“He was an angel”.
This is what my father said upon learning that our beloved dog had died. And I sincerely do believe that truer words have never been spoken. Our faithful companion of fourteen years, Ullan de Royal Belgravia, died on May 15, 2017, at around 11:30pm. We took him urgently to the vet after he suffered a stroke, but we decided to let him go, for his own sake. He died in my arms, and my mother’s, knowing that he was loved, and that he had fulfilled his purpose as a dog; that is to love with all the might of his heart, that was, quite literally, too big for his own chest.
You found your way to us by accident. When my parents went back to the kennel we had previously visited, a lovely place where the dogs were loved, they had never planned on coming home with a dog. Instead, they were supposed to pick a puppy that had been born a couple of days ago, and that we would bring home when he was old enough. But there you were, the last of your litter, and nobody had wanted you. You were so timid, shying away from people, and one of your eye had a little too much brown in it ; and I think that’s why nobody had wanted you. My parents tried to get you to come close to them, but you were hiding away. As they were about to give up, and go see the puppies they had come to see, my father decided to try one last time. And you came to him. And you finally find your way home.
We did not really picked you. You picked us. And I will be forever grateful for that. For I could never have dreamt of a better, kinder dog. I know that every dog owner says that of their dog; that theirs is the sweetest, the friendliest, and all kind of positive superlatives. But I do believe that you truly were the gentlest creature to ever walked our Earth. There was not an ounce of bad temper within you, and I never once saw anything other than your affable, gracious, warm, happy-self.
Our cat, Iris, did not always treat you fairly, but you loved him deeply no matter what he did to you. Because he was pack. He was family. And never would you have given up on your people. We often referred to you, not as a sheepdog, but as the shepherd himself. You had a duty of care. And you took it so seriously. I remember a time when cats from the neighbourhood would attack Iris. The moment the screeches from the fight would reach your ears, you would go crazy inside the house, yapping and yelping, begging us to be let out. And you would run as fast as you could (often in the wrong direction) to rescue your cat. But even as you chased these other cats away, never did it once occur to you that you could actually harm them. One time, you finally managed to catch up to a cat that had dared to attack Iris; you had him between your paws, and you were so startled. You had a cat at your mercy, and you had no idea what to do with him. So you let him go. I sincerely believe you did not even know you had fangs to bite, and claws to scratch. You had such a gentle and caring soul that you did not even know you could possibly harm another living creature. And that makes you the purest soul I have ever met.
You were not the brightest dog ; as a puppy, you were even quite limited, intellectually speaking. But you were so kind it never even mattered. But as you grew, and as you loved and was loved in return, your intellect grew as well. You became smarter, more cunning, and your metamorphosis was amazing. But your smarts never served anything other than your kind ways. You found out you could lick the tears of my face when I was crying. You learnt to fool around when you knew I was feeling down. You learnt many tricks, including sliding down a slide, just so you could make me laugh. It was amazing to see how love transformed you. It pushed you forward, and you strived to be the best dog that you could possibly be; and you were. That, you were.
And as the years slowly took their toll on you, you started developing a heart condition, so familiar to dogs of your breed. It kept getting worse, until your lungs were hit too. You started having trouble standing up on tiling floors; you would often slip and fall like Bambi on the ice. We even bought you anti-slip socks made specifically for dogs, and you loved them so much. You would run all over the house with them. But despite your poor health, you always remained a puppy at heart. Even the weight of all your years wasn’t enough for you to stop marvelling at the wonders of the world; be it a treat you actively wanted, or a cat trespassing on your territory. We would joke that you were like the notary in the Aristocats, so very old, but not even aware of it. So happy and young in your heart that the years did not even matter.
My father was right: you were an angel. I may not believe in God, or the after-life, but I will make this one exception: for you were the kindest, gentlest being to roam the Earth, with a soul so superb and glorious, that no one will ever shine quite as bright as you. I must now learn to live with your absence, and the hole that Alex left within me is now considerably bigger. I still except to see your face in the morning, so happy to see me up and about, for it means you may join me in my bedroom. When I lay on my bed, my eyes automatically go to my desk, under which you had a dog bed on which you loved to lay. I anticipate the tickety-clic or your claws on the tiles, or the sound of your paws scratching a door or that of your loud snoring (how could such a small creature snore so loudly?), every time I hear even the slightest noise. I cannot help but look for you on the couch, through the mirror, when I get home from wherever I was. Fourteen years of habits, gone in a second.
“When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!).
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone -wherever it goes- for good, (…)
Then you will find -it’s your own affair-
But you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.”
Kipling’s words were wiser, and truer, than I had possibly imagined. You died without pain, and you died surrounded by people you loved, and that is a relief to me that you did not go alone in the dark of night. You died in the arms of someone you had watched over for fourteen years, someone you had seen grow up into an adult, someone you had helped shape, someone to whom you had taught about love, kindness, and loyalty. But when you died in my arms, I felt you go. I felt you die. It didn’t happen, not like that anyway, with Alex. A horse is such a big creature that their body does not go completely limp. But you did. You were suddenly so … lifeless. And that was one of the worst feelings I have ever experienced. It is true that dogs, and that is true, I believe, of any pet, only break our heart once, and that is the day they go. And there is no blaming them for that hurt, that tearing; for they would stay if they could so choose.
That very night, before your stroke occurred, you were even kinder to me than you usually were. I think you knew what was coming, and you wanted to give me a last present before you died. You thought you had a duty of care, and you fulfilled it until the very end. Even in your death, you were still thinking of your pack. Your family. And it eases the hurt of my heart a little. There is this story on the Internet, about a little boy who supposedly said, after his dog died, that “People are born so they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right? Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.” And I find a little comfort in this idea. In the sheer hope that we live so we can learn how to love. But dogs, and most creatures, are born with a heart so full of love, they don’t need as much growing-up as we do. And, perhaps, they show us the way. How to love. How to be kind. How to be loyal. But they are not there to hold our hand the whole way. Only to show us the best path, and let us soar. And for once, I think I am going to cling to that illusion, rather than the painful truth that is biology. For once, just this once, I am going to try and have faith in something greater than myself, something that cannot rationally be explained: pets are angels, and you, my sweet Ullan, was the most angelic of them all.
I love you, little boy.
Ullan de Royal Belgravia
11/05/2003 – 15/05/2017
You truly were an angel.