyhounds, a slow tenor “roooOOOoo” sound which I will always think of as being the sound that greyhounds make. I remember playing him the wolf pack’s rallying cry from Wikipedia and watching him sit bolt upright and look like he suddenly needed to go somewhere urgently, but like he wasn’t sure where.
I remember my neighbour, Ray, before he had a key and before I just left Ozzy with him whenever I went out, telling me that he used to hear Ozzy speaking through the wall, and would play the trombone back to him, and they would have little conversations until Ozzy calmed down.
I remember constantly having to tell people that his huge bald patches were nothing to do with a skin disease or lying on hard floors, they were the dog equivalent of male-pattern baldness. I remember eventually finding it weird that other people found them weird, since all of the dogs that I lived with were mostly bald. I remember as he aged, the fur began to fill in the bald patches again.
I remember taking him to the park after work every night, and walking him around the perimeter, and meeting the other dog owners. A grey spaniel, a jack russell terrier who became his best friend, a huge alsatian puppy who outgrew all of them in a matter of weeks. We walked in the Victorian park first, then the huge Queen’s Park where he could run off-leash, double-suspending and sprinting faster than I had ever seen a dog run, all muscles and sunlight glistening off ginger fur.
I remember him having his own bedroom, where I used to put him when I was out at work, until we made friends with Ray who lives next door, and his elderly dog Gypsy, who started to look after him during the day when I was at work.
I remember him trapping my Mam in the corner of her kitchen, and watching intently as she ate a slice of buttered toast, which she insisted that no matter how sad he looked, she wouldn’t give it to him. Of course, he got the last half of the slice, with a cry of “How am I supposed to eat with you looking at me like that?!”
I remember the words that Kev coined to refer to his habits. “Making shapes” (Sleeping in that odd upside-down pose), “Roundabouts!” as he spun in a circle whilst doing his business in the garden, and “Ooh bikkits?” which was the response to any question, in Ozzy’s eyes. I remember Kev’s horror as Ozzy licked him, only to realise that the last thing that Ozzy had licked had been his own bottom.
I remember once, when I was desperate and stuck for how to stop him from doing something dangerous, I barked at him, and he sprang ten feet across the room, looked completely baffled, and then, crucially, never did it again. I’ve never barked at him again, either.
I remember teaching him to play, back when we were both young and strong, by sticking two long socks in the back pockets of my jeans and teaching him to course around the flowerbeds at the park, chasing me and snapping at the trailing socks which were usually full of dog biscuits.
I remember how quickly he worked out that if I was carrying a plate of food upstairs, if he raced past me and stood at the top of the flight he was the exact right height to snaffle things off the plate, or sneeze on it to be given the whole thing.
I remember how he shows affection by standing, side-on in front of someone that he likes, and leaning against their legs so hard that they were sometimes pushed over, and that if they walk away as he is doing it, he stumbles and falls sideways as well.
I remember all the names that he has been; Dannys Spark, Paddy, Ozzy – Oz, Osric Spark, Ozzbozz, Boo, Spoons, Pointy Creature, Odd Boy, Oswald, Zeeboo, just plain Dog, and always, always, sweetheart, dear boy, love.
I remember how he sleeps on his back, with one forefoot up in the air and his neck and back twisted around into an sideways arch, a position which looked incredibly uncomfortable until I tried it out and found that even with my shitty human bones, it was weirdly relaxing.
I remember one winter when it had snowed constantly, getting up early on the morning of New Year to walk him in the park, and being out with Ray and Gypsy and a few of the other old gents and their old, wiry dogs, and Ozzy being so happy to be out and able to race around in his red fleece coat. I remember a few days later my family visiting, and him walking at heel with my Granda, and thinking that as they walked through the snow, Ozzy in his winter jacket, my Granda in his black overcoat and flat cap, that they looked properly like one man and his dog. I remember my Nana sidling up to me and laughing; “See, he says he doesn’t like dogs…”
I remember buying him a bandana for his fifth birthday (Previously he’d always worn mine) and that since then he’s basically never taken it off, and when he does have to take it off he looks sad until he gets it back again.
I remember how on long train journeys late at night, going back up North, he’d sit on my coat and wear my BTCV hoodie on the seat next to me, looking out into the aisle and over the table like a human would, being fussed over by everyone who passed and being given bottles of water by the conductor.
I remember a small child at the park who insisted that Ozzy was a pony, and realising that, from her height, he may as well have been. I remember another who knew a whippet who looked a bit like Ozzy, and didn’t quite realise until he was really close that Ozzy was much, much bigger (Standing by my side, I can rest a hand easily on the back of his neck). I remember how much Ozzy loved children and tried to look after them in his own odd way.
I remember how through counting the rhythmic pattern and duration of his twitches in his sleep, I worked out that even though in the daytime he never runs, in his dreams he still races. I started to make a point of scratching him behind the ears to wake him up only after the double-suspension gallop of being on the track had turned into the slow trot of returning to the paddock. He hasn’t raced in around ten years, but clearly he still remembers.
I remember how he has impeccable self-control; How he knows to wait to be told “Help yourself” before starting his dinner, how he waits by the piano every time he passes it in the hope of being given a chew from the tin box on top of it but will never just leap up and steal them, how even in the middle of an uncontrollable charge down the stairs, if I say “Wait”, he’ll wait on that very step, until I tell him he can continue.
I remember discovering his thieving streak; First a whole cabbage from the greengrocer, then a small girl’s first-ever ice cream. I started to have to pay serious attention to what he was doing at the park, when he ran up to people with his tail wagging, excited to meet new friends. He never really did learn to play properly with other dogs, but he loved people.
I remember that I have never needed a lead or a muzzle to get Ozzy to walk at heel, he just does it. I remember on days when I was too ill to even find his lead, I would walk him with just a loop of thread or twine slack between my wrist and his collar, as cats, dogs, small children, squirrels and all manner of distractions just passed him by.
I remember taking him down to Mo’s farm with Dearest, which was also the first time that he met Dearest’s Mum. She loved him immediately. Ozzy rather skillfully took a barbecued rabbit leg right out of Dearest’s hand without him even noticing.
I remember fairly quickly finding that Ozzy was always happiest when he was with us, so any attempt at having him sleep in his own room went by-the-by and he moved into our bedroom, on a stack of duvets and dog beds.
I remember Sawyer and Abe, the Weimaraner and a boxer-Chinese-crested-cross, who lived up the road from us and who he played with in their house (Never walks, but he’d sit on the sofa whilst they played around him). I remember Jibber, the manchester terrier who was sixteen at the time and who was about as energetic as he was, who would cuddle with him.
I remember going for two weeks in Japan in the winter of 2009, and my Mam looking after him for the two weeks; Sending me diaries and updates of every day that he was there. I sent Ozzy up North with them wearing one of my green BTCV t-shirts, which he has kept in his bed ever since. My Granda, who hated dogs and was terrified of them, quickly decided that Ozzy was the best dog and his first great-grandchild, and would walk everywhere with him, and slept on the sofa next to him for a few nights. All the while, however, insisting that he was just tolerating him. From that point on, the first thing that he has always asked me upon seeing me has been “How’s the dog?”
I remember having the worst, prolonged mental health crisis of my life in early 2010, and being told to go home and talk about it, and not just “go and hug the dog”. As usual, the dog turned out to be a better counsellor than any human. I took three months of sick leave, during which time I only left the house, or even opened the door, to walk the dog. Ozzy kept me company, kept me from forgetting to eat, kept me from killing myself.
I remember returning to work, and soon after, getting his racing number tattooed in the crook of my knee. I always said, if I was going to have a matching tattoo with anyone, it would be my dog, since he’d never knowingly break my heart.
I remember our walks – Down to the Bankhouse pub, then across the fields to The Greyhound, where we could usually expect a free pint for me and a bowl of water for him, because people were so tickled by a greyhound drinking at The Greyhound, then going back to the Bankhouse for tea. I remember him following one of the waiters at the Bankhouse into the kitchen, since he had a tray of Yorkshire Puddings. I remember him sitting next to another family for their entire meal, because they looked more likely to give him scraps that I was.
I remember him discovering the beach in winter, and racing up and down the hard sand at a ridiculous pace until he put a foot into the edge of the water, at which point he sprinted back to my side and wouldn’t leave it again.
I remember once running into a wolfdog meet at the Bankhouse, and Ozzy being completely un-bothered by a wolfdog barking in his ear. The wolfdog had no idea what to do, since most dogs found it terrifying. The wolfdog’s owner seemed to shrink a little that collectively, I and my greyhound found his half-wolf adorable rather than threatening.
I remember Taz, an ageing mongrel who I briefly adopted, who reached an uneasy detente with Ozzy, as long as Ozzy could guarantee that Taz wouldn’t break his toys. I remember being astounded by how much easier to look after Ozzy was than Taz.
I remember Dearest planning to spend a year in Japan, and my deciding to go with him. I remember handing Ozzy over to Dearest’s Mum in the car park at Meadowhall, and being more than a little devastated at the thought of not seeing him for a whole year.
I remember being sent a video, two months later, of him bounding through three-foot-deep snow in the coldest winter that the UK had seen for a long time, his tail spinning like a rotor. I missed him so much I almost wanted to come straight home.Another video of him from that year showed him playing with Dearest’s Mum’s Boyfriend, where he almost played like a dog… Until the human got down on the floor to wrestle with him, at which point he jumped up and stole his seat. The chaise longue at Dearest’s house has been Ozzy’s since then.
I remember the earthquake in 2011, and my only real worry being that I’d not see Ozzy again, and hoping that if I died, he’d get to stay with Dearest’s Mum permanently.
I remember seeing a red fawn whippet, or maybe a small greyhound, in Nara park with the deer, and realising just how much I missed him. I remember thinking of how much Ozzy looked like a deer himself, and remembering him in the snow, where the snowflakes on his back made him look like Bambi.
I remember getting home in August 2011, and the only thing that made me want to go back at all was to see Ozzy again. Seeing him for the first time, after a year, I wondered if he’d remember me. He immediately ran to me and got into the dent that he had left in the sofa years before, and curled up with me.
I remember him needing to lose four teeth, at the vet’s, which I blamed on the sugary crap that he ate whilst I was away. At the time, this seemed like a lot. He was groggy and sleepy after the anaesthetic, but the teeth were tiny and he quickly recovered and was eating kibble again by the next day. I remember that giving him pills was always incredibly easy, as long as you stuck them in a spoonful of peanut butter first.
I remember sitting on bonfire night and reading a collection of folk tales to him to calm him down. He never liked fireworks at all, but he loved to be read to, the more sedate and gentle the better. Folk tales, restaurant reviews, Watership Down, whatever novel I was reading at the time. He’d just curl up next to me, or with his head in my lap, and listen. When I stopped, he’d lift his head up and look at me as if to say “Go on, that can’t be all”.
I remember sitting in the bus station late one night, long after the buses had stopped, crying my eyes out into Ozzy’s fur, and him being so patient and so gentle, doing his best to calm me down, licking my face and resting his paws on my shoes. I remember sitting in my own house, phoning a rescue centre and explaining that if I got much more ill, they’d have to rehome him for me. I remember my relief when I realised that even at my worst, Ozzy was patient enough to manage with me.
I remember both Dearest and myself lying down in Ozzy’s bed in his own bedroom, to see if he had settled in again after returning from Japan, back when it was barely-furnished but for the enormous dog bed made of old duvets and cushions, and all three of us falling asleep for two hours in a ray of sunshine.
I remember leaving him with a dog sitter for one evening in 2011, and her asking about what he needed; When I said that I’d already walked him, so all he needed was to be read to, she thought I was joking. When I returned, sure enough, she said, he’d shown no interest in the frisbee, no interest in playing tug-of-war, but had been rapt with attention at being read The Guardian.
I remember him coming with me to Nottingham to meet up with some old squatter pals, and running around the bonfire as if he’d always lived with a big pack, then going and sleeping on an old settee in the basement until I went to bed as well, at which point he got in with me.
I remember that wherever I’d go, he’d go. I took him to writers’ meetings at the university, to endless squat parties and pub nights. He’d just follow happily at-heel, sniffing things and being scratched behind the ears.
I remember Ray next door coming to my house one freezing November morning in 2011, to say that he’d got his own greyhound. This was Dave, two years old, a clear six inches taller than the already-oversized-for-a-greyhound Ozzy and as mad as a box of frogs. Dave, and Gypsy, and Ozzy, fast became inseparable again, even going over to Ray’s house “to play” when I was in the house. He would leap over the four foot high wall to get into Ray’s garden, and he kept doing that right up last week. I would not be shocked if he continued doing it now.
I remember walking to Best Friend’s house with him, and him racing up and down the stairs, and baring his teeth to protect me when I collapsed from an asthma attack. I remember him trying to walk home, and needing to be carried because he was so exhausted from patrolling and checking that I was all right.
I remember him starting to learn how to look after me when I had migraines, sitting down next to my head in winter so that I could press my forehead into his side and rest my aching neck.
I remember that he seemed to understand when I was depressed. I remember him handing me over to the police in the back of an ambulance, only happy to stay with Ray once he knew that I was being looked after by someone else.
I remember his toys, of which the squeaky duck is his favourite, which he would carry around with him and love and cuddle instead of ripping apart like most dogs would. He’s had the squeaky duck since his first owner, the racecourse, and he still has it now, even though it’s a little worn around the edges. I remember buying him a cuddly gorilla in the first few weeks of owning him, expecting him to shred it, and instead that he cuddled it as if it was a puppy that needed warming up.
I remember Dearest dropping a whole slice of takeaway pizza on the floor in the kitchen, and Ozzy somehow eating the whole thing in less than half a second, not even pausing to chew until all that was left were a couple of crumbs on the floor.
I remember him first meeting Best Friend, who slept in the living room with him, and who woke up to find that Ozzy had decided to get on the sofa with him and be his pillow for the night. Apparently, he was very comfortable but smelt awful.
I remember, about a year after that, him first meeting Best Friend’s cats, and him avoiding them like they were radioactive. He has never liked cats. He was once introduced to an incredibly small ginger kitten, only a couple of weeks old, at the vet’s, and he immediately ran away.
I remember an amazing timelapse video taken by my Mam, which was supposed to be of the whole family at Christmas, starting first thing in the morning and ending last thing at night, and instead Ozzy took up two seats on the settee and stayed there all day, resulting in an amazing timelapse of eight people moving around a sleeping greyhound who only got up twice – Once to go to the toilet, and once for Christmas dinner.
I remember that he would rather eat almost anything in preference to dog food, and that anything which was Forbidden was immediately more delicious than anything which was permitted. He would always run downstairs early in the mornings the night after we’d had a takeaway to messily slurp up the leftovers.
I remember him breaking his canine tooth on a marrowbone, and having it removed that afternoon, and the vet giving it to me as a keepsake. Somehow, it was the only one of his teeth that wasn’t full of holes or stained dark brown, and now he’d snapped it off.
I remember taking him up North to my Mam’s wedding, and him going into a boarding kennel for the day, but not the night. When asked how he preferred his food, I advised to just put a bit of chilli sauce or ketchup on it if he wasn’t eating. This was assumed to be a joke, until it worked.
I remember that whenever Dearest and myself are watching a film on the settee, he tries to get on with us, and fitting two large humans and an extremely large greyhound on a tiny old leather sofa is a feat of geometry and trust.
I remember that everyone who ever met him said that they had never known a dog so calm, so trusting, and so obviously looked after. The only people he ever showed anger or mistrust towards were people who I was mistrustful of, or angry, where he’d pin himself to my side and raise his hackles and point his ears as if waiting to be told to deal with them.
I remember him learning how to find the paramedics, or any other visitor to the house for that matter, and to lead them upstairs to where I was in bed, on the days where I couldn’t stand. He would sit at my feet and not let them near me until I told them to let them in, and then he’d watch them like a hawk. Paramedics who’d been to my house more than a few times tended to remember him and love him, and would often come in and call to him first before calling to me.
I remember how he’d always take two tries to do his business in the garden late at night, and would need to be told “Go on, what did you forget?” to make him go back out and finish.
I remember in 2015, when we first thought that he had cancer (he didn’t), that he slept on the foot of the bed over that entire weekend. Since then, he’s never gone back to sleeping on the floor.
I remember how he’s only barked about six times in his life; Once when he was surprised by his own reflection in a mirror, once when I had fallen down the stairs and he tried to alert Dearest, once when the police came to the door and a couple of other times. Otherwise, he makes a strange mournful noise like a cello, or purrs, or grumbles under his breath. In his sleep, he does a strange fading echoey bark, (Woof-uuf-uuf-uuf-uffff) which gets louder and repeats a few times, then stops. I always wonder what he’s barking at then. Once, he woke up in the middle of a barking spree and seemed panicked and half-paralysed, as if he was having a night terror, so since then I’ve started waking him up as soon as it starts.
I remember how he knows his bedtime routine so well, that when we turn off the PC in the living room he immediately sits up straight in preparation for going out into the garden, and then after he’s been, he runs straight upstairs. Sometimes, if we let him out early, he’ll run upstairs and go to bed, then come downstairs an hour later when he realises that we’ve not followed him. Sometimes, when the humans stay up late, at around one in the morning he’ll just take himself to bed instead, and we come up to find him curled up on the dog bed next to ours – He always waits for us before getting on the big bed.
I remember accidentally splodging a great orange henna handprint onto his forehead once when I was dyeing my hair, and it taking months to fade out. I always said that I should henna cheetah spots onto him and let him run around the park a bit to start rumours of West Yorkshire having a Big Cat.
I remember how in the mornings, after Dearest gets up, Ozzy comes up to the top of the bed and sleeps on the pillow. If I sleep too long, and look like I’m oversleeping my medications, he wakes me up by sniffing my face. At the weekends, he always sleeps in later than us, and comes downstairs whilst we’re in the middle of breakfast, jumps up onto his settee, and settles in for the day.
I remember him eating a whole bar of Bournville when I had gone out for less than ten minutes, resulting in it being the most expensive bar of chocolate I’ve ever bought, and him being sick all over the car park at the vet’s. I remember that was the first time I ever thought he’d looked old.
I remember him having sixteen more teeth taken out at the vet’s, leaving him with about ten, and worrying that this would impede his ability to eat. It got noisier, but he still slurps down everything that he can see. I remember waking him up that morning and having an irrational terror that he’d not wake up after his anaesthetic, and taking his photo as he slept curled up in the green light before dawn on a freezing autumn morning. I remember always being so happy to see him whenever I went to pick him up from the vet, always greeting him by dropping into a squat and hugging him at his own height. I am the only person who he allows to do this.
I remember once, very very high on morphine, commenting to Best Friend’s Mum that Ozzy had started to grow “little old man hairs” on the backs of his shoulders, and being shocked when she responded “So has Husband, but we still love him too”)
I remember how as he got older, even as he got more liver spots, somehow his bald patches seemed to get smaller. I remember putting factor fifty sun cream on them when it was hot, and yet thy still tanned to a weird dark grey anyway.
I remember how every year, I celebrate his birthday, usually with sausages or venison from the local butchers.
I remember how for the three general elections I’ve lived with him, I’ve talked through my vote with him beforehand. It’s never been a difficult conversation, but I check my reasoning by telling him anyway.
I have to remember all of this because the next few weeks are going to tear my heart out, and I don’t want to just remember him dying of cancer.
Right now, all I remember is seeing him lying on the table in the vet’s on Saturday, foaming with heat exhaustion and stress after a horrible run-in with the vet’s cat, with an oxygen mask on and a cold towel over his abdomen, certain that we were about to lose him, angry that what had looked just like a soft tissue injury in his wrist had come to this. I remember seeing his x-ray on the lightbox in the exam room, through the window, and knowing even before I opened the door that those round white shadows were exactly what I hoped they weren’t. I remember Cristiana, the vet, showing me the lump on the bone in his wrist, which was almost as thick as the bone again, and trying to explain what it was in a way that wasn’t heartbreaking.
And now all I can think of is Byron’s Epitaph To A Dog, and that there is no way that Boatswain could ever have been as good a dog as Ozzy.