My other half is currently opposed to getting another dog because for him when he sees the young dog he also sees the old dog and the shattering heartbreak that must inevitable come when that dog is no more. He’s already fast tracked from the beginning, to the crushing end, missing out all the adventures, trials, tribulations, laughter, frustration and sense of oneness with the world that make up the middle bit. I’ve just given him Barney Bardsley’s book Old Dog to read in the hope that Bardsley’s take on life with her beloved Old Dog Muffin, will help him as it did me to see that all the stages of a dog’s life are a gift to us, their humans and that just as they show us how to live life they can show us how to approach the inevitability of death too.
If you love dogs, which I’m guessing you do if you’re reading Wagging World. Then I recommend getting comfortable, hug the dog close, get the tissues at the ready and settle down for an afternoon with Barney Bardsley and her rescue dog Muffin.
Muffin came into the Bardsley family life when she was 3 years old. Of all the dogs they met in the rescue centre it was Muffin who chose them, well she chose Tim, Barney’s husband to befriend first. As Barney says:
‘The job description was simple enough: a happy, furry companion for my seven-year-old daughter; a chance for my husband, already terminally ill with cancer, to have a dog of his own, something he had always wanted but thus far never achieved; and an opportunity for me to relive some funny and sweet childhood memories of the crazy little mongrel that I grew up alongside. Beyond that, ideas of breed, appearance and character were immaterial (which is just as well, given the shocking state Muffin arrived in – a neurotic, shivering little shipwreck of a dog; not promising). But we were lucky and we chose well.’
And choose well they did. Muffin is a constant in the ever changing life of the Bardsley family. She’s there at Tim’s side when the cancer finally takes over, she’s there to be a companion and observer to Barney’s daughter growing and leaving home for University and in turn Barney is there for her, always.
‘My dog, in return for very little, has been a source of comfort and consolation in circumstances neither she nor I could ever have foreseen or wanted. An acquaintance of mine, when talking about her own rescue dog, refers to her simply as ‘my best friend’. This dog has done her own share of therapeutic intervention, when her family have been through horrible disputes and calamities of health and financial hardship. Friendship, in the form of reliable, non-judgemental, warm and humorous companionship, is the most precious of resources in anyone’s life. Muffin has been my friend too, in animal incarnation – one of the best I have had, and one whose unswerving devotion I will find it hard to replicate ever again.’
The book is not only about a beloved dog’s life and the meaning that gives to your life. But it’s also Bardsley’s own philosophical take on the meaning of life and death. Her insight, gently given and often through humour is better than any self help book on how to cope with the devastation that the death of a loved one brings.
The end when it comes for Muffin, is both tender and utterly heartbreaking. You finish it feeling like you’ve made a new friend in Barney Bardsley, Old Dog is one of those books that will stay with you and that you’ll reach for time and time again.