My beloved collie, Islay, reached the end of her race of life today. A few days shy of her 16th birthday she needed a major operation that there was little chance she would recover from and so, with a little help from modern medicine, the lights went out.
Back in 1994 we selected one of a litter of six from a VHS video and then drove all the way up to Kirkcaldy in Fife to pick-up our little bundle of fur. That bundle of fur grew rapidly into a spindly youth, sustained mostly it seemed by chewing everything around her – thank goodness the furniture was mostly hand me downs or acquired from local newspaper adverts.
With hindsight – she started her running career a little too young and a little too adventurously – but that’s no surprise really considering the passion and training miles I clocked up in those days. As a 5 month old – she struggled in the deep heather and snow one January day around Moel Famau but she gradually developed the economical slightly crabbing gait and prodigious endurance of a true collie.
By the time she was 2 she was comfortable completing races like the Edale Skyline and keeping me company on days out in Wales and the Lakes. At the end of the run I would usually have to endure a 2-3 hour drive in the car and arrive home ready for a lie down and a cup of tea. She would sleep the whole journey through and arrive home ready for more!!
Islay was named from a Scottish Island and on a windswept but beautiful beach in the outer Hebrides she discovered “bunched up running” – unique to Islay and a comical – tail between the legs – back legs ahead of front legs style only used for occasions of extreme joy. On a snowy Coniston Old Man in the Lake District she discovered tobogganing- stick the nose in the snow and plough forwards with the back legs - creating a bow wave of snow.
Mostly Islay was trouble free – the occasional escape to explore the local countryside provided a few worries but visits to the Vet were rare – except , that is, for the 6 month period when she managed to get rolled over under the front of a car (miraculous escape), stung by a bee inside her nose (expensive New Years eve vet visit) knocked out by a horse (bloody nose and a few seconds unconscious but no harm done) and swallowed a Duplo people duvet – worried examination of “output” to ensure it had passed through the system.
Dogs are sensitive to fear and emotions in others and Islay was a silent but knowing companion in tough times. She also knew the meaning of bravado – her furious, yelping, spitting indignation of cats quickly turned into a hasty retreat if they stood their ground.
Collies are also highly intelligent and she learnt to pace herself – me and no pack meant a run of less than 90 minutes, a pack meant it could be a good run out and the presence of Craig usually meant an adventure. She knew these things.
Islay and I shared some great running miles and a few mishaps – once we were running with a small group of Harriers alongside a frozen canal with a sprinkling of snow on. At least I recognised it was a frozen canal but maybe she didn’t – at a recess in the path she confidently jumped down onto the “road” only to disappear through the thin ice for what was probably less than a second but felt like an age. Her eyes were so wide as I hauled her out. Another time, towards the end of a Peris Horseshoe round with my mate Craig it became obvious that her pads, unused to the rigours of scree and rock, had worn down and blistered painfully. She sat down and whimpered so I got to carry her over my shoulders all the way down Snowdon on a busy summer’s afternoon. The fur ruff on a hot day wasn’t too bad but the incessant licks of gratitude made me rather sticky.
Islay – you bought joy to many lives and you will be missed