This week we said goodbye to Bruno, dearest and most joyful of dogs. He was old, at fifteen, but he was cheerful and brave to the end. He just couldn’t do much for himself by then, other than eat, shit, and wag his tail. He had a large tumour and his liver and kidneys were shot. A few days before he died, Rose and I took him for an evening excursion to one of our favourite picnic spots, half way up the Grwyne Fawr valley, in the Black Mountains.
We parked by the stream at Blaen y cwm. A hundred years ago this was a different place entirely. Hundreds of workers poured into the valley to build the Grwyne Fawr reservoir. A village was erected at Blaen y Cwm and known locally as Tin Town. It had a hospital, lodging house, chapel, school and jail. The reservoir was completed in 1928 and the village dismantled.
I walked to the top of the forest, just below Bal Bach, with Bal Mawr looming to the left, and stood for a while by a ruined stone house. The roof had caved in and two large trees grew within. Sheep had gathered around their feeder just below, and there was a dense, yellowing light, with a backdrop of burnt sienna provided by the swathes of dead fern that cover the mountainside. When I returned to the car, an hour later, it was dark and Rose and Bruno were dozing peacefully. I carried the food bag and blanket, and Rose helped Bruno along the muddy track to the picnic spot. The place for making fire is more or less the same as it was twenty odd years ago, when we would bring our daughters here after school. I collected a few more rocks from the shore of the stream that flows near by, the Grwyne Fawr after which the valley takes its name, as the fireplace needed building up: there was a brisk westerly wind. The wood nearby was sodden after days of rain, but I had counted on that, so I started the fire with dry kindling that I had brought with me. We soon had a blaze, and I laid a grill over the fire and cooked the food we had brought.
I sat by the fire, and when the food was cooked, we ate, and Rose and I took turns in feeding Bruno bits of sausage, his favourite food.
I was sad that we would be losing Bruno, but also glad that he had been with us for all these years, and had shared in our lives. When I brought him home as a pup, I was ill with Hepatitis C and going through severe liver decompensation, which included bouts of hepatic encephalopathy, in which I suffered hallucinations and blackouts. I had been given one year to live, unless a liver transplant could be found for me. I believe I drew energy and hope with that young dog, and as he grew I recovered. I had a transplant and then volunteered on a trial for a new drug treatment and within weeks the Hep C was gone. So a lot was invested in our relationship, from my point of view.
In the last few weeks of his life, whenever Rose or I were near him, Bruno, who was mostly immobile by then, would follow our every move with his eyes, always and without fail. It was as if he were asking a question that we were incapable of answering. The connection ran deep and we miss him very much.