Sad news

JeffieAndy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

March Winds And April Showers

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Last night, we watched the weather forecast and OH said ‘Good heavens! Look at that wind!!1‘ Tightly packed little arrows were sleeting viciously right across the UK chart and swirling across to Europe where presumably they intended to upset a whole lot more people.

And then, not being someone to whom the weather matters hugely, I forgot about it until this morning, when I woke to the merry sound of those little arrows, sleeting away like mad and producing all kinds of vicious windy noises, and incidentally bringing buckets of rain along with them which they were dropping carelessly all over the place.

The dogs didn’t get walked very early. That was just as well, because Sid got up around eight-thirty and pootled into the lounge to sink gratefully into his favourite bed, and Jeffie didn’t put in an appearance until nearly ten – only to do the same thing. I didn’t even have time to take his pyjamas off before he was asleep again by the radiator as if he’d been there all night.

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Around 11.30am the rain stopped and the sun came out2. We quickly hustled the dogs to the door, where I put their collars and leads on, and a raincoat on over Jeffie’s pyjamas, and we took them for a very quick walk.

On the way back, OH said:

‘Is that a helicopter? I would have thought it was too dangerous to fly in this wind!’

I listened carefully, and couldn’t hear one. Then a car came out of the village towards us going ‘thrumthrumthrumthrumthrum’ and I turned to him and said:

‘No, not a helicopter. It’s the wind. It’s gusting so hard it’s snatching the sound away.

Not sure I’ve heard that happen before.

For the rest of the day, the dogs stayed close to the radiators, curled up in their beds. It’s true that Jeffie came and poked his nose outside once or twice, but when he felt those little arrows tearing around, he poked it right back inside again and went back to bed, sure that his bladder would hold out just a little bit longer 3.

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At one point, the parasol over the fish pond broke clean in half, despite the fact that I’d ripped gashes in each section to let the wind through, and we had to go out and fight the wind to get it down safely and into the garage where it couldn’t break any windows or cause a traffic accident. OH then drove to the nearest garden centre for pond netting – without which we’d probably have woken up to a complete absence of fish4 – and we struggled and fought to put that over the water.

We walked the dogs during another lull in the rain. I got grit in my eye twice as we passed the place where they’re demolishing a bungalow (who does this kind of thing in a howling gale?) but we stayed dry. On the way back home, OH turned to me.

OH: ‘This is not very lamb-like! You said it would go out like a lamb!’

Me: ‘Well, these Old Wives Tales aren’t exactly 100% accurate, you know.’

OH: ‘But you promised!’

Me: ‘I’m sorry .. but you know, we have a few days yet. Let me see .. yesterday was the 28th, so … Tuesday. We have until Tuesday.’

OH: ‘But this is ferocious! You think this will calm down by Tuesday? We’re supposed to be getting a bad few days, you know!’

Me: ‘Well, you never know, it might! These are definitely March winds. Maybe we’ll get April showers next.’

Fast forward to the evening, when we were watching an hour of television and eating bacon sandwiches. The rain was lashing down so hard it was managing to go horizontal and bouncing off the windows.

OH: ‘That is NOT an April shower’.

Me: ‘No, that is a ‘Flood The Patio’ shower’.

OH: ‘April showers are supposed to come out of a clear blue sky. They are gentle things!’

*Pause*

OH: ‘Delicate.’

We both stared glumly out of the window to where the wind and rain were joining forces in a kind of vendetta against mankind.

OH: ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb. That’s what you said.’

Well, all I can say is that March did indeed come in like a lion, but against all the old-wifely rules, it appears to be going out like one, too.

If it goes on like this, the April showers won’t be bringing us flowers to bloom in May, they’ll be beating those shrinking violets to death and shredding the primroses like confetti. But we do have until Tuesday…

1 This is not exactly what he said. He said a Rude Word. I didn’t want to sully your ears.

2 Those bloody little arrows were still at it, though. And there were millions of them.

3 And amazingly, it did. For an old guy with some issues, he did well. That Vivitonin4 is doing a great job!

4 A drug used for Canine Cognitive Disorder, or as we like to call it, ‘Dogszheimer’s’.

5 We live in the fens where the land is flat and criss-crossed by dykes. The dykes have small fish and frogs and toads and small grass snakes and so on that live in them and therefore it is a great place for herons. Unfortunately for those of us with pond fish, in the winter and early spring, the small fish in the dykes are all hard to find and there is a definite dearth of reptiles and amphibians of all kinds, so the herons like to visit us to take advantage of what they probably think of as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

We’d sunk an old, but extremely sturdy garden parasol deep in the earth by the pond to deter the herons, with air vents so it didn’t take off and it’s done well all bloody winter, right up to now.

Jeffie’s Neurologist

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We popped down to the Queen’s Veterinary Hospital at Cambridge University yesterday to see Jeffie’s neurologist, Paul Freeman. We didn’t take Jeffie along because we were only going to view the scans and x-rays which had been taken when he was seen there, but which for some reason we didn’t get to see at the time.

It felt strange walking into reception without a dog, and knowing we weren’t even there to collect one. I almost felt like a fraud. So I buried myself in my Which Digital Camera? magazine, because another thing we were going to do was visit the Campkins photography shop to see if we could get me a new camera.

And the time went by. I read all the latest reviews and discovered that since I last bought a one, something called a Compact System Camera had appeared in large numbers, and that I wanted one.

We were given some tokens by the receptionist for a hot drink from the machine, and passed a minute or two selecting and following instructions after which we drank the strangest cappuccino either of us have ever tasted1.

More time passed. Canon and Nikon were metaphorically ditched, and I learned that Sony cameras were well respected and that Olympus were not only still being made but were strong contenders. I also learned that something mysterious called the Micro Four Thirds systems was raising the game.

And eventually, OH said: ‘Do you know we’ve been here nearly an hour?’

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I went up to the desk and relayed this information to the receptionist in a polite ‘how much longer?’ kind of way and she checked our appointment time and who we were here to see, and looked horrified that we hadn’t been seen yet and rang through to find out what was going on, and a few minutes later the neurologist came through apologetically and ushered us into a consulting room. It seems he was just about to ring us to find out if we were coming or not, because his pager had fallen off somewhere and he’d never got the message that we had arrived.

Ah well. There then followed a most interesting session with him showing us the x-rays and MRI scans and explaining what all the things we could see thereupon actually meant.

My eye was immediately drawn to a bulging disc, but in fact it was an old problem, quite calcified and unlikely to be causing his symptoms because a) he doesn’t appear to be in pain judging by the way he throws himself about and leaps into the car like Zebedee, and b) it isn’t compressing anything. This was in the cauda equina2 area, but most of the bulging is in the safest position, which is downwards, and the nerves are not being pinched. We discussed his demeanour, his playfulness, and lack of any obvious signs of pain, plus the fact that he is in fact on anti-inflammatories as a kind of empirical ‘he’s nearly thirteen years old, he must hurt somewhere‘ solution. Personally, I haven’t seen any sign of any difference in him since he’s been on them, but I’m willing to trust my vet on that one.

There are also a few bone spurs, most noticeable in the thoracic region, but again, not of a type to cause a problem, and not in a place where they might cause a problem. ‘It’s something you see in old dogs’ he said. Fair enough.

I wish I’d thought to ask if I could snap a couple of pictures off the screen to show you, but the sad fact is that I didn’t, so you’ll have to make do with some random pictures.

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Anyway. It was lovely of Mr Freeman to give us an appointment just to go and see the scans and to make time to explain everything thoroughly for us. I have to say that our experiences so far with the Cambridge vet school have been outstanding, and this afternoon gave us a new appreciation for exactly why the cost of an MRI is so high. Not only do the machines themselves cost an absolute fortune3, and animals need to be anaesthetised while inside them, but because the area they cover at any one time is so small, it can take a long time to get the information you need. You have to first determine which area is worth looking at by clinical examination, then take some x-rays to narrow it down, then set up your MRI to make ‘slices’ at predetermined intervals through the tissues. Each slice examines a two-dimensional area, so that, for instance, to examine a short section of spine properly4, you might need about fifteen slices – which all take time, both to produce and to analyse.

For Jeffie, today’s visit will make absolutely no difference at all. For us, it was reassuring to know that we had done, and were doing, all that was reasonable. He is an old dog – thirteen years old in a few months – and there is a limit to what one should do, I think, if the benefit does not outweight the risks and stresses involved. What we hope for Jeffie is that he will continue to enjoy life in his own idiosyncratic way, despite his ‘Dogzheimer’s Syndrome’ and his wobble issues, right up to the day we find that he has peacefully slipped away from us in his sleep. It’s a rare thing, but when it happens to an oldie whose issues are known and are being addressed, it’s a real blessing.

1 It must have been cappuccino because it said so on the pod. Tell me: why do coffee machine manufacturers assume that anyone who wants cappuccino or hot chocolate also wants to compromise their pancreas and rot their teeth? What is wrong with being allowed to add sugar by choice?

2 Cauda Equina literally means ‘horse’s tail’ and refers to a section of spinal cord with nerve roots branching out all over the place.

3 Pet Plan insurance is our friend.

4 In the ‘through the tube’ direction, not with the animal flat on his side.