By Lauren Edwards
There is a void within our home that we are finding difficult to fill. There are no stubborn golden hairs Velcroed onto my black clothing. No tennis balls tripping me up in the hallway. I do not have to step over a big lazing lump on the kitchen floor whilst trying to cook. And when I open the fridge door, there is no wet nose nudging the back of my leg willing me to pass him a slither of ham or a lump of cheese.
Ten years ago, we decided to add a four-legged friend to our family of five. Having had a Labrador as a child, it was my first choice of breed to look for as I trawled the rescue sites forcing myself to move past the many pictures of dogs needing homes. My hubby was still unsure as to whether we should commit to a dog as we had our hands full with our 7-year-old son and 4-year-old twins. However, with his job taking him out of the house for endless hours on shift work, I figured a dog would provide us with security on his night shifts and some company for me.
One day, when hubby was looking for motorbike accessories in Loot, he called me over to see an ad that had been placed incorrectly. There amongst the helmets and exhaust pipes was a photograph of a golden Labrador puppy looking back at us with the words ‘rescue puppy needs home, 6 months old, currently in foster care.’ It was fate! I immediately rang the number and arranged a viewing, assuring hubby that we were only going to ‘visit him to see how we felt.’
We arrived at a tiny house and was greeted by a kind lady with numerous pets dotted about her house, all in need of fresh start. As we entered her kitchen, a gangly golden Labrador bounded in our direction, jumping up at us as we knelt to greet him. He placed both his paws on hubby’s shoulders, and we were sold. Chester the Lab had chosen us and who were we to argue?
Chester fitted into our family perfectly. He was lively and loving and the kids adored him. He was also a complete lunatic on a walk, and I spent months trying to enforce recall and obedience without much success. Going for a nice walk often resulted in me chasing him across a field, through a football game, duck pond or a group picnic and then trying to drag him away from other dogs and disgruntled pedestrians who now had muddy paw prints up their trouser legs. I even attempted dog training; you can read about it in My delinquent dog – and in other news.
Our saving grace came when Chester found a manky old tennis ball in the park one day. It was love at first sight. If I had hold of his tennis ball, then he would follow me anywhere. Although if he caught a whiff of a stagnant bog to swim in, he was off!
Chester enriched our lives beyond explanation. He was devoted to all of us. From wedging his huge frame onto the kids’ beds, to bringing us the post and always making us laugh. Then Peekaboo Chester was born. On a walk one day in the park, we threw his ball and it landed behind a tree. Chester grabbed the ball, threw it back to us and then ran back behind the tree and popped his head out. Weird, we thought. On rethrowing his ball, he did it again, threw the ball back to us and hid behind the tree, poking his head out so he was partially hidden.
His hide and seek escapades became more advanced on each walk. He would literally hide behind anything, a bin, a tree, a bench and even a lamppost. It was hilarious and just so unexplained as to how and why he was doing it. Other dog walkers often asked me whether I had taught him to hide, to which I always answered how?!
Chester was such a character. A beloved dog by all who met him. A fearless sea swimmer, the carrier of the biggest sticks and a complete coward afraid of everything from a kitten to a feather. He was a trusting soul that would allow you to medicate him if he needed it and to cuddle him if we needed it. He seemed invincible with a boundless energy and unwavering enthusiasm for life.
But then he became ill. It started off with what looked like eczema on his legs. We visited the vets and tried several types of medication and creams. His legs developed sores and were clearly itchy for him. We went to Cornwall on holiday, and he spent hours in the salty seawater which helped a little. When we returned home there was no improvement, so we sought a second opinion, a different vet, who confirmed our worst fears. Chester had skin cancer. The prognosis was that he had six months left. We were floored. He was too young for this news. He had to have more years of hiding behind trees, swimming in the sea and running through the forest.
As the cancer took hold, we increased his medication. As we patiently bathed and bandaged his sores on a daily basis, the steroids and painkillers provided him with remission, and he bounced back a little. We decided to dedicate his last few months to ticking off his bucket list. No more rules. No more was he banished from the bedroom, he could eat what he liked and sleep where he wanted. We were living day to day. Keeping him comfortable and coping with the toxic fumes that he was emitting due to the medication he was taking – and the cheap jars of hotdogs!
We took him on a last tour, visiting friends and relatives so that he could say goodbye. And then it was time. It was just me and Chester in the house one Saturday morning and I knew. He staggered over to me with his bandaged legs, looked up at me with his big brown eyes which were now red and sore and laid his head on my lap. I made the call. I arranged his last appointment for that afternoon, and we prepared ourselves for the last goodbye.
Chester was the most kindhearted boy till the very end and as we arrived at the vets, he mustered his last bit of energy to wag his tail and greet the vet. He was the biggest people pleaser and would always try his best to make everyone feel loved at the expense of his own pain and discomfort.
As we huddled together on the floor of the consultation room, Chester went to each of us in turn, as if he knew. In his very last moments, he helped us come to terms with our decision. And as he took his last breath, we held him tight, relieving him of his pain and taking it for ourselves.
He has left a huge hole in our lives but a mountain of fond memories. We were inundated with well wishes after his passing and a realisation of how many lives he had touched. Our loved ones praised us for the fantastic life we had given him and how lucky he was that we had found that ad. Except we were the lucky ones. What a boy we had. Chester changed our lives and we will miss him forever.