Friday, 20 March 2009


Very sadly, faithful, funny, delightful Rabbie left us the weekend before last while we were in Scotland. I weep just writing it down. He went off his legs the day before we left the island, and was simply too weak to get it together again, so we decided to put him to sleep. He didn’t suffer, he was eating until the morning he departed and he was, after all, 17 years old - a fantastic score for a Westie.

We brought him home in the back of the car and buried him beside his partner in crime Jock, on the bank behind the cabin, with a clear view of Ringhaddy Sound.

Lynn always said, of both dogs, that she wanted to go first; and no doubt that sounds ridiculous to some, but all doggie people will know that they are as much family as family, and when we lose them we grieve for them like family. The cabin felt empty and so did we. Ah well.

Both dogs belonged to Lynn – Jock the Cairn was my wedding present to her in 1990, and Rab came along a year later. Lynn had always said she wouldn’t consider another dog until Rabbie had gone, because truthfully he always preferred the company of people to other dogs, and she didn’t think it would be fair in his old age.

But island life without a dog was rubbish. Of course we knew that we couldn’t ‘replace’ either Jock or Rab; but I hope they’ll forgive me for saying that it wasn’t an option to carry on without the clip clip clip of little claws on the wooden floor.

On the Sunday after our return from Scotland I did a radio interview for Kim Lenaghan’s This New Day show on BBC Radio Ulster. We talked about island life and The Blue Cabin, about the new book coming out in the autumn, and Lynn’s forthcoming exhibitions; but before going on air, Kim had asked how Rabbie was, having seen his pictures on the website (and indeed on the cover of the book), so she knew we had lost him. Kim has a much adored dog of her own, Ella, whom she rescued from a car park in Craigavon twelve years ago, so of course she understood completely, and said she wouldn’t mention Rabbie on air unless I wanted her to. I said no, I was happy to talk about him unless I went to pieces, so towards the end of the programme she said how sorry she was, and we talked about the feeling of bereavement. She was so nice about it, and so positive – ‘Six doggie years on Islandmore, doggie heaven!’ – and I was fine. I did mention that while I was sitting in the studio, I was thinking about Lynn on her own back at the cabin and that of course we would find something else in due course.

Anyway, This New Day must have a strong following, because immediately after the show, which goes out live, several things happened. My website, which normally receives half a dozen hits a day, had over five hundred visitors; the book sold out on Amazon; Waterstones called Blackstaff, the publishers, about the follow-up, and there was generally a boost on the sales and marketing front for both titles. But in addition, and most unexpectedly, I had a dozen emails from concerned dog lovers urging me to go and find a replacement, not to let too much time go by; several gave me leads to follow up for Westie breeders or dog rescue operations, and all were so vexed and sympathetic - it was lovely. One woman told the heartbreaking story of returning from Scotland herself, to be told that her dog had run away from kennels while she was away, and another correspondent, Rev Derek Boden, sent me this delightful Kipling poem:-


I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can't forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.

Day after day, the whole day through --
Wherever my road inclined --
Four-feet said, "I am coming with you!"
And trotted along behind.

Now I must go by some other round, --
Which I shall never find --
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.

Rudyard Kipling

I replied to all these kind emails of course, but this gives me a chance to say a more public Thanks.

Well, I have to admit I had already started the ball rolling, and had made numerous calls to breeders, dog pounds, the USPCA etc. I was hot on the trail of a West Highland terrier pup and to cut a long story short, we have now been joined on the island by the Dog With No Name (as yet), a self-assured, affectionate little guy who hasn’t by any means replaced Rabbie in our hearts but has already found a new place there for himself, just as his previous owner said he would.

He is ten weeks old and owns Islandmore and possibly the rest of Strangford Lough; and Lynn is a new person. Every cloud!

As for Rabbie, as our good friend Leslie (who knows all about losing much-loved pets) said when she heard the news: 'Oh, the monumental sorrow of it all. Bless his fluffy ears!'
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