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Barney and Dilly

I grew up with cats, who I adored, but I always dreamed of a dog. I begged my mum for one but she sensibly said no – we weren’t in a good position to own one. Finally, in 2002 when I was 13, my dad and step-mum got a puppy, so I had… a step-dog! 

My step-mum had decided on a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and came home with an adorable little black and white ball of fluff, with tan eyebrows and dark brown eyes. I met Delilah (which quickly got shortened to “Dilly”) when she was maybe 10 weeks old and instantly fell in love – not surprising I guess! 

I was excited to help with her training. I’d read lots of dog training books by that age but never had the chance to try any of the tips out on an actual dog. I’d had to make do with less than cooperative cats - I’d had some success – one would sit up on her back legs and “beg” for a treat and they’d come when called but cat training is hard work!

Dilly proved to be an excellent student, even with my lack of experience and I was astonished how quickly this tiny dog learned - she was like a sponge. During the course of one evening, she learned sit and to give her right paw in a handshake. Later, we practiced “down” and “other paw”. 

As she got older and I came back for holidays with my dad, I tested out more of what I’d read in the books. She learned recalls, down and sit stays, fetch (watching a small dog rugby tackle a tennis ball is brilliant!), searching games – all simple stuff but it was so much fun finally having a pup to play with and I loved spending my holidays with her.

I’d always been more of a lover of big dogs really. My granddad had a working bred border collie, Bert, who I worshipped and I think because of Bert, I’d come to prefer the working breeds – sheepdogs, gundogs. Spending time with Dilly won me over to smaller dogs – she had as much character as most of the big dogs I’d met (less quirks than the collie, perhaps!). 

She was fun, clever and playful and when we went for walks on the hills, she’d happily run for hours – then snuggle up on the sofa for the evening. The only thing she’d never ever do, was play in water: swimming was out of the question, no matter how much I tried to tempt her – she even skirted gingerly round puddles. 

For the first six years of her life, Dilly was an only-dog. Then, in 2008, Barney, my border collie bounced onto the scene. His last owners had given up –he was out of control, hyper, untrained, fought other dogs, chased everything that moved (joggers, cyclists, horses, vans) and was nervous aggressive with strangers. 

My dad knew the owners and happened to bump into them on the day Barney was scheduled to be put down. My step-mum came home as they chatted. Barney initially tried to bite her (oops!) but both my dad and step-mum felt rather sorry for this clearly confused young dog and said he could stay. For a bit. 

“For a bit” quickly became forever. I’d longed for my own border collie ever since granddad got his Bertie 15 years earlier and Barney was a (naughty version) of my dream dog. The two of us were soon inseparable and it was obvious to everyone, he wasn’t going anywhere. 

Dilly was initially, understandably unimpressed about this development. He was everything she wasn’t: big, hyper, highly strung and wildly excitable.

She spent a few weeks in an impressive sulk, scowling at the beast who’d invaded her family home from the safety of her perch: a pile of cushions on the sofa – a place Barney, out of control as he was, knew he wasn’t allowed. 

It took a while but slowly, this mismatched pair came to understand each other and over the years formed a firm friendship. In fact sometimes, they reminded me of an old married couple. At home, Barney accepted Dilly was undisputed Queen of the House. Outside, Barney was the leader and Dilly took on the role of side-kick. 

Wherever Barney went, she followed. It was quite a sight – Barney loping effortlessly over the hills, tiny Dilly madly scampering along behind, ears flapping wildly and tail going round in circles as she tried to keep up. They went miles together – in sunshine, wind and rain. Dilly climbed rocks after him, dug holes with him, scrambled through brambles with him and eagerly encouraged his ineffective rabbit hunts.  

One summer, Barney did what we humans had never been able to and taught Dilly to swim. At the age of 8, Dilly – the dog who wouldn’t set paw in a puddle - learned first to paddle, then (on hot days only!) to swim. I couldn’t believe this middle aged dog, who seemed set in her ways, had been convinced to take the plunge but she was full of surprises.  

They spent four happy years together, until Barney and I moved out. Even after that though, the two dogs have met up regularly and gone for long walks together. Barney’s love for Dilly and joy at seeing her again, was perhaps a little more enthusiastic than her affection for him but she still always enjoyed a run around with him. 

Within the past few months, Dilly has started to look old. She had her 11th birthday last summer, which for a Cavalier is a reasonably good age. Her eyes were starting to go cloudy and arthritis meant she was no longer able to chase Barney round so energetically. Still, she seemed to be mostly the same little dog we’d known and loved for so many years. 

Then, sadly, last week, she went rapidly downhill. She stopped drinking for herself, or wanting to eat (and Dilly had always been a real food-lover) and could barely stand. It was a real shock – just a week or so earlier, Barney and I had been out for a potter on the hills with her and she’d been quite happy trotting about with her bigger buddy. 

Finally, my step-mum took the decision to have Dilly put to sleep. She passed away very peacefully and we laid her to rest the next day in back garden where she’d had spent many happy years playing.

Barney been very stressed when my dad and step-mum came home from the vets the night before – picking up on our sadness and smelling his little friend but not seeing her. I wasn’t sure about letting him see Dilly before we buried her but he took the decision from me, rushing out the back door to find her. 

I don’t know how much dogs can grasp the concept of death, but watching as Barney carefully and intently sniffed at Dilly, I could tell, he knew who it was and he knew she was no longer with us. He stood by her body for a long while and sat nearby, quietly watching as we buried her. 

As my dad put on the final piece of earth, Barney got up and walked away to investigate our hens who were milling around. Since then, he’s been calm and normal, so I think in this case letting him say goodbye was the right thing to do. 

For Barney, Dilly was a reassuringly calm and steady doggie friend during his most difficult years. Unflappably happy and calm - she remained unimpressed by his silly skittish habits of seeing monsters round every corner. Dilly encouraged him to be a more normal dog – ineffectively hunting rabbits, eating sheep poo and rolling in dead things! 

For me, she was a great friend on all my holidays growing up; I spent many hours exploring the local fields, woods and hills with a waggly-tailed Dilly at my side. I have to thank her too – without practicing my training skills on her, I’m not at all sure I’d have coped with my mad bad 2nd hand collie dog later on! 

She’s left a big hole in all our lives (perhaps with the exception of the cat!). “Just a dog” but like all dogs, Dilly was a real character, a part of the family. Despite what the grumpy eyebrows may suggest, I’ve rarely met a happier, more gentle, sweet natured dog. Everyone who met her loved her and she loved them back wholeheartedly. A good dog. 


For more beautiful pictures of Barney visit Megan's Flickr page.



Source Details

Megan Price & Barney the dog.

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