The DevilDog is Dead

It is the end of an era.

On Friday, the Horse Doctor and I took Mortimer, the patterdale terrier, AKA the DevilDog on the one-way trip to the vet. Clare had tended his self-inflicted wounds and the results of his various battles with wild animals for almost fourteen years and there was no-one else I would ask to do this last, terrible act. As always, it's something we should have done earlier, and he looked genuinely relieved as he slipped away, but that doesn't make it any easier on us. Certainly not after all the shit we've been through these last six months or so.

Mort was one of a kind, a little black bundle of enthusiasm and energy with short wiry hair and button-black eyes sparkling with mischievous intelligence. He came from the classified ads in The Field magazine, by way of Norman Cross in North Cambridgeshire. I was desperately looking for a birthday present for the Horse Student, as she was in those days, and saw the ad - Chocolate Fell Type Terriers - it read. By coincidence it was not only the Horse Student's birthday that day, but she was also down in Northamptonshire, visiting the animal feed company who were funding a large part of her PhD, and not far from the advertised beasts. The deal was that if she wanted him, then I'd pay for him, otherwise I'd just have to think of something else.

When she got to the place, there were two puppies - brothers - left in the litter, and the breeder offered them both on a buy one get one half price deal. Fortunately, I think, we decided that having two would just mean they egged each other on to more and more naughtiness, so it was that a day later the Horse Student arrived home with a tiny bundle of dribbly fur on her lap.

It didn't take long to work out that when they had said 'Chocolate Fell-Type terrier', what they really meant was 'Patterdale terrier.' There was nothing chocolate about him, just pure black and a little white patch on his chest. To start with he was smaller than Chiswick, but that didn't last long. He was boss even before that. Just about the only thing we ever managed to train him to do was to sit before being given food - and he needed to be damned sure the food was there before he'd even consider it. I reckon it was more that he had trained us - certainly my dad, who never tired of giving him tidbits from the table just because 'he sat so beautifully.'

Mort was always in a hurry. He didn't really do slow, just full speed or flat out, the latter preferably in front of a warm fire. When we lived in Roslin, the daily stroll involved a short stretch of lead-work before he could be let off to chase rabbits, cats, other dogs, deer or whatever took his fancy. It was perhaps not more than a hundred yards, but he would pull all the way. A helpful dog trainer suggested that whenever he pulled on the lead, I turn him round and go the other way until he calmed down, then resume the journey. I tried, several times, but always ended up a good mile from home in the wrong direction before giving up.

At the road end, before we could get into the young terrier paradise that is Roslin Glen, we often had to stop and wait for a gap in the traffic. Here Mortimer would howl with impatience, making a noise that sounded like he was being flayed with razor-tipped whips. Once one of the local Neds threatened to kick my head in if I didn't stop beating my dog, which given that he could see I wasn't I thought was a bit unfair.

Mort spent a lot of his early years at my parents' farm in Fife, and it was here that he learnt the trick of jumping out of a moving pick-up truck. This was before my dad had his hip replacement, and he'd taken to driving half of the way up Norman's Law, the local hill, to save on the discomfort of walking. We had to stop two or three times to open and close gates on the way, and each time Mort would leap from the back, where he was jostling with all the other dogs, as the pick-up was coming to a halt. Sometimes he would land on his nose, roll over a couple of times with the momentum, and still come up wailing with glee.

He also loved to spar with Harris T Weed, the sheepdog - a game that involved nipping at Harris' face and legs then darting away before coming back for more, barking joyously all the while. Eventually Harris would catch Mort, bowl him over and run off. It was all very good-natured - quite unlike the fights dogs get into when vying for their position within the pack - but we would spend hours combing scabs out of Mort's extra-thick ruff of hair where Harris' bites had broken the skin.

When he was still quite young - not even a year old I think - we went down to the Borders to spend an afternoon playing with my younger brother's aeroplane. He had a quarter share of an old Taylorcraft that was hangared at an ex-RAF base. The runway was crumbled concrete and tarmac, surrounded on all sides by oilseed rape that had been sprayed with dessicant, ready for harvesting. In this oilseed rape were many, many rabbits, and Mort chased them long and hard. In the process, he wore away first the hair and then the skin on his cheeks, under his eyes, but still he wouldn't stop. It was a hard job catching him. The wounds healed quickly enough, but the hair grew back white.

Mort managed the move down to Wales without any problem. He loved the endless forestry tracks, the streams in which he could wade (but never swim - such was unbecoming to one of his dignity) and most of all he loved the Hares. There weren't many of these to see in Fife, but the woods around here are full of them. Many was the time a stroll that started with three dogs ended with just two. I soon learned that there was no point in calling him once he had the whiff of a hare, and he would always come home eventually.

If you dig deep in the archives, you'll see my report of what was probably Mort's last great trauma. He went to earth, as terriers do, and got himself stuck. We searched and searched in failing light, straining to hear any noise and finally, miserably, gone home to mourn his loss. Then, late into the night, a very muffled, muted sound at the door, and there was the devildog, scarred and bloody, mud caked in his mouth and eyes, but alive. That was four years ago, almost to the day, and looking back I can see that it heralded the start of a slow decline.

He was still keen to go on long walks, but he seemed to be panting more than usual. Then he started stumbling, falling onto his nose as if drunk. But he wasn't drunk, and he wasn't panting with the heat. He was seizing up in his shoulders due to all that jumping out of pick-ups and beating up sheepdogs and digging himself out of holes. He made one last valiant effort in late July of the same year, managing to make it to the top of Ben Clebrig and back, but you could see he was suffering, even then. The strolls got ever shorter, and about a year ago he opted out altogether.

We tried acupuncture, extensive massage and stretching therapies, and pretty much every supplement out there on the market. In the end, the rimadil stopped the worst of the pain, and the codliver oil and evening primrose kept him just about mobile, but it wasn't much of an existence, especially for someone who had been so very active and eager.

Clare, our wonderful Scottish vet, summed it up the best. Just two words.

He lived.

Goodbye Mort. I'll miss you.


swallowtail said…
love, love, love. to you, to the horse doctor, and to all the incredible animals that bless your path.
norby said…
Ah James, consider this a long distance hug to you and the Horse Doctor-so much sorrow in your lives this year, I'm so sorry. Sounds like you had quite a terrier in Mort...
Sandra Ruttan said…
I'm so sorry. My heart breaks for you.
Gabriele C. said…
I'm so sorry to hear.
Ellen said…
I'm so sorry, James. I suppose he's happily chasing hares to his heart's content now.

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