We met an old man on the beach today. We were walking down onto the Morfa at Conwy and I let my small frug dog off her lead because there weren’t many people about. She made a beeline for an elderly gentleman with snow white hair and a substantial white moustache, walking slowly back to the car park with an equally elderly dog. My dog ran straight up to the other to investigate, so I hurried down because, the frug being the frug, she didn’t listen to me when I told her to come back.
The frug wasn’t bothering the old man and, unusually, she wasn’t barking. She and the old dog just sniffed at each other, exchanging doggish greetings. I reached the man and apologised for my dog. He said he didn’t mind. His dog was having her last walk today. She was sixteen, a lovely chocolate labrador with age showing through all her body. Her muzzle was greyed, her hips were angular, her legs looked awkward with weight loss.
The dog had cancer, and she was having her last walk on the beach before being taken to the vets to be put to sleep. I asked if I could stroke her, and the man told me I could.
‘She loves being stroked,’ he said. ‘And this is her last walk.’
‘I can’t go in with her,’ he said. ‘Because of this covid they won’t let me in, so she’ll have to go in alone. I’ve done this before but I’ve always been able to go in. I’ve always been able to be there.’
I talked with him about what a lovely dog she was, how he was doing the best thing he could for her. How his grief was representative of the love that they’d shared for one another through her life. Without that there wouldn’t be grief. I felt like crying myself, a hard welling in the back of my throat. She was such a sweet, calm dog, with just an occasional attempt at a small bark when my dog got excited. I kept stroking her, and it was obvious she was getting pleasure from this.
He had been breeding chocolate labs for a long time, he said. This was his last one. Sixteen years old, and she was the end of the line. I hoped he might find himself another dog in time, but I didn’t want to say that to him, because he was full of his grief at what he was about to lose.
He moved on in the end, walking slowly on up the beach. He had to gently prompt the dog to move. She met more dogs as they carried on up the sand and shingle slope. He stopped so she could interact with them, and spoke to their owners. Then they both went away.