Bonne, as she became known, came into my life in 1978. A border collie, and a retired working dog to boot, she had been shut away in a shed after the tragic death of her daughter – and so badly treated that, for the rest of her life, she first screamed and then flinched when the top of her head was touched.
I loved her immediately. There was something so gentle, timid, loving and sweet about her nature. Despite all the cruel treatment she had suffered at the hands of mankind, she did not bear either a grudge or her teeth; she was affectionate and loyal.
The boyfriend I had at the time, Nigel, and I adopted Bonne from friends. We were at the end of our second year at university and between homes (as the euphemism goes) – but, having this dependent and sweet-natured creature inspired us to look for, and find, an abode (half a farmhouse) in the village of Llancynfelyn near Borth.
We reckoned Bonne was about eight when we got her – and she was quite a character! As students, we did not have the money to get her spayed – so, every time she came into season, absolute pandemonium was let loose: Our farm was a working one, and the two farm dogs were entire (as the saying goes!), as were most of the other male dogs in the vicinity.
Result? A queue of mainly scrofulous hounds congregating in the yard, all whining and snapping away (which didn’t go down at all well with our landlord, the farmer); two young people desperately squirting AntiMate up Bonne’s posterior whenever she left the house – and, worst of all, a pet who, amongst many other neuroses, suffered from twice-yearly phantom pregnancies, during which her female parts blew up like barrage balloons and she tried to make nests in the Living Room wall…
Oh, she was lovely, though, and always so touchingly pleased to see us. As a guard dog, she was useless (barking had been trained, or beaten, out of her); as a means of dealing with the rat population infesting the cellar, she was a non-starter (terrified of all other animals, she needed to be picked up and carried past cats, squirrels and mice!) – but as a delightful companion, she was the best, a real triumph of a Bonneville.
We had had her two years when the lump began to grow on her back. Worried, we took her to Idris, the Talybont vet, and he had a look. He told us it needed to be removed – and, that because it was pretty big, it would be a fairly major operation.
I can still recall the absolute terror of that day, as we paced and worried and wept and became convinced that we would never see our Bonne again – and, when we picked her up, it was a shock; I won’t lie to you on that front: She had a huge incision, pulled together with big black staples, and was very wobbly and dazed, God love her.
For a week or so, we lived in fear – that she would scratch herself or bang against a wall, and open the wound.
We kept asking Idris for the bill and for his views on the prognosis: We knew we were leaving the area shortly and wanted to make sure that he had been paid before we left.
But, he never sent that bill – and was very vague whenever we saw him thereafter.
Sad to relate, Nigel and I split up soon after we moved and I ended up with Bonne. With the stress of starting my first job and finding somewhere to live, it took me a while to realise that Bonne, by then twelve, was getting thinner. She was also losing the lustre on her lovely black coat, and both weeing and drinking a lot.
I think I went into denial. I say this because I would never knowingly treat an animal with cruelty. But I convinced myself that she was just struggling with the new place and the fact that I was away all day every day.
But then, one day, I touched her tummy and she cried, the way she used to when a hand tried to stroke her head, and her eyes looked both dull and flared with pain. I can remember swallowing with absolute primal terror – and seeing the jutting out of her bones.
That evening, I took her to a local vet. When we were called in, I found I was shaking. So was Bonne and I can recall smoothing my hand gently against her coat to reassure her.
The vet was very gentle with her – and with me. But there was no avoiding the truth: He could feel, when he palpated her abdomen, a vast mass, a cancer which had grown to inoperable proportions – and the only kind thing to do was to put her out of her pain.
Even thinking about it – for all that it happened thirty-four years ago – I still feel tears welling up and my throat clogging.
I nodded my head in mute and agonised agreement. He lifted Bonne oh-so-carefully onto the table – and allowed me a few precious moments to say my goodbyes. I stroked her for the last time, told her I loved her and that she was a very good dog, and then left the room, with Bonne’s trusting eyes following me the whole way.
As I signed the cheque and picked up her red lead and dashed a hand over my tear-strewn face, I heard a little thump from the room next door as my beloved animal subsided softly into death.
That walk home, the now-redundant lead held tightly – as if, in some way, it could keep Bonne with me – was an agony I have never forgotten, and I wept uncontrollably the whole way.
5th March 1982 Bonne died. I can still see her in my mind’s eye – and, very occasionally, she will appear to me in dreams. I have had two more border collies since then: Jake, who died two weeks before his sixteenth birthday, and Jumble (who is now fourteen and about to move to a new place with me).
They have all had a warm place in my heart. But Triumph Bonneville, my precious Bonne, was particularly special – perhaps because she was the first; perhaps because she arrived during a happy time of my life.; perhaps because something about her anxious nature brought out my maternal side…
I miss her still.
Bless you, Bonne. You will never be forgotten.