'I've lost the one true love of my life… a delinquent old lurcher called Wally': Emma Parker Bowles remembers the dog of a lifetime
21:39 GMT, 30 June 2012
Someone once told me that your dog is one of three things – a teacher, a healer or a companion. My dog Wally, the love of my life and the dog of a lifetime, was all three. He died in my arms ten days ago and I felt like dying with him. Because that is how we feel when we lose a life partner.
I loved him fearlessly, with complete abandon and with everything I had, which to me is the only way to love a dog. Dogs are safe to love because they will never leave, hurt or judge you.
Thirteen years ago, I went to Battersea Dogs Home. I was fresh out of rehab after being treated for alcoholism and was wandering through life like a raw wound with legs. So I decided to seek out another lost soul.
Made for each other: Emma says Wally was her teacher, healer and companion
I wandered up and down the rows of kennels, looking at all of the dogs with their faces squished up against the bars, desperate to be touched. I was in hysterical tears after two minutes – just what these poor dogs needed.
Luckily, Battersea has a matchmaking service. You fill in a form and tell staff your requirements. They also interview you to make sure you will be a good owner.
During the form-filling, one of the staff came in to chat to my interviewer. With her was a big, yellow lurcher.
He was so skinny you could have had a bath between his ribs, and he had no fur on his bottom and thighs. She said he was so depressed he had stopped eating and she was getting him out of his kennel to try to cheer him up.
Wally wandered over to me, tried to chew my pen and then rested his head on my knee. To paraphrase that memorable line from the film Jerry Maguire, he had me at hello.
He had definitely been beaten as he would cringe if you moved too quickly near his face. He was classed as a ‘juvenile delinquent’ – no wonder I liked him.
Emma Parker Bowles rarely went anywhere without her loyal companion Wally
Wally had been at Battersea for six months. Apart from his anti-social behaviour, no one was interested in him because he didn’t make a good showing. Instead of coming up to the bars and wagging his tail, he would curl up at the back of his kennel.
Battersea wanted to make sure that I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for, so I had to (quite rightly) jump through a few hoops to make Wally mine.
The first day I had to ‘socialise’ with him in a room with toys, where he showed no interest in me whatsoever. When I came back the next day he wagged his tail, but when we went to the recreational area, he spent the whole two hours barking at other dogs.
Emma Parker Bowles is the niece of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (pictured)
The third day, I took him for a walk in Battersea Park, where he towed me around on the lead as if I was waterskiing. He lunged at a jogger, chased geese and snatched an ice cream from a child.
This dog was a nightmare. But I knew in my bones that he was my nightmare. I paid my 70 and took him home. We both climbed into bed and for the first time in a long time, for both of us probably, slept right through until morning.
Looking back on those first months, we were both a little broken. I wasn’t going out because I couldn’t trust myself around alcohol. Wally and I would stay home and sit in front of the fire, sharing a roast chicken. I told him all my secrets and would often cry into his soft fur. Wally slowly started to trust and love me.
After six months, I relapsed and ended up in a hotel drinking absinthe with a Formula 1 driver. When I finally returned home, Wally was sitting in an armchair as though he had been up all night waiting. It was the wake-up call I needed. There was someone else to think about now. I have not had a drink since. Of course, life wasn’t plain sailing after that but having Wally by my side made everything easier and more fun.
The more comfortable he got, the naughtier he became. He loved to chase anything that moved: cyclists, rollerbladers and the Queen’s swans in Hyde Park. And he was a Wally by nature. He once ran into a tree because he wasn’t looking where he was going, and would swipe things off tables with his long tail.
He was the most terrible thief. At a smart country house where I was staying one weekend, I found him in the larder, gnawing a ginormous leg of ham. I can’t reveal the location of the house because to this day the hosts still don’t know. I wiped the ham clean and put it back. When it appeared at lunch, I prayed no one would notice Wally’s teeth marks.
On one occasion when I visited the offices of Tatler magazine (I had a motoring column), I let Wally wander off and greet his admirers. Suddenly, there was a shriek and I came rushing around the corner to find a work-experience girl in tears. Wally had stolen her lunch, a baked potato, and was devouring it with glee. I explained that he couldn’t help it – lurchers were bred for poaching and ‘lur’ in Romany means thief.
Emma Parker Bowles said that having Wally by her side 'made everything easier and more fun'
Our first weekend away was at Jessica de Rothschild’s country house. When we arrived, the first thing Wally did was pee on a rug. I say rug – it was more like the Bayeux tapestry. I was mortified.
As you can probably tell, my dog-parenting skills were somewhat liberal. In our relationship, Wally was definitely top dog. He would stretch out on my bed so I often ended up sleeping on the edge with just a sliver of duvet.
Emma Parker Bowles said that despite the death of her beloved dog she knows that Wally will also be with her
And when I met a new boyfriend, Wally became extremely jealous. If we were kissing, Wally forced us apart with his body.Thanks to my career as a motoring writer, I don’t think there was a luxury car on the market Wally had not sat in. I mentioned him frequently in my columns and he was often photographed. His many fans were sad to see him go (me, not so much) when we moved to California four years ago.
But there comes that awful time with dogs when you realise they are showing their age. He got lumpy, warty and grey and needed a footrest to climb on the bed.
Pet lovers are so in tune with our animals that we know when something is wrong. In December, I took Wally to my vet, who gave him an ultrasound and found a cancerous tumour on his liver. We took the decision not to remove it – I didn’t want to put him through the ordeal of an invasive operation. The vet said that at some point the tumour would bleed out and it would be time to euthanise him. I would know we had reached that moment because his gums would go pale.
If Wally had been spoiled before, it now reached a whole new level. In California, they are really into pet nutrition and holistic supplements. Wally got a new lease of life thanks to his new regime. But when I awoke ten days ago, I knew something was wrong. Sure enough, his gums were pale and he was very uncomfortable.
I called the vet and told him I thought it was time. For the next hour, I curled up next to Wally on my bed and hoped he couldn’t feel my heart breaking. I thanked him for everything. I managed to keep myself together until he was put to sleep just before sunset. When my beloved had gone, I didn’t think my body could take the pain.
My Wally is buried at my friend Alice Bamford’s ranch in Malibu, which looks out to the ocean. We will plant a tree when I feel ready.
Wally saw me through my struggles with alcohol and depression, the suicide of my best friend and the death of my father. He was my light when it got dark.
I will always be thankful for the things he taught me. To live in the moment. To enjoy the simple things with enthusiasm. Eating roast chicken. Taking naps in front of the fire. Lying on the grass in the shadows of trees on a hot summer’s day. Going for walks. Paddling in streams.
Whenever I do these things, I know Wally will be with me. He will be with me in my heart.