A Letter to Susie
By Margaret Sheard
The British are well known as being animal lovers and most of us at some time in our lives, have had pets which we have loved and lost. We recently received a lovely letter which Keith Lloyd had written many years ago for his family as a memory jogger for Susie, a Collie Cross, his faithful companion for 12 years and a part of the family until the year 2000, when unfortunately old age and illness caught up with her.
This is a lovely story in the form of a letter from Keith to Susie and shares his early involvement with animals and his eventual bonding with Susie and the wonderful times they experienced together.
Brackley, Northants – 1/1/2001
So, now you are permanently at rest.
You always were a good sleeper, especially in the last few months as your illnesses began to take effect on your legs, hips, heart and nose. They cannot hurt you any longer and you are now free from having to take antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs.
I never really liked dogs or any domestic pets for that matter. At home, during and just after the war, Mum and Dad were always too busy keeping house and home together. Times were tough and money was always in short supply, so on a time and cost basis pets didn’t play a major part in my upbringing. We did have a cat once for a short time, I think I was perhaps seven or eight when it was run over and killed by a speeding car right outside our house in Chester. The event didn’t affect me too much, Tiddles made me sneeze, even when I was free of a cold.
My brother Gordon had a mating pair of pigeons, Joey & Susie, but they were his and I, being the younger brother, was not allowed anywhere near them. One day in c.1950 Joey was entered into a junior fanciers race and was duly sent by rail to Rhyl, from where, he was expected to make his way back to the loft at the bottom of our garden in Sealand Road. He never made it and two days later a cat from up the road caught Susie in an unguarded moment and took her body back as a trophy to its owner. I was quite delighted, in fact I privately celebrated my brother’s loss – it served him right for not allowing me to share in owning the birds.
One of our next door neighbours, at No. 214, had a dog, Toby. I can’t recall what type or breed Toby was, he was taller than you, black, white and brown with traces of terrier in him, but his behaviour and that of his owners are deeply etched on my memory.
Susie, at this stage I ought to tell you something of our family. I know you met my mother; you will recall that after you arrived in 1988 she used to come to stay with us for a few days each year. I’m not sure if you met my brother, he never paid us a visit whilst you were with us, nor I him, we never did get on well, perhaps it was because of the pigeons?
You never met my Dad, he died from heart disease in 1970. By birth, he was a farmers boy from North Wales and although he had high expectations of me and Gordon, he wasn’t around much – he worked hard and long as a grocery store manager in Liverpool, or Chester, but when we did see him he was great fun and full of encouragement. He had a wicked sense of humour, was the life and soul of any family gathering and made people laugh to the point of being ill!
Dad’s chief technique for making people laugh was at the expense of other people. He would give appropriate yet hilarious names to individuals, couples or their pets and then proceed to give a series of spontaneous and ridiculously funny monologues. I never figured out why he never went into show business as a comic writer, or performer.
Now back to Toby. He was mad, barked a lot, escaped into our garden and deposited his wastes, he was pandered and fussed over by his childless owners as if he were a babe in nappies.
This situation didn’t escape Dad’s attention and I hope you will forgive me for not remembering the precise details of his sarcastic witticisms, but I can recall that the effects of Dad’s treatment of Toby and his owners was to give me an impression that all dogs are noisy and messy, their owners are all idiots.
Strange then, that after I and Gordon left home, Mum & Dad suddenly acquired a dog, Rocky, a black & white collie cross just like you. By now they had bought their own grocery store in the Hertfordshire countryside and justified Rocky’s presence as part of the shop’s security system. I now know that Rocky was a child substitute for my parents and he quickly became a close member of the family. But I was not convinced; he became used to strangers (customers) being around during the day, most evenings he was out on the prowl – sometimes all night – and whilst he was a real character with a dubious reputation with the owners of bitches on heat, I never really took to him.
So how did you come to join us? Again, I now know that you were also a child substitute. All right, after I had become bored with golf (and golfers) and retired from the links, I had taken up long distance country walking with friends, some of whom had dogs. Then, when our youngest daughter Nikki, left home to be a nanny to Eddie & Marie Jordan’s children, Betty mentioned she wouldn’t mind having a dog around, as protection and company for when I was away on business. Suddenly off we went to the Animal Rescue Centre in Banbury and there you were, together with dozens of other rejected animals seeking a good home.
The warden said you were a good dog with a healthy appetite, perhaps lacking in confidence and although house trained, you were said to have refused to obey any normal commands. ‘Sit’ was a term you refused to understand, acknowledge or act upon.
Who picked whom? We both had a choice, but Betty and I agree that you picked us. Despite the warden’s cautionary words about your humility and lack of confidence, with your looks, personality and waggerley tail you made a sale. We paid £15.00 and off we went with you in the back of the car.
You sat quietly and obediently on the way to the pet store, sat patiently as we bought your lead, bed, food and toys. It was a pity you peed in the back of the Volvo, but we put that down to nervousness or uncertainty…and then we arrived home.
At first you didn’t want to come in – and later, before dinner you didn’t want to go out!
So here I was, the owner of a new (and first) pet primarily intended to be a walking companion who would not walk! Yet, despite your unusual behaviour we took to you. Maybe it was your charming good looks, your constantly wagging tail, or was it that we had someone to look after once more. Whatever it was, you and I agreed that we were going to have to train each other if our joint ambitions were going to be achieved.
You will recall that I had taken some time off work in order to bond with you, and by golly did we bond? Do you remember in those first couple of weeks together, how many hours we spent strolling around the country lanes with you on the lead learning commands and how to obey them. You wouldn’t have known this, but I went to an old dog owning friend, Dick Vernon, who told me that there are only five basic commands – sit, down, heel, come and wait. He said that with patience, encouragement and rewards you would soon learn these orders and shortly would come to understand anything I said. A good job you did, do you remember the confusions we had between us with a whistle?
I soon came to realise you were frightened of roads and all moving vehicles. Perhaps you had had a bad experience as a puppy? We were not given any information about your former life so we can only surmise that something had affected you and we had to do something about it. Can you remember the hours we spent sitting on a wall together near the road junction during rush hour? It paid off.
Within a matter of a few short weeks you were accompanying me on the country roads and down the High Street off the lead, at heel and completely under control. I was surprised and delighted to learn that you wouldn’t foul pavements, but would wait until we reached soft ground, how did you learn that discipline?
Cattle & sheep were another matter. Although you were bred and looked like a sheep dog you didn’t show any interest in them. We could walk through a field containing a flock of dozens of sheep, rams, ewes and lambs and you completely ignored them, or refused to be intimidated by them.
What happened to make you fearful of cattle? Was it their size, shape or smell? Or did something happen to you (as with motor cars) before we met? Whatever it was you would run off and complete a lengthy detour whenever our bovine friends appeared nearby. I remember I lost you on a couple of occasions – the first was when we were in the countryside between Charlton & Kings Sutton – all of a sudden you had gone, where I didn’t know, all I could see were dairy cows in the next field, but no Susie.
What was I to do? Option 1 was to return to The Rose & Crown, Charlton from where we had just departed. Option 2 was to proceed to The White Horse, Kings Sutton to where we were heading. We had already completed this route on a couple of occasions and I suspected you would proceed to The White Horse where some of our friends from the village would be. Wrong! Having dashed to the pub and breathlessly enquired of the customers as to whether you had been seen, ‘No’ was the reply.
Panicking somewhat, I set off back to Charlton and shortly a villager asked me if I was looking for a stray dog as a black & white dog was seen heading for the Station. This was good news as I figured you would probably be at our friend’s house in nearby Wales Street. You were there alright and greeted me with a smile and a wag – your body language was clear ‘Sorry Dad, but I’m scared of cows and it’s great to see you!’
You repeated the felony a few months later and again we were re-united, this time at the Red Lion, Evenley. After this I had learned my lesson and never let you off the lead again if cattle were in the vicinity.
Occasionally, when we were in familiar country, you would go on ahead in your eagerness to meet friends or to go for a swim, or seek a refreshing drink. Once, you gave Sue Topham a bit of a shock. We were on a footpath on the southern side of Hinton-in-the-Hedges airfield on a very warm summer’s day, when you realised that Sue & Alan’s house at Woodend Grange, was only a short distance down the road. You decided to run ahead either to get a drink or play with their goats. Sue was working in the kitchen with the door open when you unexpectedly popped in to bark ‘Hello’ and succeeded in frightening Sue out of her skin. You got your drink – I had a few as well as we sat in the garden laughing at Sue’s shock surprise.
Can you also recall the day when Sue & Alan were having a garden party to celebrate the re-opening of their swimming pool? No sooner had I jumped in the pool for a swim than you followed me in on a rescue mission. We succeeded in entertaining everybody there as we wrestled and struggled together to get you out. Great fun for all.
You also entertained others and me when you went off chasing rabbits, hares and foxes, usually to no avail. The rabbits confused you, running off in different directions and disappearing down their burrows, you didn’t know which way to turn and when you did make a decision, the target rabbit had gone. You succeeded however, on a couple of occasions and delivered me a trophy. Hares were just too fast, thankfully. Beautiful animals to watch in full flight.
Foxes were just too crafty for you, although you nearly got close when we met the Bicester Hunt on the old Railway Line near Steane. You joined the hounds for a spell and looked quite at home sniffing in the hedgerows and responding to the Huntsman’s calls. However, you soon realised that the pack were ‘professionals’, you were out of your depth and gracefully withdrew.
So the time soon arrived for us to ‘go public’. The walking club I had started, The Four Kounties Krawlers, met once each month and it was my job as FN (secretary / organiser) to select and prove our routes as well as organise lunch etc. We had great fun you and me, attempting to follow marked paths using OS maps (Pathfinder 1:25 series), trying to get the timing right, meeting pub landlords and generally familiarising ourselves with the countryside and villages within a 20 mile radius of our home in Brackley.
It was May 1988 when you came to your first ‘krawl’. All the Krawlers and their dogs greeted you very well – you met that day friends who would become regular walking buddies for the rest of your life. Do you recall your first walk along the canal towpath on a route from The Fox, Souldern to The Kings Head, Fritwell and back?
Dick’s dog, Bella, a charming little mongrel promptly jumped into the canal, bottom first, to retrieve a stick, you followed her and realised you could swim. After that there was no stopping you. Every time you saw some water in you went, eager to play and retrieve anything thrown in the water – sticks obviously, but stones as well! You became so keen to fetch stones that you learnt to breathe and swim underwater and always brought up a stone. Not always the one you were asked to fetch, but nevertheless, a stone, rock or boulder – size perspective was never your good point. Mark Burgess (Lucky’s owner) labelled you ‘Tarka the Otter’.
After you had discovered water as a source of fun and entertainment we began to realise that your thick coat was very difficult to get dry, even though you became a very energetic ‘shaker’, to everyone’s amusement. This meant that we had to carry lots of towels to dry you down prior to entering the pub. You seemed to enjoy being pampered especially when it came to drying your tummy – I’d stand straddled above you with the towel underneath your tummy pulling both ends up and down alternately. It must have appeared quite strange but it was an effective drying method and you loved it. I often thought you deliberately got very wet, just in order to have a rub down.
Why did you, on occasions insist on soiling your coat with fox poo? You only did this a couple of occasions, but what a stink! Strangely, and despite being encouraged to get clean you refused to go into the water. So when we got home I had to give you a bath, shampoo and all. You didn’t take to this activity at all – and after I had cleaned you up you went out, found the fox poo and covered your self in it again! We had words and you didn’t do it again.
We began to become very well known in the area, not just because we spent most evenings and weekends out walking, developing a thirst and an appetite, both of which were sated in the local pubs, but also because a man and his dog are noticed, especially if the dog is under control, well behaved, friendly and non-threatening.
Of course, we visited all the hostelries in Brackley and many of the tenants and their customers became your firm friends. It soon became clear to me that we were developing relationships with people I had no other reason to talk to or associate with. You were an accomplished Friendship Broker who made friends easily and who never forgot anyone. Necessarily your presence forced me into conversation with all sorts of folk, asking, ‘How old is she, where did you get her from, how far did you walk today, what do you feed her on’.
Making friends in this way happened nearly every day we were together – we met lovely people in the pubs in Tadmarten, Swacliffe, Epwell, Hornton, Ratley, Wroxton, Cropredy, Broughton, Chacombe, Barton, Steeple Claydon, Duns Tew, Charlbury, Finstock, Heyford, Kirtlington, Bucknell, Ardley, Fringford, Ayhno, Croughton, Adderbury, Hinton-in-the-Hedges, Farthinghoe, Middleton Cheney, Marston St Lawrence, Greatworth, Sulgrave, Helmdon, Moreton Pinkney, Weston, Thorpe Mandeville, Silverstone, Syresham, Chackmore, Buckingham, Westbury, Finmere, Turweston, Bufflers Halt and many others, some of which I have already mentioned.
What variety we shared, not just the people, but also the beautiful countryside with public rights of way, footpaths, bridleways etc mostly kept in good order by the farming community. Strangely, for walkers, we became good friends with many of the farmers we met (with the exception of one nutter we tangled with near Moreton Pinkney). We would ‘phone them if we saw an animal in distress or if fences or hedgerows were damaged – they would be grateful for this and when we met them on the trail and introduced ourselves, good relationships developed, even when sheep were near and you were off the lead!
All the people I met on your farewell tour and since, were saddened by your departure but grateful to have met you, this includes many farmers.
Another part of your personality emerged at the arrival of our first grandchild, Amy Hannah Lloyd -Turner in February 1991. We had become good mates by now and you got on well with all the family – my wife Betty who fed you, our three daughters and their husbands, but when Amy came visiting on her way home from the hospital following her birth and was presented to me to be photographed, your attitude changed dramatically. Whilst Amy was in my arms you were thoroughly unpleasant and your growling was unacceptable, at first.
Of course it was jealousy (it’s been a long time since a female any displayed jealousy over me). I was quite flattered, but realised that the situation needed careful handling. It didn’t take us long to come to terms with the fact that grandchildren presented you with no difficulties, we were always available for each other and while we had to be cautious in the first few days of a new arrival, everything became normal very quickly. The youngsters and you became close members of the same family, sharing and loving each other at every opportunity.
We all remember the lovely summer’s day when we were having a picnic on the banks of the River Cherwell, near the bridge at Somerton. By then Emma had arrived, Amy was now a year old and their two Mummies, Betty, you & I were enjoying the occasion when we were paid a visit by a very hungry, large & aggressive male dog who was obviously intent on our lunch.
Susie, you spotted the danger first and set about protecting the babies from our unwelcome visitor in a manner that surprised us all. We never had the chance to find out who owned the beast but you saw him off quickly, violently and efficiently. We hadn’t seen that side of you before. This lovely dog, who didn’t seem to have an ounce of aggression in her, behaving in such a manner.
OK, you growled at Amy when you first met her, but what a change in attitude and application to this canine intruder. After you had seen off the hungry dog, you never left the babies’ side until it was time to go home, apart from the fact that you saw fit to jump into the river before we left.
At home, your bed was under our open staircase. You barked loudly when there was a knock on the front door but you learned to obey the command ‘On your bed’ when it was opened. You also had a favourite resting site by the dining room French windows from where you had a good view of the garden – we often laughed at you growling at cats and other visitors.
You couldn’t manage our polished uncarpeted open staircase. Do you recall your first and only attempt to go upstairs? I had called you from your bed – you jumped out and went to dash upstairs but slipped through the gap between stairs two and three and landed back in your bed. The recollection of the look of bewilderment and confusion on your face as you tried to figure out what had happened has kept the family entertained for more than ten years.
Of all the other hilarious moments at which you kept us entertained, two are worthy of fond remembrance: do you recall when we took you to the seaside at Sandbanks near Poole in Dorset with Ken & Boo? Your fondness for the water was challenged by the waves coming up on the sand and in King Canute style you tried to force them back, barking & ‘biting’ until you gave up thoroughly exhausted.
You always had a good appetite for food – I don’t’ think you left anything in your dish in all the time we were together; but on one occasion your hunger forced you to illegally attempt to invade the goodies bin. It had a ‘flip-top’ lid and once you had managed to get your head into the top, the flip came down and you were trapped. In the apparent struggle to free yourself you pulled the lid off the bin and it was then firmly fixed around your neck. As you came into the lounge wearing your new collar the family collapsed into a heap of uncontrollable laughter, the look on your face said ‘Help’ and ‘Sorry’ at the same time
So Susie, here we were together in a good family home, walking up to ten miles every day, visiting pubs for refreshment either on our own or with the Krawlers, meeting new and existing friends wherever we went and generally having a great time.
We had ten very active years together until you began to stiffen up in the hips – arthritis had set in, perhaps we didn’t dry you well enough after swimming, but the Vet prescribed some anti-inflammatory pills and hey presto, off we went again.
In your latter days, as you (and I) slowed up a little, our adventures became shorter, apart from an occasional ten miler. Soon our granddaughter, Emma, who at the age of five decided she wanted to become a walker, joined us on these local jaunts. Now nine she is still as keen, we still go out most days to places you will know and of course, amongst other things, we talk a lot about you and the funny things you did and the experiences we had together.
Emma sometimes came with us to the Vets for your annual injections and other small problems. You know she wants to become a vet and I’m sure that you, in conjunction with her own various pets have done much to encourage her ambitions. She is currently putting Betty and I under pressure to find a suitable replacement for you, but we can’t, well not yet.
When, after examinations at the Vets and tests at the laboratory, it was discovered that you had a major and potentially inoperable problem in the nose everybody was devastated – not just the family and our close friends, but everybody!
Unfortunately, your demise was inevitable. I asked the Vet for a few days grace so that you could have the chance to say goodbye to many of your friends. ‘No problem’ he said and prescribed some painkillers to keep you going until the dreaded day.
So, before our annual holiday in Italy, off you and I went on a final tour. It was a mistake, I’ve never been in such emotional turmoil in my life, nor have I ever seen so many other people visibly upset at your sentence. I am sorry I took you The Fox Inn at Souldern and The Blackbird at Croughton – all we succeeded in doing was to upset Barbara & Vera.
You must have noticed something, this was unusual behaviour from people who knew you well and always made a fuss of you, but you never gave any hints, although I knew that you knew that I knew something was wrong. You had not wanted to go any further than necessary to do your regular duty, you wanted attention, you held me in long stares asking for help, you knew time was nearly up.
We went to say goodbye to Alan, Sue & the goats, Dick, Anna, Jasper and other doggy mates in Hinton, off to The Red Lion at Evenley for a few words with Richard and his companion Sebby (with whom you used play). All our buddies at The Stratton Arms at Turweston and lots of other places, too many to mention.
Susie, did you know that on that last Tuesday morning you were going to be put to sleep? Well if you did, you didn’t show it, or did you?
I had parked on Evenley Village Green, outside the Post Office. Our usual routine was to dash to the paddocks at the rear of the village so that you could motion in the field, not on the beautifully maintained village green, which is used for cricket. But you wouldn’t, I waited for about 15 minutes to see some action, but nothing. I was keen for you to motion so that there would be no accidents at the Vets, but you decided to hang on to your possessions.
So we strolled back to the Post Office, I popped in to buy some stamps and when I returned to the car you were not in my view. I was then approached by a rather haughty lady who demanded, ‘Is that your dog?’ ‘Yes’ I replied. ‘Well, he’s just done a huge poo by the letter box’. You appeared from behind her car and you had, a huge deposit!
What should I do?
1. Apologise and clean it up
2. Tell her that you were a desperately ill old lady and would be dead within the next ten minutes, that this motion was your final act
3. Do nothing
I searched in the rubbish bin for a plastic bag to exercise Option 1. Failed.
I said nothing to the lady, no point in upsetting her.
I went into the post office intent on asking for a bag of some sort, Nick the proprietor was busy with paying customers, and time was running out.
I decided to exercise option 3 and leave your deposit where it was. It was your final act in this life and the irony of the situation you placed me in soon dawned. Here you were on your final journey and after twelve years of perfect behaviour, in your last minutes, you dropped me in it!
There is no point in recalling your final minutes, it is too upsetting for us all. Suffice to say you faced the situation bravely and departed peacefully with your dignity intact.
Your ashes are now in the garden where you spent many happy hours. This means we are still with you and we have a chat every time we water the garden or attend to weeds and things. We hope you can hear us in the garden or in some other spiritual sphere.
Emma and I met a lady in Turweston the other day, I don’t know who she was, but she was parking her car near the cottage next to the Scout Hut. ‘Where’s your lovely dog?’ she enquired. I explained your sad demise and she was devastated. She must have noticed us passing by over the years. So here was a total stranger missing you as a regular part of her enjoyment of life in the country, a measure of how much effect you had in the local area.
We have had lots cards of sympathy, from your two and four-legged friends all of whom are upset at your departure, all are missing you. We all are, but the time for tears is now over, our priority now is to remember you with great fondness and consider how lucky we were to have met you, to have enjoyed you as a loyal friend and as a key member of our extended family.
Thanks Susie, sleep well and may God bless you.
KL January 2001