My boyfriend Kurtis has been away for work for the past few weeks and people keep asking me if I miss him. Truthfully, the thing I miss most when Kurtis is away is George. When I've been home alone before I'd let George sleep on the bed, at least for the first night, and his snores would fill the room. His heavy breathing was always a comfort to me, even when he was taking up the whole bed and kicking me in my side. Now there's just silence.
George was Battersea Dogs & Cats Home's longest resident at their Brands Hatch branch at the time Kurtis and his Mum Lesley turned up to visit another dog in 2010. George didn't like life in the kennels too much, so spent most of his time with the people in the office and was brought out to meet Kurtis and his Mum that day too. I think the staff there were desperate to find him a new home after over a year of him being there (we think he had at least two previous homes too, but we're unsure of his history). Apparently Kurtis and Lesley were sat in a conference room when George was released like a whirlwind, running madly around the tables and chairs, barely stopping to breathe. Kurtis was smitten with this crazy beast ( I think they had hyperactivity in common!) and so they decided it was George they had to take home, much to the delight of the staff. I'm so glad they did. I remember going round to meet George for the first time – we took him for a walk and George took great delight in jumping in a big pile of autumn leaves in a neighbouring garden. His cheeky smile had me smitten too.
When I moved in with Kurtis I got to experience George in all his glory, but it was when I started working from home that he became so much more to me – my colleague, my shadow, my reason to leave the house, the keeper of my sanity (and sometimes the cause of me losing it!). When we moved out George lived between our house and Kurtis' Mum's, so I'm used to him not being around all the time. In some ways though, this has made the past month harder because I keep expecting him to come back and the sad reality of it hits me all over again.
Over the years George had all sorts of weird health issues such as sensitive skin (shampooing his paws every day is an experience I'll never forget), and various lumps and bumps including one on his ear that resulted in half of it being chopped off. But it was his legs that finally got the better of him. He had a large fatty lump on one of his back legs that we'd had removed twice, growing back bigger each time. This combined with arthritis meant that he could no longer walk for long periods and started limping. I think for a long time I was in denial about just how much George was really struggling and found myself feeling quite defensive over George's health when it was suggested he might have to be put to sleep. He was still such a puppy at heart. During this time I went to stay with my aunty in Cumbria and spent some time with her dog Billy (who moved over to the UK with them from Australia!). It was spending time with Billy that made me realise just how much George's legs were really affecting him and just how hard it must be for him. I had to admit to myself that it wasn't fair on George to let him struggle any more.
On the 1st June, the day we'd all been dreading, we took him for one last walk in Greenwich Park and fed him an excessive amount of treats. The sun shone for him and he charmed a family of strangers as he often did - “He has such a happy face” they said. I wasn't sure how I was going to hold it together in the vets and to be honest I didn't really, I sobbed the whole way through. Kurtis later said to me that he felt like we'd tricked George that day, taking him for a nice walk and then leading him to his fate. That summed it up for me perfectly. I felt guilty. I felt like I'd left something behind. I felt lost.
It took us a long time to move his things, and in fact some of it is still around the house. I knew I needed to repurpose what I could, rather than just throw it away. His food bowl sits at the bottom of the garden, filled with water for the birds, his bed has become a handy cushion to kneel on when I'm weeding or planting things in the garden. I had plans to make his bandanas into a cushion cover but I still haven't been able to bring myself to wash them. I went straight to the garden centre when we got home from the vets and bought lots of colourful flowers to make my garden feel a little less empty – doing things like that definitely helped to distract me.
So many people are mourning for George, he charmed so many people, including many that had never met him in real life. He became so loved by people on instagram, his cheeky personality shone through in the photos and videos I posted of him on instagram stories and using the hashtag #georgethepigdog, I would receive so many messages from people admiring him. The kindness I have experienced in the past month from close friends and family, as well as people I've met through instagram has been truly humbling, and the notes, cards, flowers, plants and more that have been sent to me have made such a huge difference to my state of mind. I emailed my Grandma Tobygran, who lost her dog not so long ago, telling her I felt like I was missing a part of myself, and her response was beautifully put:
“there is a great big vacuum somehow, somewhere ... I think it's partly that vacuum that shows us we need to love and care for someone, and a long-loved pet is as much of a someone as a human being. After all, we love them and care for them and talk to them and they do understand, more than I think we appreciate.”
She always knows what to say.
Before we knew that George was going to have to be put to sleep I designed a pin inspired by him and featuring his lovely greying face. The underdog pins represent rescue dogs, mongrels, the dogs who have been left behind or ignored, older dogs, the less desired breeds and more. They arrived the last week of May and I decided that I would give 50% of the profits back to Battersea. I thought that sending out those pins was going to be very difficult for me, but in reality it was so cathartic. Each pin packaged up and each thank you card written was like a little bit of therapy and seeing people post pictures of their pin on instagram (from around the world – America, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia) made me cry happy tears instead of sad ones. I've connected with so many people online who have recently lost their pets and they've shared so many kind and helpful words with me.
On last weekend's colour walk I met Emma Jane Palin and her own George, who was sporting an Underdog pin on his harness. Swoon.
Having my own little Gorge pin to wear helped me too. This might sound weird, but putting it on each morning and remembering to take it off whatever I had been wearing at night became a little routine, something I needed to replace the routine I was used to with George. I felt like I had a bit of him with me at all times. I still miss him every day and I'm sure I will continue to do so, but knowing that he's touched the lives of so many people makes me so happy. As I sit here a month later, the pins have almost sold out and I've donated the total raised to Battersea – a whopping £263. This along with a personal donation I've made will, I hope, help other dogs like George find their forever homes. Every dog, no matter their breed or their history deserves a loving owner, and I'm so grateful that I got to be a part of George's life. If you're thinking about getting a dog (or any pet for that matter) please consider adopting – there are so many animals looking for loving homes. I promise it will be one of the most rewarding things you'll ever do.
So many Underdog pins have sold to dog lovers all over the world!
If you'd like to donate to Battersea you can do so on their website. Buy one of the few remaining Underdog pins in my shop (there are a few pin seconds there too, they're a bit rough round the edges, just like George and they're a bargain!) – or just donate to your local rescue centre!