When I got up on Monday 9 July, the first day of the two-day debate on the future of the House of Lords and therefore of our constitution, I had little else on my mind. Later that day, I was due to speak in the House of Commons. Little did I know that the day was going to take a very different turn.
The weekend before, I had been to see my retired guide dog, Sadie. Readers will know that Sadie was with me for almost nine years until her retirement last November, when I wrote about taking on the new and mischievous Cosby. Sadie lived in a Derbyshire village, fostered by a lovely lady who loved her as though she had been with her all her life. My visit was for a reason – three weeks before, Sadie had started showing signs of ill health. It had become clear that a nasty cough had developed into something much more serious. She could no longer eat properly, nor could she clear any blockage from her throat and therefore couldn’t breathe very well either.
The local vet had referred her to a veterinary hospital in Sheffield, where tests were carried out that seemed to identify an unusual disease. She had probably had it for a lengthy period of time but it was now destroying Sadie’s quality of life.
I was determined that if anything could be done to improve Sadie’s condition and buy her some extra time, then it should be done. I am lucky, because I have the wherewithal to foot the bills. For those not in such a fortunate position and without pet insurance, heartbreaking decisions must sometimes have to be taken about beloved pets, solely for financial reasons.
Of course, every decision has to be made in the best interests of the animal. Despite reaching agreement that everything possible would be done to get help for Sadie, sadly it wasn’t to be.
On that fateful Monday morning, I spoke on the telephone to the veterinary consultant who had seen Sadie the previous week, and received a full explanation of what was happening. I spoke to Sadie’s new owner and learnt of the further deterioration since I had visited that weekend. All thoughts of politics or the UK constitution were forgotten, for, quietly and peacefully on her bed, Sadie had been put to sleep.
I know that people think of me as a hard nut, and sometimes I am. I also know that the loss of an animal, no matter how cherished and, in my own case, how important to me in terms of mobility, cannot be compared with the grief felt for the loss of a child, brother, sister or parent. But I don’t mind revealing the terrible loss I feel. Tears fall when I think of her, as I had wanted Sadie to have a little more time in retirement, away from Westminster and the noise and pollution of London.
Ben Fogle, writing recently about the death of his dog, Inca, spelt out the trauma he felt at the loss of an animal who had been so close to him in his professional life, as well as a beloved pet. I can only say that whatever his feelings, mine would match them. Sadie had been with me through thick and thin. She had met the Queen, presidents, prime ministers and, most touching and memorable of all, Nelson Mandela. She had been beside me on so many important occasions and won the hearts of those whose political disagreements with me would normally never have led to amiable conversations about dogs, which was so often the case.
There are so many memories, not just for me but for others whose lives were touched by Sadie. So call me sentimental if you must, but the loss I feel is palpable, tempered by the knowledge that she is at peace.
Bereavement of any kind, be it human or pet, is all about the memories we have. In my case, I will remember our walks in Derbyshire and those pesky squirrels that Sadie loved to chase, her gentleness with children and the comforting nose in the hand. And yes, in my line of business, there were many stressful times when having a dog around made all the difference to easing the tension. For all those things and much more, I am grateful for those nine years of faithful service. Thank you Sadie – rest in peace.
Issues relating to people who are blind or partially sighted are addressed every week on In Touch, Tuesdays Radio 4