Stephen Jardine’s much-loved dog Billy dies after rediscovering his love of good food one last time.
In five years writing this column, I’ve never been stuck for a suitable topic. From Horsegate to Gregg Wallace, from GM crops to the implications of Brexit, there is always something pressing in the world of food and drink. But not today.
I sat down to write this column on the day my dog was put to sleep. I can’t face writing about anything else so this is all about him. To do anything else just wouldn’t be right. Before you give up and turn to something less morbid, please stick with me. This will be about food and drink. It might even have a happy ending. Let’s wait and see.
We got Billy as a puppy 12 years ago. For all those years, people told us he was a fine-looking Westie. Except he wasn’t. He was a cairn terrier, the same breed as the dog in the Wizard of Oz.
We’d never had a dog before so started out with the best of intentions and lots of puppy-training classes. Of course all that went out the window. Billy was stubborn and determined and did what he wanted, especially when it came to food.
From an early age he developed distinctive tastes. A few brands of dried dog food passed the test and were consumed with enthusiasm. However if you bought the wrong type, it would sit neglected in his bowl for days. Occasionally he would walk past and give it a derisory sniff, his tail would then drop and he would saunter on, disappointed but not prepared to lower his standards.
He saved his real enthusiasm for what belonged further up the food chain. From an early age, he learned to love what we love. As a puppy Billy was given the tail end of a BBQ sausage and the rest was history. In extremis he would accept dog food as a means of canine survival. But his entire life was dedicated to sourcing and savouring human food.
In the kitchen, he was my constant companion. He was a fan of the cooker because it generated interesting smells. He would sit at my feet willing me to drop anything and everything. The merest morsel was pounced upon and disappeared instantly.
The fridge was also popular. It contained cheese, Billy’s favourite food. With a piece in my hand, Billy would walk at heels for miles. With enough cheese, I’m pretty sure we could have won Crufts. However like us, Billy easily piled on the pounds so it was an occasional treat.
Recognising that, Billy knew his place. The fridge and the cooker were the stuff of dreams but my dog was a realist so concentrated his attention on the bin. He stood guard like a sentry, hoping food bad enough for the bin would be deemed good enough for him. And sometimes it was.
One Christmas he was given turkey, sausages and gravy. It didn’t agree with his tum and he took to his bed for two days without moving much. We thought that might dampen his appetite but within days he was bothering us for stilton.
Earlier this year he was diagnosed with a tumour and we were told it wouldn’t be long. The vet prescribed steroids and mentioned they might increase his appetite. It was a fitting end for Billy. For the last few months the smell of gravy was enough to send him into a frenzy but in recent weeks even that waned. Food in his bowl would lie untouched. This was it.
The night before our final visit to the vet, we cooked Billy a steak. He ate it like he couldn’t believe his luck and licked his lips for the next hour. They say food and love are linked. I hope so. He loved his last meal and we loved him.