February 9, 2023

Dog Sitting with Flowers

by Victoria Clayton in animals, grief0 Comments

The big dog throws her long legs around like a dancing marionette and then comes to me, gently closing her massive jaw on my hand, eyes twinkling. I twist my fingers through her black curls, short now for summer. I promise her a walk soon.

I bring in my overnight bag and small bunch of dying flowers. I read the note Rebecca has left for me: ‘Thanks for taking care of Elsa. Wine in fridge for you.’

Late afternoon sun streams in through the cottage window turning the small square table golden. Rebecca has set it with a white embroidered cloth like the ones Mum brought out when they had visitors. A cupboard is crammed with odd crockery and I find a jam jar, fill it with water and the browning blooms and put it on the table.

I sit at the table in the lengthening rays and drink tea, Elsa now supine but with one eye open, watchful.

funeral flowers

After the service we brought the flowers to our parents’ house and they took up half the long kitchen table. A mountain of pinks and purples, splayed like stars and set in collars of green gauze. The stems were forced into position in ‘oasis’, that green damp stuff that keeps flowers upright. Oasis dries out eventually and the only way to keep the flowers alive was to pull the arrangement apart. We filled seven or eight of Mum’s vases. The kitchen smelled heavenly sweet.

As their pink petalled faces faded and curled, their spines weakened and they lowered their heads, the eight vases became seven, became six became two and now there is just one vase of flowers left. Really, they are also finished but I’m having difficulty putting them out. They can’t be left to die at home alone.

I take Elsa to the park.

She bounds away. We walk through the remnant bushland down by the creek, keeping an eye out for snakes. There’s been some rain and the ground is soggy and Elsa crashes through puddles with glee.  She’s always reluctant to go home. In the past I’ve packed a thermos and taken a book and when Elsa is run ragged she will agree to having the lead attached and be led meekly home. This afternoon I’m just going with the flow.

dog sitting flowers
dog park flowers

In the park I meet a man – young, skinny, arms full of tattoos – walking with a greyhound. We stop to chat, as you do, about our dogs.  The greyhound is all stick legs and knobbly spine, long tail held low, gazing blankly around. The man’s lips quiver as he murmurs that ‘Flash is old now’ in that disjointed way when you know the tears are coming and you suddenly can't speak any more.

I look at young man carefully and out of the corner of my eye Elsa cavorts behind the trees.


I contemplate the flowers sitting at the table next morning with my coffee. Only two or three have any colour left. I pull out a few of the now sodden, collapsing stems and take them outside to the compost heap. Elsa comes too.

Elsa takes a great deal of patience. She has endless energy. She needs calming.

Rebecca has a special bowl for Elsa so she doesn’t bolt her food. It has soft points in it so the dry food is separated and hard to gobble up. Another technique is to scatter the food into the garden, across the path and onto the grass. Elsa thinks it’s a great game.

Rebecca puts Elsa into doggy day care once a week. Elsa goes into a large barnlike room with several enclosures for different sized dogs, or aged dogs, and barks and runs and tumbles with the other mutts all day. When she gets home she sleeps soundly and is slightly worn out even the next day.

It gives Rebecca a little break.


A year or so ago I was looking after Elsa. We’d had a good day, walking in the park, a long walk that involved a book and a thermos of tea. In the evening, Elsa scampered upstairs to the bedroom, usually a forbidden place. Elsa must have heard something, a possum in the roof perhaps. I went up after her and found her huddled by the far side of the bed, head down, shaking.

funeral flowers dog

Had she been hurt? Was she ill? There seemed no explanation for her sudden fear.

I crouched, gently patting her soft curls. I put my arms around her. She wouldn’t come downstairs.

In the end I left her there, huddled by the bed.

I didn’t know what else to do.


Months before, when Mum was still alive, I promised my friend Rebecca that I’d look after Elsa.

‘Yes, I’ll mind Elsa early in January, unless Mum has died, of course’ was never something I said. You don’t factor death into dog-sitting arrangements.

When the week is up, I rinse the now-empty jam jar and replace it in the cupboard.

About the Author

Victoria Clayton

I write narrative nonfiction, essay and poetry on a range of subjects: archaeology, travel, history, thinking about the past, ancient figurines, what makes a well-lived life?

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