One Dog and
For the first time in more than forty years I've
not shared my life with a dog. My beloved spaniel, Woody, has been 'put
to sleep' and I'm heartbroken. Nothing prepared me for the brutal decision
to end his life but time and tide wait for no man or dog and although
it wasn't obvious, the sands had been running out for a while.
Of all my dogs, he was 'the special one'.
Woody was a Christmas present from John and the 13 years have flown from
that crazy puppy to a slightly mazed, old chap. He was from Nancarrow
Gundogs kennels, near Truro, a cocker spaniel brought into the world
by the renowned breeder, Hedley Millington, who trained Field Trial Champions
to impress the most impressionable of people to whom that mattered. Woody's
pedigree was irrelevant as he was simply my beautiful, adorable boy who
never left my side, either curled up next to me on the sofa with his
head in my lap or laying on my feet; always there, responding to my every
thought, indented indelibly into me like an invisible dog-shaped tattoo.
He was strong and sturdy for
his breed, with the softest, chestnut- brown, wavy
coat; he was calm, funny and loved by everyone
who met him. Days and years rolled into one without
much happening apart from his dalliance with an
adder a couple of years ago. Then one morning,
last November, I opened the kitchen door and found
him in a distressed state. He couldn't stand and
had no notion of where he was, unbalanced, falling
over, eyes rolling and flicking, trembling with
The vet diagnosed an idiopathic
vestibular episode; or 'Old Dog Disease'
, which is an imbalance of the inner ear, causing
dizziness. After a weeks or so, he was back to
his sweet self apart from a head tilt and and
weakness in his back legs that trembled at times
and although as loving as ever, he had a wonky
vagueness. He wasn't as strong, was slightly
deaf and sounded like a seal honking when walking,
although he had no symptoms of being unwell,
the vet thought he might have an underlying cerebral
problem and a friend suggested he had Alzheimers!
Woody dictated his day until
one morning everything changed. Without warning,
he had a seizure. He couldn't breath; wild with
fear and panic and screaming with terror is an
image I can't get out of my head. Gasping for air,
his tongue was mauve and his gums were white, I
thought he'd had a heart attack and was sure he
was going to die. I stroked and comforted him and
eventually he lay quite, calmed down and shook
himself and looked for his breakfast!
The next day we had a lovely
walk round his favourite places and he
splashed around in the pond. We returned home
and he ran around the garden with the sheer joy
of being Woody: then like a lightening bolt,
another violent, shocking, air- gasping paroxysm.
I called the vet who couldn't make a diagnosis
without an x-ray; she thought it might be a laryngeal
paralysis related to a weakness from his initial
vestibular episode. I didn't sleep and woke him
gently as I didn't want to risk him being stressed
and off we drove to the vets; I signed the forms
and left him.
The morning dragged. He'd
come round but had a seizure which was controlled
with diazepam and the vet said he'd call later.
How could four hours last so long! Five o'clock
came; would we come in to discuss 'options'; Each
time the sedative wore off, Woody had another seizure.
Whether it was the anaesthesia or the illness was
unclear; the x-r ay showed no signs of a problem
with his larynx but there was a shadow on his lung
and the conclusion was that it was an undefined
cerebral lesion connected to his original illness
which would account for the neurological symptoms
of confusion and shaky legs. The vet, a kind, concerned
young man, asked if we would like to see Woody
but to be prepared to see him distressed.
Taking a deep breath, we
went into a dreary, windowless room stacked with
cages. Our little darling looked up with his unaccusing,
amber eyes, recognised us, gave a little wag and
tried to wriggle out of the cage. The vet was amazed
that his response was so spirited.
The prognosis was poor. The
practice didn't have night cover and if Woody had
another seizure, which was almost certain, he would
be on his own in the dark, terrified and in blind
panic . There wasn't an option; our hardest decision
was a final act of kindness to release the gentlest
of animals from his distress.
We curled up into the cage
with him; breathing in the warm, familiar
scent of 'doggy-ness' from his soft fur, he nuzzled
into my shoulder and I lifted a floppy ear and
told him he was the best dog in the world and
that I loved him, while the vet put the injection
into his leg. His breathing became heavy and
he began to snore- the first injection wasn't
effective and I could feel his heart beating
but knew his life-force was ebbing away. The
vet asked us to leave him while he finished what
he'd began to stop Woody's heart. We stroked
his warm, lifeless body, sitting on a concrete
floor, unable to grasp the reality of what had
happened. We left him, sat in the car and sobbed
from deep inside the primaeval place where grief
I've still not come to
terms with feeling that I betrayed his
trust by the speed of having to make the decision
to end his life and missing his 'nearness', is
unbearable. Our bond was so deep, I loved the
way he dropped his ears with pleasure at the
sound of my voice and how he'd rest against me,
seeing himself in my eyes and I would see myself
All he left of this world is
a couple of chewed balls, his collar and lead,
his bed and a bowl he'd inherited. In truth, as
his memory becomes misty, he leaves the priceless
gift of just being Woody.
"Who's a good boy?" ....
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