The end of an era
We buried our dog yesterday. To all you animal welfare fanatics about to comment in horror………..don’t worry he was dead. I may sound as though I’m making light of it and maybe I am. What else can I do? The abrupt loss of such a huge (quite literally) part of our lives has hit both of us hard.
Max became unwell on Sunday night. He was wandering around the kitchen making the most horrific retching sounds. My initial feeling was irritation. We had been away over the weekend and all I wanted to do was sleep. I assumed that the daft animal had eaten some grass or something else that didn’t agree with his (remarkably weak considering his size) constitution. Sadly not. I quickly recognised the signs of ‘Bloat’ a common condition in Great Danes where the stomach dilates, fills with gas and often flips on its axsis cutting off the blood supply.
We called the emergency vet in Oban who helpfully advised us to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. Once we had established that this would be Tuesday morning she did suggest some first aid measures and Allan and I spent an unpleasant half an hour ramming a hose pipe down the poor dogs throat. Over the course of the night it became apparent that this was not providing the necessary relief. Max seemed to accept things too. He gave up pacing and lay quietly in his bed.
Had the decision been down to us I think we would both have opted to have him put to sleep at this point. Unfortunately the task of dog euthanasia on Colonsay falls to the hands of the local GPs. Even more unfortunately it was their son’s wedding we had been at and they were still on the mainland. We couldn’t quite face phoning up a locum we didn’t know to invite him to come and kill our dog at 2am.
We tried the emergency vet again. She was nice and advised us to plunge a large needle into his stomach. We decided against this. Much like doctors I think it must be hard for vets to accept that the death of some patients is inevitable. We were battling a condition with a low recovery rate even when treated surgically immediately. With no veterinary help and no chance of getting him to a hospital with the next few hours we knew he wasn’t going to make it. Deflating his stomach may have provided symptom relief but neither of us could face inflicting more agony on him, for a temporary benefit with uncertain results.
Eventually Allan sent me to bed and I slept for a few hours before it was time to get up and go to work. I left shortly before 7:30am. Max was lying in his bed, when I went over to him he looked up at me without lifting his head. He twitched the tip of his tail at me. He’s never been a morning person. I stroked his head for a few minutes. It would sound very dramatic to say I knew then that I would never seem him again but I didn’t. I feared it but part of me hoped that he would hang on until the boat the next morning or he would make some sort of miraculous recovery.
When I phoned a few hours later to see how he was Allan told me he was gone. He had remained calm until the end, simply getting up and walking outside to settle down on the path and go to sleep.
Of course Allan and I are now forced to live with the consequences of our actions. Moving to an island with no veterinary cover. Leaving him for the weekend while we were off enjoying ourselves. Putting the tube down his throat. Not putting the tube down his throat again. Not putting the needle in his stomach. Not getting him put down.
I feel that every time I complained about the mess he made (he made a lot of mess) or his irritating habit of needing a poo at 4am I was somehow inviting this upon us. It’s so cheesy but I wish I had appreciated him more when he was alive.
The last few days I kept seeing his whole life flashing before my eyes. The first time we saw him at two weeks old when Allan held him and demanded that we get ‘this one’. Going to pick him up from the breeder six weeks later and watching him chew her living room rug…….little did we know about the sofa, shoes and wall that he would decimate in our own home. I remember coming in from work one day and finding him sprawled across our bed on his back with a pair of my pants dangling from his jaws.
He was in the room when Allan proposed to me and it was only an intervention from my mother which prevented him from being present at the wedding too. He trained hard with me for my first marathon and made me feel safe running through the dodgy parts of Edinburgh. He wasn’t allowed in the living room in our house on Colonsay but sometimes he would come and stand in the doorway sighing loudly until I brought his bed over so he could lie looking reproachfully at us. He tolerated Helen wandering through is bed a hundred times each day. Even when she accidentally fell on top him he would just look mildly bemused.
I deeply regret every time I shouted at him (apart from when he chased sheep) and every time I forgot to feed him. I wish I’d spent longer with him yesterday morning. I wish I’d climbed into his bed and given him a proper cuddle while I had the chance.
We buried him just outside the garden wall, wrapped in a blanket with the string of plastic sausages he used to play with as a puppy. Helen wanted to give him one of her toys but I feared that the offer might be rescinded at a later date and I didn’t want to risk having to dig him up again. Helen insisted on climbing into the hole with me to pay her last respects. For a two and a half-year old her understanding of death seems fairly good. She said bye-bye to him and didn’t complain when we covered him with earth. Today she just seemed relieved to be free of the constant risk of being flattened that playing in the garden normally brings. This freedom didn’t last long as Sally lamb, sensing the demise of her nemesis, stormed the garden and unsurprisingly knocked Helen over.
For the last five years my life as been a constant battle against slobber, hair and general dog dirt. Today I feel strangely unwilling to do any cleaning. Suddenly the slobber on the wall around his bowl and the greasy mark on the kitchen wall have become shrines to him. My Dad appropriated his bed and bowls for the other dogs but I can’t even begin to contemplate getting rid of his halti and lead. Even the box of out of date dog biscuits is sacred.
I may never own another dog and will certainly never own another Great Dane but I’d give anything for another day with Max.