April 2006: PJ had been ill so it was decided that George and our daughter, Claire, would drive down to Livingston to pick up his new baby brother while I stayed at home with PJ. I called them on their way back up the road and was told, “Annette, I think you’re going to love him.”
I took PJ to neutral territory to be introduced to his brother for the first time. Their car drew up and my daughter came out with the tiniest, fluffiest little ball of brown attitude I had ever seen: Archie.
I checked out his pedigree papers when we got back to the house and was dismayed to discover that Archie was the result of a mating between father and daughter and the only pup of the litter to survive. We bought Archie from the same breeder as PJ who’s pedigree was fine. It wasn’t Archie’s fault that he and PJ had the same dad and that PJ’s sister was Archie’s mum making PJ and Archie siblings and nephew/uncle and…. basically, the poodle equivalent of poor white trash. He was a poor wee soul, we thought, and would probably need us. We weren’t wrong.
Right from the start he was slower on the uptake than his brother. He was always Claire’s boy. They were so close and absolutely adored each other. She had to teach him to jump, to get downstairs. he was very, very easily spooked. If I stood still he would get scared and start barking at me. If I left my handbag in the middle of the floor it would freak him out and he’d bark. If a newspaper flapped in the breeze…you get the picture.
But he was so loving and continually happy. He loved people – everyone – and it never occurred to him that not everyone would love him back. He greeted everyone with a wagging tail and a lick. When he was happy and excited, which was often, he would throw himself around and around in circles, whirling like a small doggy dervish.
PJ and Archie were very close. Archie adored his brother and used to spend many a happy 20 minutes washing PJ’s face with big smelly licks – Archie had the most rancid breath. When he was just a tiny pup, PJ used to take him upstairs and leave him there so he could get a few minutes peace and quiet. We’d only realise what had happened when we heard his plaintive crying.
Over the past couple of years Archie seemed to lose a lot of his sparkle. He danced less, wagged his tail less, got freaked more. The vet could find nothing wrong. Privately, we thought his unfortunate parentage was beginning to have an effect on his wee life and we loved him even more.
We got Isla from a different breeder a year ago. Archie had no time for her and was snappy. He even had a go at PJ once or twice so we were watchful and took care. Sometimes Archie would be like his old self and he and Isla would have kissy fights until, face soaking, she’d have enough and swipe him on the head with an indignant paw before prancing off.
We began to name days as good or bad Archie days a few months ago. Most days all he did was sleep and eat with little to no interaction with anyone. He began to forget how to get up the stairs and would scream and cry at the bottom in confusion. He’d forget where he was and pee or poop wherever he was when the urge took him. Then he began to have some attacks that looked to me like petit mal seizures. They didn’t last for long, but while he had one the look in his eyes was heartbreaking. He was so scared and so confused. He’d lose control of his back legs but try to drag himself to me. I would pick him up and hold him tight, stroking him and speaking to him softly until the shaking stopped and his limbs lost rigidity. I always swore I’d never put any of my dogs through long, drawn out treatment for an incurable condition. Archie especially wouldn’t understand why he had to go through frequent blood tests and the stress of vet visits. I knew that one day I’d have to make a hard decision, but prayed that it wouldn’t be for a few years yet.
On Friday last week, Archie came in from the garden screaming. I’ve heard my dogs in pain before, but this was something else. He had lost control of his hind end and was dragging himself around, eyes wide petrified. The noise was awful. I spoke to him and got no response so I scooped him up and held him. The screaming continued, his front legs splayed and unyielding. I asked Claire to get my phone and boots and called the vet who heard the noise and told me to bring him straight down. Decision day had come.
I held him and spoke to him as he passed, wiping his eyes – he always loved that – and told him how much Claire loved him.
But this is not how I want to remember Archie, so let me tell you all the ways in which we will remember our boy.
Claire loved nothing more than settling down to watch a film while snuggling Archie. She would rub his tummy and he’d turn his huge brown eyes towards her, lovingly.
When he was tiny he was racing round the garden when he ran into the pole of the clothes dryer. He was sore and scared and his side was so hot. It took him a while to calm down. That’s not funny, but as soon as he recovered he started running around again as if nothing had happened.
Archie found an empty crisp packet. He shoved his face in it, got stuck and panicked, running into a wall.
Every summer Claire would build agility courses in the garden and Archie would delight in running around them, jumping the obstacles to get a treat at the end. He’d often run round it again, just for the fun.
When I left the house he’d sit on the stairs with his brother and sister and push his big brown nose through the spars to give me stinky kisses.
He hated being groomed, loved having his face washed, hated having his ears plucked, loved tummy rubs, chews, chicken, sausages and tuna. And he loved us.
We will never stop loving him.
Bye bye, Archie. Maybe we’ll meet again in another life. I hope so.
Archie Thomson 02/04/2006 – 20/12/2013