The Not-So Gentle Giant Who Left His Pawprints on My Heart; He Gave Her Concussion and Ate Her Gucci Boots. but Losing Great Dane Boris Left JILLY JOHNSON Bereft

Article excerpt

Byline: by Jilly Johnson

BORIS'S great head was heavy in my lap; his breath was shallow and laboured. Tears blurred my eyes as I soothed him with words of comfort, hummed to him and stroked his silky ears.

Boris was dying, but shortly before he slipped from coma into everlasting sleep, his knowing brown eyes rolled open and he searched my face for reassurance that I would not leave him.

Perhaps it is fanciful to imagine that a dog would understand exactly what I was thinking, but in that instant I felt there was a communion of feelings between the two of us. Boris knew precisely how much I loved him and I knew irrefutably that he loved me back.

So I sat with my adored Great Dane all that summer day in the painful certainty that it would be his last, and when he briefly proffered a paw for me to hold I knew that gesture -- familiar yet heartbreaking -- was his final farewell.

I held Boris's paw. He looked intently at me once more with his soulful eyes. I fought to suppress a sob and although grief was almost choking me, I wanted his last memory of this life to be a peaceful one. I tried to sing his signature tune, You're My Favourite Waste of Time, the song I always used to croon to him. But silent tears stifled me.

Boris died on August 17. He was young for a Great Dane -- just six -- and his life had been cruelly cut short after he had struggled for years with pain in his hips and joints. He came from good stock; none of his siblings had problems. Poor Boris was just unlucky.

My husband Ashley and I had tried -- goodness knows, we had -- to help him. He had undergone several operations. He'd even had bespoke calipers and custom-made doggy boots, flown all the way from Denver in the US, to aid his mobility and make him more comfortable.

Nothing was too much trouble for our Boris, no expense was too high. He was a family member and I'd have walked barefoot over hot coals if it had meant he would have been spared some of the pain, which also affected his poor toes.

But despite our efforts, he had to have two of them amputated. And as he neared the end, his joints were swollen. He was miserable with pain. I knew there was no more we could do for him except let him slip peacefully away. Actually, I think he was ready to die.

Yet when he went, I was inconsolable -- and the sense of loss and devastation I felt was familiar to me. You see, I'm ridiculously soppy about dogs, and Great Danes are my particular passion. I've had a succession of them beginning with Harley, a blue, that we bought in 2001. Digby, (black) joined us a year later as a companion for Harley, then two years on came Dylan, another blue.

All three have now died, so Boris has joined his three beloved predecessors: their ashes are all displayed in engraved urns in my office. I'm not morbid about them; on the contrary. They're there to remind me of my happiest times; of how my faithful Danes, my loyal protectors and constant companions, have brought laughter, chaos, companionship and pleasure into my life; how they've enriched it beyond measure.

When Boris, a Harlequin Dane, was ill and dying, I wasn't the only one in the household who grieved. Bertie, my other Dane -- now just two years old -- was also bereft. The loss of his mentor and 'top dog' made him refuse to eat. He diminished before our eyes.

Ashley quietly noted how he sickened and pined for Boris. Secretly he made plans. And the day after Boris died, a puppy named Hugo, another Harlequin Dane and a new companion for Bertie, bounced into our lives and helped relieve our pain.

All my Great Danes have left their pawprints on my heart. And Boris will always have a cherished place in my memory. I will not say he was a favourite -- that would be invidious -- but we did share a special connection.

Boris was one hell of a dog. I rather think he chose me than the other way round. …