It’s been a while, and that’s because I have been feeling wounded. I guess my way of dealing with emotional wounds is to stop communicating, because I remember doing it when I lost two dogs at once, and also when my mother died. It seems to be my way.
Oh, I function, on a day-to-day level, and fulfill my commitments – those that can’t be avoided – and after a few days I smile and carry on, but when it comes to putting myself out there, I don’t. Not after telling those who are in the know, as it were. Then after a while I peep outside my little shell and do non-personal stuff, like Facebook games and the wildlife pages, and that phase can last quite a while.
This time it was my lovely, sweet old Jeffie – the dog I didn’t want to keep. The dog I tried to send back, but nevertheless fell in love with (as you do) and who became my friend, my clown, my daft old clumsy, barker-at-doorbells and runner-into-things. My lovely Jeffie had to be put to sleep a few weeks ago, just shy of his thirteenth birthday. We’d had him three years.
He was called Ranger, when we met him. And he was smart enough, when we went to visit him in his foster home, to sell himself to OH by play-bowing to him – something no potential dog had ever done for him before, and which charmed the socks off him. He didn’t want a black dog1, but being play-bowed to swept away his prejudice on that score and we brought Ranger home.
The first thing I noticed was that he was head-shy. When anyone put a hand anywhere close to his head, he growled and leapt into the air as if he’d been burned. There is usually a reason for this, and though it took me a week, I finally got a peek inside his mouth and … yep. There was a reason for it. The poor dog had a huge, red, thumb-sized ulcer where a canine used to be. When he went in to be treated, the vet said he had bits of loose bone left in there, and a fistula nearly through to his nasal cavity, so I can’t imagine how sore the poor old guy was. It was cleaned and debrided under GA, and I cleaned and cared for it at home – with much growling and bronco bucking.
Then he would run into things. He ran into his food stand (solid wood) and broke a metatarsal. He ran into a brick wall in our garden at about 1am and cut himself badly, and unfortunately, one of the things he regularly ran into was Sid, who really didn’t need running into, and this was why I tried to return him. Equally unfortunately, though the convention is that a fosterer does not fill a foster dog’s place until everyone is absolutely sure that he is not going to bounce2, this fosterer did so, and when I rang to ask her to take him back, she said sorry, but there was no room.
She said, don’t worry, Sharon will take him back. Well, yes, Sharon would certainly have taken him back, but who was going to adopt a ten-year-old black dog who growled at his people, body-slammed the existing dog and kept running into solid objects and injuring himself? He permanently had shaved patches and dressings. He didn’t like his feet touched or his nails clipped and would growl at me for that, too. Let’s face it, he’d have spent the rest of his life in the kennel.
So we kept him.
Once I knew we were kind of stuck with Ranger, I decided to change his name for a fresh start. Nobody quite knows why3, but it often works, and so it did for us. I told him he could stay, and that his name was now Jeffie, and he – miraculously – stopped running into things quite so often. He still body-slammed Sid, and to be frank, he was the reason Sid needed so many pain-killers, but we all got used to having him around, then we got fond of him, and then … the daft old dog and I got very close. In fact during his last illness he didn’t want me out of his sight and if I left the house, he’d mope and whine till I got home. So my lovely pink fringe grew halfway down my nose and the grey crept from the roots and took over two inches or more of the pink from that end, as I became a little bit of a recluse.
The thing was, he had Canine Cognitive Disorder4, degenerative myelopathy, and finally – and disastrously – liver cancer. We were managing the first two quite well, but bless his heart, the liver cancer made him very unwell. He had intractable diarrhoea and simply could not hold it. Sometimes he didn’t even seem to know he was doing anything. Mostly he’d make a mad dash for the back door and try desperately to get himself out, but even when the door was actually open he often couldn’t make it. We’d have a small, but very smelly, trail to clean, often spanning three carpets and sometimes more. We were so very glad we had a new Vax carpet machine for a fairly easy clean-up.
So. There was a medication routine two or three times a day, cleansing and nursing routines, dry-foam oat baths to ease his itching, and many gallops through the house to the back door in the wee small hours, followed by much carpet cleaning. There were also many snuggles and gentle scritches, and the cooking of tasty titbits to tempt the failing appetite and now that Jeffie’s gone, Sid is wondering if the world has run out of chicken breast5.
Right up to his last day, Jeffie was perky, seemed happy and interested in life and loved a fuss. He ate his tablets wrapped in corned beef or meat paste. His appetite wasn’t great, but he enjoyed his little – his very little – walks, and he was able to go off-lead for his last couple of weeks because if he’d got startled and tried to bolt, he wouldn’t have got far before collapsing. And he did enjoy that.
I called the vet out twice and said I thought this was it, but we managed to carry on a little longer – mainly because he was so alert and content. But on the last day, though he got up and met the vet at the door to greet her, she looked at him and said ‘I think the time has come’. He had got so thin that he was like a skeleton covered in fur and his medication was no longer working.
And so the deed was done, in his own bed, with Sid next to him. I felt like a murderess and cried for about three days solid, but now I can see that it was the only humane thing to have done. I still cry. I am crying now. But it was time, it really was.
Sid … I think Sid does miss him. But he’s finding it so much easier to jump in and out of the car without a second bed in there, and now that he isn’t being body-slammed life is less painful for him, and he’s OK. He hasn’t pined as previous dogs have pined on losing their companion, and I think it was because he was there when Jeffie left us, and was able to sniff his body. I will never again take a dog into the surgery to be put to sleep, if I can help it. It’s so much more peaceful at home.
It was time. Looking back at the photos of that last week, it’s easier to see.
I don’t miss the carpet cleaning, the medication and nursing, or the huge amount of cooking I had to do to get food into my little sick dog. I don’t miss the cost of the drugs and vet visits, or the smell of excrement or the puddles of urine or seeing him fade to almost nothing. But I do miss my silly, funny, loving little old black guy. My companion and friend, who loved me probably even more than I loved him.
1 Black dogs are unpopular in rescues. It’s a combination of a myth that black dogs are more aggressive, and the fact that they don’t show off to advantage in a kennel situation.
2 ‘Bounce’ is a term we use to describe a dog that returns to kennels after being rehomed.
3 The truth is, changing a dog’s name probably helps the owners to change the way they react to the dog, which in turn can change the way the dog responds. I was aware that we’d got off to a bad start, and felt it would help us to turn things around. It did.
4 The dog form of Alzheimer’s Disease.
5 He got lucky the other day. We had a power cut ten minutes after putting four chicken breasts into the oven. No way to finish cooking them, so …
6 Yes, I know there isn’t a six. Congratulations for reading this far!