Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Goodbye to our Macbeth

August 22nd, 2015

DSC00133The Friend of Man
With eye upraised his master’s look to scan,
The joy, the solace, and the aid of man;
The rich man’s guardian and the poor man’s friend,
The only creature faithful to the end. (Anon)

I’m sad to have to tell readers that, after fourteen years with us, Macbeth, our West Highland terrier, is dead. No more the button-black eyes, the black nose and prim little mouth; gone the alert ears and sunny, confident assumption that everyone loved him – and everyone did.

Macbeth just knew he was really a tiger who had got slipped into the wrong skin and it never occurred to him that he might not be the alpha male in the household. He led a charmed life and learned early on how to play to the crowd. Inevitably we have fourteen years of entertaining memories.

He came to us when our black Labrador, Sheba, was alive. She was aged about ten, a comfy, mother-figure for the wee Macbeth. His good habits – for he had many shocking ones – he learnt from Sheba.

It was only on her death, and the cosy old dog was no longer there to curl up against, that he began sleeping in our bedroom. Our family were horrified at this lapse in standards for such a thing had never been tolerated with previous dogs.

Outrage and disrespect
The Doyenne outraged a lady who had known him from birth by referring to him as a demented ball of string. But it was an apt description for the apparition that came home after a fulfilling afternoon’s hunting through the undergrowth, trailing in half the countryside from his low-slung undercarriage.

It seemed I was equally disrespectful when I wrote that he had as much brains as a docken.

Maybe that was insensitive. I recall the time we took him away with us for the weekend and Macbeth took no chances about getting home again. We woke on the Sunday morning to find him cosily settled into the overnight bag we had brought our kit in. So much for having as much brains as a docken when he’d worked out what an overnight bag is for!

He was a cunning devil and I had to keep an eye on him when we were out walking. The more revolting an old carcase he could find in a smelly corner, the happier he was.

I only knew what was happening when I heard the crunching of bones and Macbeth was nowhere to be seen. Once I caught him there would be an unseemly struggle while Macbeth tried to swallow down his mouthful and I shoved my fingers down his throat to pull it out.

He would give me a look which said, “You wouldn’t do that if I was a Rottweiler.”

The ideal handle
He was a robust little character and, fortunately, never suffered from the skin complaints that the breed is prone to. He was a very neat example of his breed and sported the classic carrot-shaped tail which proved handy on one memorable occasion.

Granddaughter Cecily, aged two, thought his tail was the ideal handle to pull him backwards round the garden with. I wish we’d thought to get a photograph but we were more concerned for Macbeth’s wellbeing at the time. He bore no grudge, taking the whole experience in his stride as part of life with the Whitsons.

He was a cheerful and friendly companion. I shall miss his warm body stretched across my feet when I sit at my computer writing my weekly column. He could be a thrawn little devil, though, and test our patience to the limit. Many’s the time he was set on one course of action and I was determined on another, and there was a terrible struggle of wills.

Inka and he got on well together. Being the smaller dog didn’t stop him being assertive with his bigger friend. Like most Labradors Inka is greedy and initially he regarded any uneaten food in Macbeth’s dish as an extra treat for him.

Serious exchanges must have taken place between them because, in all the years thereafter, Macbeth’s food could lie uneaten in his dish all day and Inka passed it without so much as a sideways glance.

Stalwart of this column
Macbeth was a stalwart of this column from its very start. I wouldn’t have been the Man with Two Dogs without him and he helped make the column what it is. In the end he suffered from what I can only call Dogzheimers. We watched him becoming increasingly disconnected from the world he lived in, and it was sad. It was hard to have to take decisions on his future but I have no doubts we made the right one.

It will be a while before we stop listening for the small figure tick-tacking through the house. We’ll miss him hoovering round the kitchen for all the bits that have fallen off the worktops. And I’m still stepping over the illusory dog flung across my study doorway, waiting to trip me up and brain me.

We’re not sure yet just how it all has affected Inka.

Written on Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 at 10:49 pm for Weekly.