A Dog’s Life
My heart is heavy. That’s such a cliche, but it describes exactly how I’m feeling. It’s like there is a lead weight sitting in the middle of my chest and I feel sad, sad sad.
To understand why I am feeling this way, I need to take you back in time about 11 years, to when DH and I were buying our first house, and I was 6 months pregnant with DD1. We were desperate for a dog, but we couldn’t find one anywhere. Rescues weren’t interested in us as we going to have a baby and anything advertised was too far away or not a breed I was interested in. Time was running out as I knew as soon as DD1 was born, I wouldn’t have time for a puppy. I needed to get one *now* and make a start on a routine that everyone could live with.
Then one day someone at a neighbouring clinic told me about one of their clients who might possibly have a puppy needing a home. They had a lurcher/bearded collie/golden retriever bitch who had been ‘caught’ by a border collie on Hampstead Heath and had produced 8 puppies as a result. The bitch’s owner had intended to keep one of the puppies, but they lived in a 3 room apartment in West Hampstead and it was obvious that two dogs were going to take up a lot more room than they had. All of the puppies had homes except for this one that she might possibly want to keep. We drove right over after work.
I don’t remember my very first sighting of The Old Boy as a pup. The door opened and we confronted by a very tall, shaggy cream coloured mother dog and a sea of black, fluffy, bouncy puppies, seemingly indistinguishable from each other. Then the breeder pointed to the one at the front of the pack, with three white feet and a white chest. ‘That’s Wilfred’ she said. She had already named him in anticipation of keeping him.
He (and all the puppies) were gorgeous. The bitch’s owner had socialised them faultlessly and they were friendly, happy and healthy. We said we’d love to take Wilf home, to have him as part of our family and later on when she rang us back to say he was ours, I cried.
He came home a week later. He was the size of a cat, with a short black coat and ran around our new house madly. We only had a small garden that was in the process of being returfed but it was plenty big enough for him. He suited his name so we kept it. He toilet trained quickly and I took him to training classes where he was the star of the show . We even had a behaviourist in to discuss how we were going to handle introducing him to the baby when she arrived. We were determined to do the dog-and-baby thing properly.
In the end, all it took was a quick sniff of our new daughter and he knew what to do. For 18 months, until DD2 arrived, Wilfie was DD1′s constant companion. He is in all her baby photos, looking for all the world like a proud big brother.
When DD2 made an appearance, he gave me a look that said very clearly, ‘What? Another one?’ as he took a step back to watch over our two small girls.
He moved house with us and had a new backyard and new walks to explore. This meant new squirrels to chase; once he even caught one. He had no trouble making new doggy friends and loved to be walked past the local tennis club to sniff out stray tennis balls. He would carry them proudly home, then eviscerate them in the back yard later. He was so well trained he needed no lead as he just stopped and waited at the edge of every kerb. The only thing he didn’t like was fireworks and thunder, so I always use to keep him on the lead if a storm was forecast or around the fireworks season.
Then DD3 arrived and he watched over her too. By now the older girls wanted to walk him and feed him, and spent hours throwing sticks for him. They lay on him and climbed over him and played with his coat which had grown longer than we imagined it would. He never growled or snapped; he’d just quietly remove himself from the room if it became all too much.
We moved house again, just around the corner from our previous one, but now we had a nice big garden for him to run around in. We had DS and Wilf was back in business as chief baby supervisor.
Then one Saturday night, when DH and I had both had a couple of glasses of wine, Wilf went out into the garden and didn’t come back in. We heard an awful screaming and DH dashed outside and appeared carrying The Old Boy, who now couldn’t move his back legs. We woke a neighbour and asked her to drive us to the local Vetsnow, where they charged us £170 for a newish graduate to perform a very half hearted neurological exam on him, then advise me to have him put down. I declined, very politely in the circumstances, and asked to be referred to the Royal Vet College just outside of London.
He was admitted to the RVC at around 1am on a Sunday morning and had an MRI a couple of days later, which showed he’d suffered a Fibrocartilaginous Embolism. He would go on to recover pretty well but would always be weak and lame in his left hind leg. We got a new puppy, The Lurcher, for companionship for him and so we wouldn’t be dogless if something worse happened to Wilf. He was pretty tolerant and trained her well while managing to remain ‘top dog’ despite her stealing his sticks and running rings around him .
When we got The Lurcher, The Old Boy started to spend more time away from the family. He handed over the mucking-around-with-children duties to our younger dog, although continued to act as chief door guarder and ball destroyer. He started to spend most of his time sleeping upstairs, beside our bed. His hind leg that hadn’t been damaged by the stroke developed arthritis and so we started giving him medication to make him more comfortable. But he still enjoyed his walks and was eating well. Then he began to lose weight.
He’s got a thick collie coat and was always on the chunky side, so at first I didn’t worry too much. He had been moving around a lot more since we got The Lurcher, so I put it down to that. But by September 2011, I couldn’t ignore the weight loss anymore; besides he was a lot less lively than he had been. Bloods showed he had ‘something’ going on in his liver, so we changed his pain killers in case they were causing problems and kept an eye on his bloods. By January 2012, they had improved slightly.
Then about 2 months ago, Wilf developed really bad diarrhoea. For the first week or two, I put it down to something he had eaten, but it failed to settle down with a restricted diet or anti diarrhoea medicine. He was still very happy on walks but had became even less lively in the house. Sometimes he couldn’t even be bothered to make it upstairs and just beside th front door. I Had a feel of his tummy and wasn’t quite sure if I could feel some thickenings. Finally, I bit the bullet and booked him in for an abdominal scan.
Last Thursday, the ultrasonographer rang me to inform me that Wilfie has a massive tumor involving his large and small intestines. It looks like it’s spread to (from?) his liver and possibly his spleen, and is blocking a large vein. This vessel could break open at any time, in which case he will collapse and die very quickly. The other scenario is that his abdomen will slowly fill with fluid from the tumour; he has a little in there already. There is no way of predicting which direction this is going to go, but either way, there is no treatment and no hope of a cure.
It’s taken me a week to write this post; each time I work on it I cry a little harder and have to stop. Today I will finish it. I will.
I’m absolutely gutted. Wilfie is our big hairy, faithful, mutt. He was exactly what DH and I went looking for in a dog all those years ago when we started to extend our family. He is only 6 months older than DD1 and his life is ending, while hers is really just beginning. It seems unbelievable that some day very soon he will be gone. Our family will be broken.
Oh I know he’s not a child. He’s ‘only a dog’. And no one who hasn’t had a family dog will be able to understand how these furry friends of ours imprint their lives on ours.
But those of you who know what I’m talking about, who have experienced this pain, please wish me the strength to see this thing through sooner, rather than later.