Woody in the field


One Dog and His Family

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.

Woody with a cow A very wet Woody Woody and cow searching

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 fear.

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 dwells.

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 in his.

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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