(sorry, this is a bit of a weepy one I'm afraid)
Our dog Dipsy was 14 years years old. We'd had her since she was a puppy. She'd seen us through a lot of different life stuff, came on holiday with us every year, quietly occupied her corner of the room and hated it when we closed doors. She liked to do her regular rounds to make sure everyone was OK.
For the last two years or more, she's been in various flavours of decrepitude. We'd had so many false alarms, it began to seem she would last forever.
One of her hips was kaput and she had trouble getting around because she had arthritis (as well as a dodgy heart and menhirs disease and a dodgy stomach, and partial blindness and partial deafness and possible senility). For the last few months we'd stopped taking her to the park cos she just fell over. She still enjoyed sniffing around the garden, but had to be carried up the steps back into the house, as well as across the kitchen floor, as she couldn't get any purchase on the tiled surface and her legs would just go from under her.
We still got tail wags when we came home, and she still enjoyed her food.
But in the last week or so, we had increasing episodes of Dipsy waking us all up at night, clearly in distress and unable to settle. Last night was the most extreme episode of this kind, and in the end she could only be calmed by giving her one of the valium the doctor had given me for back pain.
We decided yesterday that we needed to think about taking her to the vet and asking him to end her life. This was horrible, because I had always assumed she would just keel over in the night or we would take her to be fixed, only to be advised by the vet that her time was up. I struggled with the idea that we would pre-empt the process. How could we know if we were making the right decision? How do you define quality of life? But it was clear her enjoyment of life was only going to go downhill from this point, and that even if she had some pleasure at some times, she also suffered a significant amount of distress. So we prepared Flash (our 9-year-old) for the possibility that she may be taken to the vet at some point this week.
That was a horrible conversation. We decided to wait until after Oscar (who is 3, and really too young to benefit from / properly understand any kind of forewarning) was in bed. But then Felix was all full of chatter and excitement about his birthday in 2 weeks' time, and the release of Minecraft for the xbox. And then he was putting his pyjamas on, and...
In the end I waited until I'd read him his bedtime story and he was all ready for bed. Of course, he cried. We were already snuggled up, so cuddles were easy. This morning he asked whether Dipsy would still be there when he got home from school, and I had to say no. He said goodbye and gave Dipsy one last Bonio, and we sent him off to school with an explanatory note for his teacher.
I took her to the park first, as she hadn't been for ages and always used to like it so much. She sniffed about a bit, but didn't stray more than a metre from my side, and after a few minutes came and stood next to me expectantly. This is what she does when she's ready to be carried back inside, after being in the garden.
I'd tried to arrive early at the surgery and beat the queues, but I somehow managed to miss it altogether and drive straight past it, and by the time I'd done a fraught U-turn (and nearly crashed into a bus), the doors had been opened and a queue of people and their dogs had been let in.
It's a tiny waiting room which Dipsy never likes, particularly if there are other dogs, which stress her out. She wouldn't lie down and didn't want to be on my knee. She was panting. The other dog-owners were all chatting animatedly amongst theirselves, and I couldn't stem the tears. I just prayed desperately that nobody would ask me what was up - I knew I wouldn't be able to speak.
Eventually it was our turn. The vet was brisk and businesslike, and agreed it was the best thing. He did his best to reassure me. She wouldn't lie down on the table. His assistant cuddled her and supported her. I sort of felt that should have been my job, but I might not have done it right. I stroked her flank ineffectively, and choked back the sobs. I couldn't think of anything to say to her. It was so quick. She just sort of crumpled. You could see that her whole body went into instant relaxation. Her eyes stayed open. I thought she was still breathing, but she wasn't.
I sobbed and sobbed. They were very understanding.
When she was a puppy she had a brightly-coloured giant rattle, designed for a baby. She used to bark at it madly. In the end we had to hide it. Every Christmas she would get a squeaky toy which she would attack with gusto, squeaking it madly until finally the squeak was killed, which was always a relief. If she didn't kill the squeak, I would eventually crack and hide it somewhere out of her reach, only for it to be unearthed a few months later by either her or one of our kids, and the squeaking would resume (sigh).
I've washed her bedding.
I confess I've looked forward to no longer having a garden full of dog poo, or having furniture and whole rooms that stink of old ill dog, or little presents on the hall carpet in the mornings. I won't miss those things. She'd reached a point where she couldn't really be a part of the family any more.
I slept on the sofa next to her the night before last. I gave her lots of cuddles in the last two days.
We might scatter her ashes in Edale or maybe the Lakes. Felix/Flash wants some kind of memorial in the garden. A plaque, maybe?
I'm glad I took the day off. I have nothing to do today but grieve. That's fine.
A Thorny Question
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