Tuesday 12 December 2017

'A dog and a gentleman'

When her Kerry blue terrier, Gussie, passed away last year, Caroline Kennedy was left heartbroken. Here, she describes the special bond they shared - and tells how a new puppy has helped to put a smile back on her face

Caroline Kennedy and her late dog Gussie. Photo: Trevor Hart
Caroline Kennedy and her late dog Gussie. Photo: Trevor Hart
Caroline Kennedy's miniature schnauzer puppy Paddy
Carolien Kennedy's dog Gussie (far right) models for Brown Thomas with Lizanna Kirwan and BT concierge Ciaran Bass

Gussie's departure from our lives was as quiet as his arrival. Ever the best friend, our Kerry blue terrier gave us warning and time to prepare for his death last December. For a full month he swung from being gravely ill to recovery until I bade him goodbye one dark and wet afternoon in the veterinary clinic, not knowing that just hours later he would slip away without fuss.

The vet phoned and sympathised in hushed tones. He assured me that one minute Gussie was breathing and the next he had passed. It was very sudden but peaceful.

This was the moment I had mentally been preparing for, knowing in human years he was heading for his 90s. My immediate feeling was one of great relief, I was so glad not to have been there as my tears and grief would have upset him. When I waved goodbye that afternoon and kissed his head, neither of us could have known it would our last goodbye. I was glad, too, not to have had the choice to be with him in the end. Selfish, I know, but I don't think I could have handled holding him through his final moments.

Calls had to be made to break the sad news and within the hour I posted news of his passing on Facebook with the best picture I could find on my phone. You can tell who your 'doggie friends' are on Facebook. They are quick to respond with smiley faces on any dog picture you post, but this one brought sober messages of condolences from across the globe from more than just my doggie friends.

Gussie - or Gigi, Nobel Head and latterly known as Lazarus - was four years old when he arrived in 2006. A gift from our friend and breeder, Una Rigney, he was sent to be company for our other Kerry blue terrier. Besides, Gussie didn't get on well with his mother who bullied him. Perhaps this was the reason that this ball of wool was atypical of the breed - he was shy, gentle, never fierce and affectionate beyond belief.

I had grown up with dogs in my childhood but they were for going shooting or fishing and always travelled in the boot of the car. They slept outside in a kennel and were not allowed any further than the kitchen or living room. I loved them but they were my father's dogs, not mine.

So when Gussie arrived into my life all those years later, something surprising happened. Of course he loved all his new family but he seemed to single me out as his 'pet'. He followed me everywhere, lay his head and body on mine at every possible opportunity and we both suffered separation anxiety when parted. Trips away were carefully timed so as not to be apart for too long, and every call to my husband and step children started with the question: "How's Gussie?" My friend, Sarah, joked that one day Gussie would zip off his doggie costume and out would jump a real live loving human being. So dependent I was on Gussie's company, I rarely allowed myself to think of what life would be like without him. Whenever I heard of other friends' dogs passing, I consoled myself with the thought that when my Gussie's day would come, I would know he had a great life in our world.

My affection for this furry hound was visceral, my gratitude for having him as my own was deep. He introduced me to so many new people. A trip to the park meant multiple stops as strangers approached to enquire about his breed, his age and pay compliments about his lovely sweet nature. I was so proud of him and tried to bring him everywhere.

At my PR company, we joked that a few new accounts were won when Gussie entered a meeting - everyone fell in love at first sight. My non-doggy friends were soon converted and I can take credit for introducing several to the joy of dog ownership. Ever the smile-maker, no return home was ever dull as cartwheels and hoopla-hoops greeted my arrival. He was an instant mood booster. His effect on me was addictive.

Gussie never sought anything but love and cuddles. Even when Rosie, our boisterous new pup arrived, he patiently played with her as she tried to take lumps out of his ears and tail. He hung back to allow her to take his favourite sucky blanket, or eat his food and treats.

The only time he ever acted up was when entering the dog grooming salon. One sniff of the shampoo and the sound of the drier was enough to turn him on his little paws to head for the door and freedom. Unlike his attention seeking 'sister', Rosie, he was permanently placid. We smiled with pride when Gussie made it into print in IMAGE magazine for a pet special, and in the Irish Independent when he modelled for Brown Thomas to launch their Christmas dog gifts. Only shame was he marked one of their most expensive dog beds so this had to be bought for him immediately. A clever dog, you might say!

I always knew our time with Gussie was limited. But it was only when he got sick, with a sudden stroke followed by failing kidneys, that I allowed myself consider life without him. And when his final month became filled with illness, stress and tears, I knew I would prefer for him to die than live a compromised life. In fact, what surprised me was the fact that I felt no need to visit his dead body in the clinic.

Jessica, my stepdaughter, brought Rosie to the clinic so she would know her patient mate was not coming home. Jess told me how lovely he looked, curled up as if just asleep. And when I had to decide to cremate or bury Gussie, we teased through the options repeatedly.

In the end I asked for cremation and chose not to collect his ashes. I didn't want any reminders of his death. My grieving was done. Two weeks later on Christmas Day we all toasted Gussie, noting he chose to leave us just in time so as not to ruin our holiday.

On February 1, St Brigid's Day, over breakfast my husband suddenly announced it was time to get a new puppy. Not to replace Gussie but to provide a companion for Rosie. I readily agreed and one phone call and an hour's drive later, we collected an eight-week-old black miniature schnauzer. It wasn't a difficult decision as to which pup to select from the litter. Little Paddy wouldn't leave me alone, licking my hand and teasing me to play with him. Like Gussie, he chose me and that made me feel very special.

I know of some people who could not bear to replace their old pet dog with a new one, some waiting years to do so. But for me, I thank Gussie for the time we had together and reflect on one of the many messages sent to me last December. Johnny, a young family friend, said Gussie "was as close a dog could get to being a gentleman". This is true.

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