My little Heinzie 57 terrier, Jenna, would normally be sitting at my feet as I tap away on this laptop. In future I shall have to get used to sitting alone. She will not be here to bark at someone knocking on the door nor will she be there to stop my Rottie from coming up and disturbing my train of thought.
Somewhere around now it would have been her 17th birthday. She was already six when she found me. Her first owner was flying off to live in Florida and she had asked the local kennels if they knew of a good home. Jenna has since been living with me for just over ten years. Of course, at the time she had to be approved of by the resident canine incumbent a rather boisterous Staffie. She moved in with his grudging acceptance. In due course, as canine mistress of the household, it became her turn to be the judge of his successor, a sociable Rottie. Dogs are funny like that. They pass the baton of the guardianship of their humans from one to the other. A house without a dog is lacking something and our household has not been without the continuing presence of a dog for over 34 years.
Jenna had been in trouble healthwise for sometime although she had borne her pain with stoicism. The steroid pills which keep a dog alive charge a toll for the service. It is not just the grey hair around the muzzle that marks old age but in Jenna’s case, the hair actually fell out. The areas around her tail, her neck and her paws had been rubbed bare - a bit like my own bald head. However merely standing up was becoming onerous for her.
As many dog owners will verify, dogs don’t make their passing an easy exercise for the human owner. Dogs rarely go on their way of their own volition. Invariably it is for the human to make the decision of ongoing life or final death. As the dog ages so its behaviour begins to change and the caring owner begins to notice the beckoning call of Mother Nature. The joints stiffen as arthritis makes its presence felt. The dog steadily becomes more hesitant in the presence of other dogs. They start to cling to the heels of their owner. The sight loses focus and the hearing drops off. They can still smell and they have their daily routine, which they expect to continue until the very end. In the later years my Staffie lost his marbles and I had to keep a close eye on him whereas little Jenna was alert to the end but gradually she lost her mobility. She became a frail old lady who could easily fall or be knocked over. Eventually she could not even climb into her bed, or sometimes if she managed to get into it, she might not be able to get out of it. Then there would be an accident or two. It can take weeks to house train a puppy but once the routine has been established it hates to make a mess in its own pad, even if the master would never chastise it in old age for making an involuntary mistake.
I had chosen the place for her to rest in the garden under a tree invariably inhabited by flocks of birds. Each year that tree gets bigger and the visiting birds more numerous. Maybe it is because I feed them throughout the year. We shall be buying a chair to stand on the slabs under which Jenna will lay. The grave had been made ready for a couple of weeks before I made the inevitable decision.
Watching her walk or rather stumble was becoming more and more stressful. I waited until my wife agreed that the time had come. The vet already knew of Jenna‘s condition, I phoned at 8.30 am and by 11.30 we were in the surgery. During the journey she had sat on my lap closely interested as usual in the sights along the way as if she knew it was for the last time. I carried Jenna in from the car and put her down on the table in the surgery. The vet and the nurse appeared but I kept hold of Jenna myself. A patch was shaved on the paw. Jenna did not make a sound. I said ‘bye-bye as the vet inserted the needle and within a second or two my faithful hound had gone limp. Gradually I felt the inert weight of her. She was still warm to the touch yet strangely unresponsive to my fingers. She was looking upwards at me with unseeing glazed eyes. There had not been one murmur of stress from her. We waited for a few moments to ensure that she had passed on her way. With treatment over, I picked her up gently, I wrapped her in a towel and I carried her out to the car and brought her home.
Once we arrived all that remained was to lay her in her final resting place and cover her over with soft earth. It has been my custom to send my pet on its way along with something of mine, invariably a coat which I had worn when walking them. In this case it was a favourite blue riding jacket which she would recognise and draw comfort from. Who knows just how long she’ll rest there under the tree. Maybe forever.
I came back into the house. Each morning I shall easily be able to see her resting place from my chair in the kitchen and anyway her photo sits alongside the fireplace opposite my recliner where usually I sit to write. Her presence will live in my head until my time comes to pass along the same track to who knows where. However, it is going to take sometime before my jaw stops puckering whenever I think of her.
Barry G 4/4/2012