My whippet passed away last year. So did his brother – my father's dog. They were each seventeen, two more years than the breed is supposed to live.
They died several months apart but in the same way. Each came to me, weak and seeking affection. After watching my father die I can recognise the signs of a body shutting down. I let them sleep in my room and hand-fed them little balls of mince. Removed their collars, petted them for hours at a time. Carried them outside to pee. When they became too weak to eat anymore I called our vet, Gillian. She came to my mother's house to euthanise them. Each died peacefully in my lap while I stroked their sleek fur and held back my tears until they were gone.
Whippets were my father's choice of dog, long before either of us knew that artists favoured them. He trained these two. They still remembered the odd ways he spoiled them, like letting them eat the last piece of banana. After they died another trace of my father was gone. But I am thankful for the time I had with them and the comfort they gave me.
When Gillian retired recently I drew our whippets for her. I sketched from a photo, fast, so I could finish before I started to cry. Then I delivered it by hand to her surgery. Gillian knew the link between the whippets and my father – and I know they lived so long because of her care. Drawing them as a gift seemed like the most meaningful way I could thank her.
Above: Cairo and Jim, 1999 - 2016. Lead pencil on watercolour paper.