It all started two weeks ago. I was on my post-Newsnight walk with the three collies. Suddenly, Gracie crouched, whimpering. I examined her paws for thorns: nothing. She got up and carried on as normal.
I took her to the vet the next day. She was given an anti-inflammatory painkiller. I kept her in for a couple of days, just allowing her to potter. After a week of her seeming to get worse, I insisted on an X-ray. The news wasn’t great: arthritis in her front right paw.
But the pain seemed so extreme, I wasn’t convinced arthritis was the problem. She didn’t flinch when I squeezed her paw, but when she moved she started to pant, and cry. She stopped eating, so I had problems getting drugs down her. Yesterday afternoon, her pain was so bad I called the vet to my home. She was still insisting it was arthritis. And then, by 1am, Gracie was yelping in pain, mouth agape, writhing. I let her out in the garden and she crept under a bush. I couldn’t extract her. It was cold and raining. Her screaming was so loud, I’m sure she woke the neighbours.
I managed to get her inside and called the emergency vet while Gracie crawled on to my lap, clinging on with her paws. I noticed a swelling on her spine. It was soft and pliable. The vet said she had already given her the maximum amount of pain relief and there was nothing she could do. I was to bring her in first thing.
And so, this morning, I took her to another vet, who this time agreed it was not the arthritis, as the pain was so acute. He could feel and see the swelling, and so he referred her to a specialist, just south of Newcastle. I’m reminded of the last time I rushed to this clinic, clutching Hilda, who had suddenly started vomiting blood. While she was under anaesthetic, I was told a tumour had burst in her stomach, and that the cancer had spread to other organs. We didn’t wake her. She had survived 13 years on a Romanian rubbish tip, only for this to happen, just as she was getting used to M&S pork pies and being showered with kisses.
But Hilda was 16, 17. Gracie is just 10. When I first got her, I only had Sam, my elderly collie. I thought he’d enjoy a companion, so I called Wiccaweys, a Border Collie charity then based near Nottingham. I’d driven there with the intention of adopting a female who had been picked up, heavily pregnant, in Ireland: she was so abused she wouldn’t let anyone touch her. But when I arrived at the kennels, the mum had been rehomed. Just one of her puppies was left – Gracie.
And, my goodness, she has been a trial. No concept of weeing outdoors. So nervous, she shook if you even clipped on a lead. Asked to get in a car, she would cower beneath it out of reach. She has chewed numerous sofas, wellies, doors, walls, Dries Van Noten jackets, my Eames office chair. In my previous house, on a popular walk in the Dales, she would nip the calves of runners. In a West London hotel, she tore a guest’s Versace trousers. I blame the person who abused her mother in Ireland: her fear seeped into her puppies. I sometimes toy with the idea of having a reunion of the litter to compare stories and bank balances (she also destroyed every seat in my car and, at the last count, no fewer than 14 seat belts; today’s referral alone, including tests, is already £5,000).
Nic, my assistant, picked us up. On the way to the clinic, she had to stop twice, as Gracie was screaming. We carried her into reception, and a nurse rushed forward with a trolley. The surgeon examined Gracie, who was crying all the while. ‘The arthritis was a red herring,’ she said. She outlined what would happen: a drip, blood tests and an MRI scan. I felt as though I was in an episode of The Supervet: the one where the owner sobs. The surgeon looked grave, worried.
‘I want extreme measures,’ I said as I left, clutching Gracie’s now empty collar and lead. ‘She had such an awful start in life.’
She’s the most loving dog I’ve ever known. She sleeps every night on the pillow next to my head, groaning with pleasure. She has the face of a meerkat. She has a thing about hosepipes. She can eat off a fork. Ever the optimist, she chases aeroplanes. I am now waiting for the call from the clinic. Waiting to learn her fate.