Leaving Ollie


Ten weeks ago, in mid-September, I was walking Ollie and Dylan out at Winterton-on-Sea. Dylan had been misbehaving with the rabbits, as is his wont. Having finally got hold of him, I had clipped him onto the lead, and we made our way back to the car park along the ridge of dune. It was a beautiful evening. Ollie, unusually for him, suddenly dived after a rabbit himself. He went up and down a couple of dunes at full pelt. At this iniquitous turn of events, Dylan was rearing up on his back legs, and bouncing, both to achieve a better view, and also because he was very cross. I let him go, to join in. I lost sight of him (of course), and of Ollie too, but I heard some crying. O shit, I thought, The rabbit’s had it (in the normal run of things, neither of them ever catches the prey). The crying became louder, and then I realised it was a noise I recognised: it was the sound of Ollie in distress. He was still out of sight, but I found him in the dip of a dune, holding his leg up, at the first major joint above the foot, the high-ankle, as I think of it, which is actually called the carpus. My first thought was that he must have twisted it, maybe even in a rabbit hole: it seems a miracle to me that they have both avoided an injury like this so far. I was in a bit of a spot, because Dylan was once more on the missing list. Ollie wouldn’t move at all, so I carried him to a high dune, eventually found Dylan, and nursed Ollie back to the car, half-carrying, half-hopping along on three legs. Though Dylan is clearly missing his brother now, at this point he appeared to have no canine empathy whatsoever: certainly, he was no help, appearing to regard Ollie’s malingering as one of his usual prima donna acts.

X-rays were taken at the vets the following morning. Painkillers were given: perhaps it was tendon damage. Ollie was restricted to short exercise on his lead around the block. Our local vets ‘didn’t like’ the look of the x-rays, and so sent them to Ollie’s specialist up in Fakenham. There was a set at the surgery there from when he had broken his leg a few years earlier, they wanted a comparison. On October 2nd, on the official publication date of Along Came Dylan, I was preparing to leave the house for a train to London to have dinner with my agent when I took a phone call from Lucas, the second in command at the local vet, who said, No beating about the bush, it’s bad news: Ollie almost certainly has oesteosarcoma (cancer) in that bone, but we need to have him in to take samples for analysis, and to x-ray his lungs to see whether it has spread. Trezza was at work at UEA, teaching. For twenty minutes I thought I was okay, and then I started crying, and then I phoned Derek and cancelled dinner. I went downstairs to stroke Ollie’s head and to tell him not to have cancer.

The weeks that have passed since have been quite simply awful. Two bone samples were taken, neither of them would give a positive result. His lungs were clear. I convinced myself that the vets were quacks and that all he had was a bone infection: Ollie is only six; he cannot die. BUT: his leg was not recovering, there was a lump there that was not going down, and though he was getting around the block without too much trouble, he was limping slightly by the end of these (relatively) short excursions (they took quite a long time because of all the ‘sit-down protests’ that Ollie included into them). On Halloween I took him up to Fakenham to see the specialist, Gordon. Gordon ran me through the various treatment options.

1. Keep up the painkillers until he shows signs of distress then take him to be (and this is the word that is used) euthanised. I prefer ‘put to sleep.’
2. Chemotherapy. Trips to Cambridge: side effects can include sickness and fur burns. This technique really only offers pain relief too, because what is happening – and here Gordon became dramatic and compelling in his description – is that, ‘the main site is firing off clusters of hundreds of thousands of cancerous cells into the rest of Ollie.’
3. Amputate. Could arrest progress for a while, perhaps up to a year. There was no way I was going to let Ollie be a three-legged dog. I have seen them thrive, but not ones built on his supermodel lines, with a very high centre of gravity, who also have cancer.
4. There’s a technique pioneered in America whereby the bone is taken out, irradiated, put back in, pinned and plated. The technique is not at all widely available here, and comes with a great amount of side-effect such as infections and other complaints. Gordon was sceptical about this way forward, but did not rule it out entirely.

After the consultation I went and sat on Fakenham racecourse, pretending to read. It was grey and wet. To kill time I walked up to the finishing post and back. One hour later I was looking at some new x-ray plates. The bone was deteriorating: where the line of the radius should have been sharp and white, it was nibbled at, like a mouse had been at it. But never mind that, Gordon said, ‘Look at this.’ He clipped a huge plate of Ollie’s enormous lungs up onto the light box: there were more than a dozen tumours. Options 2, 3 and 4 were no longer options. How long has he got? I asked. Six to eight weeks, Gordon replied.

A couple of Sundays ago I took him up to Winterton-on-Sea to have one last look at the beach where he had unwittingly had his final run. There could have been no better spot for it than there, at least, Winterton was his favourite place on earth. It was dark, dusk, cold, and almost deserted. One elderly lady came by with an elderly dog and remarked on how beautiful Ollie was. At moments like that over the past few weeks, as many fellow owners and other friends of Ollie have said many kind words, we have had it confirmed how everyone loved him, and we have cried many tears. His final days were all organic chicken and sirloin steak, though, if the truth is told, that was his general lifestyle anyway. As I often used to tell him, he was the Jose Mourinho of dog world: the Special One. In certain lights and environments he didn’t even look like a dog and was sometimes mistaken for a deer. You can’t be more of a Special One than that.

Ollie was put to sleep a week ago, Monday 17th, at eleven o’clock. He is a huge absence around the place. As Trezza says: I even miss his toxic breath.
He looked a picture of health as we took him into the surgery, still gleaming ‘like a giant mole,’ as my friend Philip, who also advised me to hold him in my arms as it happened, describes him. He had coughed a couple of times in the few days before, and had suddenly cried out from nowhere, as he sat on the leather sofa, and then held the leg up, all of which at least helped convince us that what lay ahead was the right course. It had to be done sooner rather that later too because the worst case – and likely – scenario, was that he broke his leg, that it simply crumbled under him as he was walking round the block. We could not have that, we could not have our last memory being of him screaming out in pain.

As Gerhard, the chief vet at our local practice, the one who knows him best, and who also loves him, I think, injected his leg with a lethal overdose of sedative, he was apologising. ‘Sorry Ollie,’ he was saying, ‘What am I doing to you, boy?’ he was saying. Gerhard is a good man, with deep brown eyes set into a kind face. You could not ask for anyone better to carry out this task. Trezza was cradling Ollie’s neck, whispering to him and crying onto his head. I had his body held against me, his huge deep chest alongside against my own. In my right hand I could feel his heart beating, too rapidly. As the fluid ran through his blood I felt the beat slow, and slow, and slow, until it stopped. He felt soft and warm in my arms, as if he were still alive, and his eyes remained slightly open too. We lay him onto the floor where Gerhard tested him for reflex: it was done, it was over. You were very brave, he said to us. Shall I leave you alone with him for a couple of minutes? We nodded; we were not so brave that we could actually speak. He lay on the floor, looking as beautiful as he had ever done. Trezza finally found her voice and told him that she loved him. I stroked his side and tickled his belly. Just before we left the room, I arranged his ears to look tidy.

This entry was posted in Along Came Dylan, Walking Ollie and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Leaving Ollie

  1. OS. says:

    There’s an old man crying his eyes out here in Stoke. I knew I would when you did this. Oi, Boy, you and ChiffS take care and give Dylan a stroke for me.

    R.I.P. Giant Mole, Ollie. You were luvverly. XXX


  2. calvininjax says:

    There’s a not quite so old man filling up here in Florida. Through your words and pictures, Stephen, I have come to feel affection for both Ollie and Dylan.

    It is sad news indeed. My hearfelt sympathy goes out to you.


  3. Christine says:

    Stephen and Trezza, We are so sorry about your wonderful Ollie. There will be many tears in Texas today. Thinking of you. Christine

  4. mum says:

    Tears in Spain too Lots of love to you both xxxx

  5. Margaret Palmer says:

    I have a lump in my throat and my heart is aching. You’re in my thoughts. Margaret

  6. Kimberly says:

    I’ve just finished reading your story about Ollie and wanted to thank you for taking the time to write it. The tears are overflowing.

    I’m about to work on my own blog, to begin the process of documenting this final journey with my own Bullmastiff (Lida Mae). Osterosarcoma (bone cancer) was just diagnosed last Wednesday and much like Ollie, Ms.Mae is a glamourous creature who deserves to live out the balance of her time in luxury and dignity. Amputation is not an option for us. I’m looking at Pain Management options. My heart is broken a thousand times already, but I’m trying my best to find out, as soon as possible, how I can best help her.

  7. Stephen, I am sitting here in tears, I am so very very sorry.

    Run free at the Bridge Ollie.

  8. Lisa says:

    Stephen I have only just heard. I am so so sorry and sitting her with the tears flowing.
    Such a beautiful dignified and well loved hound.
    You and Trezza are very much in my thoughts.

    Rest easy beautiful you will be sadly missed.

    Lisa and all at Greyhound Gap xxx

  9. Nettie says:

    Stephen so very, very sorry to hear this sad news.

    Sleep tight, handsome Ollie.

  10. Geraldine says:

    Stephen, I am also sitting here in Ireland, crying for your beautiful Ollie. So many tears around the world for a dog who stole all our hearts. Last June, I held my beloved 13 year old boxer in my arms as our vet gently put her to sleep; it really is the most heartbreaking thing to have to do for your dog, even when you know it is right. My heart goes out to you and to Trezza and to Dylan.

  11. Dominique says:

    I’m so very very sorry for the loss of your very special boy to this cruel disease. I understand your pain having been through the same thing with my boy too.

    Run Free Ollie

  12. Jacqui says:

    Tears are here too!
    So very sorry and how sad
    Lots of love cherish those memories x

  13. Liz & Archie says:

    Our love & best wishes are with you all. Run free Ollie xxx

  14. WurstBoy says:

    Teutonic upwelling of emotion here, and not because we caused the downfall of yet another manager.

    4 years ago we lost one of our Irish Setters and I can certainly empathize with you.

    Wishing you the strength to get through this.


  15. Jane says:

    So sorry Stephen and Trezza,
    Ollie was a lovely lad and will be missed by many,

    your all in our thoughts.

    Run free in the summerlands Ollie with the sun always shining and the bunny’s ready to play.

  16. Louise & Lurchers says:

    Sitting here crying and feeling for you

    Run free beautiful Ollie, gone but loved by thousands….

  17. Anne says:

    I am so sorry to hear this news. I too lost my beloved dog to this dreadful disease. My thoughts are with you.

    Run free Ollie xx

  18. Kaye says:

    I’m so sorry to hear the sad news about Ollie – cancer is such a cruel, horrible disease. I’ve been in your situation a few times and it’s never an easy decision.

    It was an honour to meet up with Ollie and see him run last year at Peterborough. My thoughts are with you all.

    Kaye and all at Lurcher Link

  19. You did the right thing. No other choice. Best to remember him in full flight. He’d like it that way.

    We had our favourite cat Ivan the Terrible put to sleep for similar reasons. I dug a hole under an old nut tree and put some flowers there.

  20. Jules says:

    Run free, Ollie… you were much loved.

    So sorry for your loss.

  21. Stephen Foster says:

    Many thanks one and all, these messages are really very touching. Sx

  22. Mark Eltringham says:

    Epitaph to a Dog by Sir William Watson

    His friends he loved. His fellest earthly foes–
    Cats–I believe he did but feign to hate.
    My hand will miss the insinuated nose,
    Mine eyes that tail that wagged contempt at Fate.

    I like the last two lines. I don’t know what Ollie thought of cats.

  23. Marian says:

    Stephen, I’m just one of so many who feel like we knew the wonderful Ollie. I’m so sorry to hear this terrible news. He will continue to make us smile.

  24. Jenny says:

    I’m so, so sorry. On the 17th last month I lost Basil, my Saluki cross, a tri-colour like Ollie. As a friend said to me then, you gave an exceptional hound a really happy home and that’s what counts. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less. I hope they find each other. xx

  25. Lisa Marie says:

    Tears from your loss in far away Minnesota, too.

    So sorry you had to say farewell to a hound of such surpassing beauty and grace and a singular and Special personality far too soon.

  26. annyetta says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Run free of pain Ollie.

  27. Gareth Evans says:

    So sorry to read this Stephen. Heartbreaking news.

  28. John says:

    I’m so sorry for your sad news. I’m really, really sorry. Please take care

  29. Ken DH of Lisa Marie in Minnesota says:

    My sympathies go out to you at this difficult time. While losing Ollie is as torture, to have never had him would be a far more cruel fate. You were blessed to have such a wondrous and beautiful soul.

    He’s patiently waiting for you to at the bridge. Your reunion will be the reward.

  30. chris says:

    Sorry to hear Ollie has passed over- it is never easy to let them go but you have the comfort of knowing you did the right thing for him. He is pain free now

    Blessings to you all


  31. Jan Holland says:

    My heart goes out to you .. I lost three of my beautiful darlings last year all in the space of 2 months, just all to much to bear.

    Run free at Rainbow Bridge sweet Ollie xxx

  32. Run free Ollie. Forever endeared to us all. xxx

    God bless you at this time. x

  33. AndyP says:

    When I saw you at the football on Saturday and was told the sad news for the first time, it didn’t really sink in. I knew you must be hurting but the brave front hid that away; maybe you were steeling yourself for what we were about to witness on the pitch. But that moving post brings it all to the surface, and though I never met Ollie, I wish I had – he cleary was very special. Sometimes life has some sad and cruel twists, no one knows how it will play out and when it will end. Ollie may have been taken early from you, but there’s the consolation that his time with you was a happy one, he was treated like a king, and loved beyond measure. You have ensured his memory will live on with us all.

    Take care mate. Sleep well Ollie. Andy

  34. diane watson says:

    So sorry to hear about Ollie he was a great fella – we will all miss him. Sending you lots of love

    diane joe joe megan and jonny xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  35. robert and ann says:

    We have only just joined the sighthound forum and as you know it takes a little time to get to read all the threads and the posts on them. Its midnight now ,and our two lovely Greyhounds are with us here,both so relaxed and sleeping like babies. Ho for the grace of God go I. How you were able to write such a moving tribute to your beloved Ollie is wonderful,you loved him as you love Dylan,We are both drying our eyes now as the memories flood back when we went though the same heart breaking time with our Hiedi,our English Setter. May your sadness pass quickly and your hearts light up when you all look back on the happy and wonderful times you had together.


  36. Susisu says:

    So sorry for your loss. Its the hardest thing we have to do for our much loved companions.
    Ollie was a fantastic dog. Sending love and sympathy at this sad time.
    Run free Ollie xx

  37. Chris says:

    I’m so very sorry to hear the news about Ollie.
    Thank you for sharing your boy with us.
    He will forever live on in my heart. xXx

    Run free Ollie …

  38. Jeanette Woods says:

    I can’t stop the tears, I read “Walking with Ollie” and felt I knew him too. So beautiful and so loved.

  39. H and H says:

    So very sorry – like so many others, I felt I knew him through your writing, and at least he had a good biographer… Osteo is such a cruel illness, taking dogs so young. Hope you and Dylan are coping, but I’m sure an invisible Ollie is still coming walkies with you.

  40. Stephen Foster says:

    Thanks H and H. It’s quite true that last, even if a little fanciful or something similar, but I was sure I saw him up on the towpath early this morning, in the mist, taking the route he always preferred.

  41. bruv !!! says:

    daaaaamn… hey you two……… dont normally get choked up at me local internet cafe,not cool! as you know,we had to have ben put to sleep last year,and although he was famous to us,he clearly wasnt a worldwide star like da ollie!!!! (im strugglin here) we also had a period beforehand when we knew it had to be done..and although we couldnt afford steak and corn fed chicken!! he was treated like a king till the day at the vets..
    we too were both there ,but only sam wes strong enough to stay with him.i wept outside.
    two days later ,we emerged from the casa just about able to deal with the questions from neighbours and dog walkers we knew.
    ill shut it now !!!!!

    big hugs and kisses
    loads of love to you three

  42. jane says:

    Dearest Ollie and Ollies family,

    Let this harsh wind that blows against you become a summer breeze,
    Let this rain that seems to have no end become a soft spring shower before the sun begins to shine again;
    Let this steep hill that seems to need to be climbed forever be just a small hill before the walking fields.
    Let your hearts so full of anguish and loss now –
    eventually be a heart filled with life itself and memories of laughter and beloved times past.
    Let the night fall knowing Ollie has left you for now but the stars still shine to light your life and path.
    Let your troubles become so restless
    that –
    peace and more peace will be yours.
    And let Ollie’s ears so tenderly touched
    remain your memory always.

  43. Rosie and Ian says:

    Steve and Trezza…. I can barely bare it. Ollie was a mysterious and enigmatic creature and even though he wasn’t a cat I could see his phenomenal contribution to the world. He will be alive always in your wonderful book….. and we are thinking of you both and sending vibes. Lots of love….. see you soon……
    it’s horrible!!!!!!!!!!

  44. Katie says:

    We are so sorry to hear about Ollie. We have lost many a beloved cat and dog over the years and know how painful it is, we all get so attached to them. At least he was loved and spoiled as he deserved to be, such a beautiful boy!

    Really sad news, we are thinking of you both and of course the lovely Dylan xx

  45. Kate says:

    I am so sad about Ollie. I just read the news today and keep tearing up while I write this. I love your book about him. One of my dogs is similar in many ways; for one thing, he takes off like a streak and can’t be captured until he’s good and ready! I ended up loving Ollie and got very attached, and have hugely enjoyed the photos on your blog. I had never heard of a lurcher until I read your book. I hope “Along Came Dylan” becomes available in the USA–I can’t wait to read it though it’s going to be bittersweet now. He’s left an empty space, even for those of us who only knew him through your book.

    Please take care,
    Kate from Oregon

  46. jenny says:

    Oh Stephen. I am so so so so sorry. I was coming onto the blog to tell you the great news that Luke is featured on the greyhound & lurcher 2009 calendar and I even got a mention of your book on there- but instead I sit here in floods of tears. I am so sorry for the pain that you are going through. I still have it now and its nearly a year since we went through exactly the same thing. The best I can say is that we are all thinking of you and here is the biggest hug I can send you over the web.

  47. Stephen Foster says:

    Thanks for that Jenny, it’s very sweet of you: I’d like a copy of the calendar: how will I get one?

    I’ve just taken this post off the front page to make it’s way down the board; many thanks to you all, as Trezza says, it’s a lovely tribute to ‘the Giant Mole, boy.’

  48. jenny says:

    Hi Stephen.
    They are either on http://www.romneya.co.uk/glf/ or you can get them from Evesham Greyhound & Lurcher rescue on http://www.lurcher.org.uk/.

    I kept re-reading your blog over and over yesterday. It scares me how similar the circumstances around Ollies illness and how we lost Foley are. If you want a chat, or just need to talk to someone who has gone through it then feel free to drop me an email. I would love to say the pain goes away- but I dont think it does. It just gets easier to handle very slowly. Give Dylan a big rub behind the ears for me

  49. Dear Stephen

    I have just seen your moving piece in today’s Times and then I read your post on this blog. The tears are flowing. They are so beautifully written and achingly sad. My heart goes out to you and Trezza.

    My dog has just been diagnosed with bone cancer too. I don’t need to say how that feels.

    Thank you for communicating – so poignantly – the dog-human relationship. I’m glad you have Dylan; he can’t fill that gap but he can make the pain easier to bear.

    Very best wishes.

    Woof Woofington’s owner

  50. Richard and Gill Wilkinson says:

    Can we add our heartfelt sympathy to you and your family, as ones who have a beloved, rescue, mad-as-a-badger lurcher, ollies story touched our hearts and we are soory for your loss

  51. goodbear says:

    it took me way too long to check in on you and hear the news of ollie. i hate to know how you must be feeling right now. i’m so sorry.

    i wish every dog had the love and respect and happiness you shared with ollie.

    and i wish every person could know the sort of love you received from him.

    i know he was the dog of your heart, …and….i’m so sorry.

  52. Dennis says:

    So sorry for the loss of Ollie, having recently read your book I felt I knew him.
    I lost Jack, my Springer x Lab four weeks ago, a month short of 12 years old. When we lived in Ormesby St Margaret his very favourite place was also the “Dunies” at Winterton.

    On the bright side I still have Lucy, my laid back lurcher!

    Compliments of the season to you all.

    Dennis from “down the ruud” in Gorleston.

  53. OMG!!!!! I haven’t been on in a while and I am so very sad to read this. It is never easy to lose one of our furry friends and one such as Ollie will leave an enormous hole in your lives. My heart goes out to you and your family at this difficult time. RIP sweet lad and run free at the bridge. Xx

  54. emer Howard says:

    now ollie, look what you’ve done… you have us all crying all around the world. you just never stop causing eruptions of emotions, do you!? 🙂 i think that’s the reason why so many of us have fallen in love with you little lad, and the same reason we won’t forget you.

    stephen and trezza… i wish i could take some of your pain out of your hearts. hugs to dylan who i’m sure is missing his best mate.

    hurry up time… make it easier on them all.

  55. marie robinson says:

    Oh Ollie, running swift and free from pain at rainbow bridge, say hello to my boy Benson for me, also taken to soon, thinking of all who knew and loved Ollie

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  57. loulou says:

    I am so so sorry to read this. I’ve just read walking Ollie (in a day) and enjoyed it so much. I only found the site as I wanted to put you right about Weimaraner owners – we aren’t all snobs 🙂 I have two rescue Weims and adore then. We had ‘issues’ but they make our lives complete.

    I wish I could take away the pain. I’m just about to start Along Came Dylan and look forward to laughing out loud and reading bits out to my husbands.

    Run free at Rainbow Bridge Ollie, keep Noel company until we meet him again.


  58. Jessica Russell says:

    Walking Ollie is a wonderful book; Ollie taught me that I am not alone when I am faking recall for the benefit of joggers. Thank you, to you both,
    for the humour, comfort and inspiration! Sadly you have endured pain so that Ollie did not have to. The finest thing a master can do for his hound in my book.

  59. Stephen Foster says:

    Thanks Jessica, that’s very kind; perhaps we could form some sort of club, The Pretend-Recallers Society or somesuch.

  60. Jessica Russell says:

    It’s too freezing to even fake it at the moment!

    My 1 year old (rescue Saluki lurcher) has taken a mild (but concerning) dislike to my youngest daughter (4)… Tips welcome. So far we are on borrow back the puppy crate get said daughter to feed him biscuits. Advice welcome.

    Back to Ollie, I can’t believe how much he got under my skin 🙂 I am so glad I found your blog, the pictures on here are way better than the book ones – they do not do him justice at all. Anyway I’ll leave it there, I’m not a mad stalker honest, just interested in running dogs (horses) and good writing.

  61. Lisa Coles says:

    Having just read Walking Ollie and currently half way through Along came Dylan, I have only just found your blog and read the sad, sad news of Ollie’s death.

    Through your books, I feel that I really came to know him and am so sorry for your tragic loss.

    The only consolation is that the pain we feel when losing our best canine friends is that it is the price we pay for all the happy times, love and companionship that they have brought us.

    My heart goes out to you and Trezza.

  62. Hi Stephen, Trezza and Dylan.

    I am not quite finished reading “Along Came Dylan”, but cam on the internet to search for pictures of your beloved dogs. It is with regret that I found and read this post!

    I am at work at the moment and trying to hide the fact that I’m crying my eyes out. I know the pain of losing a dog… It’s more like losing a family member!

    You did the right thing by putting Ollie to rest. It would’ve been wrong for him to suffer. My heart goes out to you all.


  63. Pingback: Review #1 - ‘Walking Ollie’ « Long Distance Letters

  64. dina says:

    I’m sorry and I’m stupid..

    I had not read this yet, and I have known and loved Ollie through your book to be too little time to know that now there is no more.
    I can not resist to my tears.

  65. Stephen Foster says:

    That’s no trouble Dina, really – not everybody knows or can be expected to know … I love the look of your dog on the Facebook link & will go and have a proper look around there later.

    all best wishes, S

  66. Olga Cannan says:

    I have just read Leaving Ollie – I am so so sorry. He died a month after our beautiful lurcher. Ollie was instrumental in our adopting our present lurcher – a 3-legged saluki cross, and comparing his antics with Ollie’s (Walking Ollie), a typical saluki type – look out all small furries!

    I am very sorry again – luv to Dylan, Tressa and yourself

    Jakey and Olga

    ps any tips on saluki control would be very welcome!

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