Fishing lines: I'll miss Ginger. But next door might not...

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The Independent Online

A sad start to the new year. I have just said goodbye to my old springer Ginger, the wall-climbing dog who thought he was a fish.

He lived for 14 years, which given a springer's frenetic lifestyle is pretty good going. Drugs could probably have extended his life by a few days, perhaps a few weeks, but he was suffering and in pain. Cancer was ripping through his body like the incoming tide through a sandcastle wall.

I don't know if dogs can cry, but for the last few weeks his eyes were streaked with tears in the morning, as if he had been weeping in silence during the night at the pain. Two days ago, he looked up at me with those great sad spaniel eyes as if to say: "I've had enough."

But ah, what a dog! He was totally fearless, the only springer I have ever known who wouldn't flinch as bully swans raised their wings and hissed. He loved water, though he couldn't work out how ducks always outpaced him. He spent hours in the river following them, never quite catching them.

In his younger days, he wouldn't come out of the river. Boats had to edge round him as he paddled downstream bent, it seemed, on making The Wash by sunset. He decently took a wide berth around fisher-men, as if knowing paddling might disturb them. When I took him fishing with me, he sat quietly by my side.

I suspect he could have been that rare creature: a dog who can retrieve fish without damaging them. I never had the chance to find out, though. His father, Bracken, was far less taken with the delights of fishing. He found it boring, and made his feelings known. He added spice to the day by trying to destroy the river bank, taking swimming practice and retrieving my float.

Though Ginger sat beside me, otherwise the pair were inseparable. I couldn't take one for a walk without the other. If I tried to take Bracken alone, Ginger's face would appear at the top of our 8ft garden wall. He somehow clawed his way up the brickwork.

The two perpetrated a misdeed so awful it was highlighted in The Field last year. Opposite our cottage is a large house and estate owned by the man who invented battery-chicken farming. He had made his pile, and then, from nostalgia or guilt, decided to keep a few very rare chickens.

It was the milkman's fault. He left the back gate open. Bracken and Ginger entered our neighbour's grounds, and found the chickens. Like well-trained springers, they rounded up the lot – and brought them to the back doorstep, wagging their tails and waiting for praise. You didn't need to be Hercule Poirot to trace the culprits because they had left a trail of feathers.

When Bracken died, his son howled for nights and wouldn't eat. The children are distraught because they grew up with Ginger, rode on his back, bounced on him (never a growl or word of complaint). He is being buried under the magnolia tree with his father. And these tears I shed for him, well, perhaps they will help his grass to grow.

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