Over the past week Ash has become an old doggy, leaving a trail of wee and worse behind him, knowing that something isn’t right. He has been restless, spending less time comfortable in his bed and more time lying stretched out on the rug or the floor or just standing in front of me gazing at me intently, his back legs bent and splayed out at an unusual angle as if he’s about to pounce or sit down.
He no longer barks when someone unfamiliar comes to the front door and when I come home he takes his time coming to see me, tail wagging less enthusiastically than usual. He can’t jump into the car boot now although he sometimes tries manfully and I have got used to standing behind him ready to help him heave his 32kg in. He still manages to lie in everyone’s way in the house, picking the best vantage point stretched out across the entrance to 4 rooms and the hall so that every time we try to walk somewhere we fall over him.
Yesterday I phoned the oncologist to talk to him about the incontinence and the odd position of Ash’s legs. It could be the tumours getting worse, or a urinary tract infection or a side effect of the prednisolone, but it’s hard to tell without tests. I made an appointment with the vet for late afternoon the following day.
The carrot dilemma
Ash has been going to Dog Daycare in Gorebridge since he was a puppy. The staff know him well and he often stays with one of them if I’m away for a few days. He still gets excited when he hears Ken at the front door, bounding past me down the hall to greet him, tail wagging excitedly as he trots beside him into the van with the other dogs. I give Ash a carrot every morning as I leave for work and occasionally Dog Daycare arrive just as I give him the carrot…oh the dilemma…finish the carrot or run down the hall to greet them? He often just couldn’t choose, practically inhaling the carrot and taking a couple of bounds down the hall, screeching to a halt and going back for more carrot, ears flapping as he tries to keep an eye on the front door to make sure they won’t leave without him while also keeping an eye on the remains of the carrot to make sure…well I can only guess to make sure I’m not going to eat it off the floor myself.
I let Dog Daycare know I’ll be picking him up in the afternoon to take him to the vet and arrive as they are getting ready to drop the dogs home. Sarah tells me he has spent the day on the sofas or falling over, finding it hard to balance. She noticed his head had changed shape since she last saw him, concave areas on the top at each side, giving his head a pointed look. His eyes were also sunken, not their usual bright brown almond shape. He was standing listening to us and as we looked at him we saw his legs were very bent and splayed, the whole area of the back legs below the knee practically flat to the ground rather than just the usual paw area. She’s not sure he can cope with coming to Daycare for much longer. She reminds me he was one of her original dogs, along with Peppa, a beautiful big Newfoundland. I think about Truffle, one of Ash’s other Daycare buddies and my friend Anne’s dog, a lovely chocolate lab/spaniel cross. We used to walk in the woods on Friday mornings with other dogs from school – Truffle, Jess, Jester, Ruby (all sisters) and various others. Sadly, many of the dogs are no longer with us and I was upset to hear just a few weeks ago that Truffle died in her sleep.
Sarah and the other staff said goodbye to Ash and it felt like it was for the last time. I helped him into the car and had a cry. We set off for the 20 minute drive to the vet. After 10 minutes I smelled the unmistakable stench of dog poo. I tried to convince myself it was just muck spreading from the farmland we were passing, but I knew what had happened in the boot. Ash tried to move out of the way but he had his lead on and it got pretty mucky along with his leg, the bed and the boot liner. I didn’t have any wipes, cloths or water with me so I just had to wait to reach the vet. They gave me disinfectant wipes that I used to clean his leg, and lent me a lead so I could wrap the mucky one in a poo bag. We waited inside until our appointment time and I hoped I had managed to get rid of the smell.
No-one warned me flip-flops were hazardous
We saw two final year students who were very thorough with their questions and their examination. Ash particularly liked the young American student who had a lovely way with him, even letting him examine his gums and ears without trying to distract him. He also noted Ash’s head shape, telling me the concave areas are likely an indication of dehydration. Ash had been drinking his usual enormous bowl of water every day, although he had been peeing more. Actually, drinking his enormous bowl of water isn’t quite true. Ash has always had large, dangling lips. They have been the source of regular hilarity when one of them gets caught in his teeth giving him an Elvis-like sneer. A side effect of these generous lips is that they catch a lot of water when he drinks. All well and good but he didn’t always swallow it. Most of it dripped / poured out on the floor as he took a breath, or on an unsuspecting person’s feet or legs as he affectionately stood beside them after taking a drink. Flip-flops became hazardous in the kitchen (wet feet a certainty) and his water bowl sat in a cat litter tray permanently. This would get emptied every couple of days, but it still didn’t catch all the water – the kitchen mop was always handy and every time I went into the kitchen the floor would get mopped.
The students disappeared to report to the vet and the three of them returned 10 minutes later. It was the Primula cheese vet but she didn’t have any today, only gravy bones that she used to distract Ash while she felt around his body, checked his heart rate and observed him as he panted and stood awkwardly. We talked about Prednisolone that can cause panting and increased urination. She said reducing the dose would have to be done gradually as it would by now have affected his adrenal glands which produce cortisol to help fight infection and cope with stress.
As we talked I knew we were just skirting round the real purpose of my visit. I remembered the first conversation with the oncologist when I said I didn’t want Ash to suffer, didn’t want him to have to stop running in the forest, didn’t want to follow him around to clean up after him, didn’t want to spoil his meals with lots of tablets. I thought about the number of times this week I had had to scrub and mop floors. I thought about our last run at Loch Leven and our increasingly short walks in the forest. I thought about the 13 tablets I put in his meals every day and the fact that I no longer take him to the supermarket to sit beside the baskets because he might pee on the floor before I come back out with my 5 items.
I wanted the vet to tell me it was time. Instead she told me only I would know when it was time as I know Ash better than anyone. My voice broke when I said it and Ash came over to lie beside me. She said she could go and get everything ready now but I wanted my kids to be able to say goodbye so I made an appointment for the following evening. I also wanted to take him for a last walk in the forest.
I’m not sure how I saw through the tears when I drove home. I donned my wellies and we went to the forest for the last time. It’s 200m from my front door and we must have walked there thousands of times. I knew he wouldn’t be able to walk far so we took the shorter walk by the river. He usually strays into the forest to sniff and eat unsavoury things when off the lead and I have to keep stopping to wait for him. Tonight he stayed with me. When we reached the river I threw a stick in for him to fetch. He walked into the water but didn’t seem interested in the first stick and instead stood watching the river flow past. I wonder what was going through that big, soft head of his. I tried with another stick and when he came out he struggled a bit getting his back legs up the small bank, and we carried on our walk, Ash carrying the stick with him as he liked to do.
When my kids were younger, maybe 7 and 9 we walked to Cramond Island in north Edinburgh. The Island is accessible by a causeway when the tide is out. Ash was off the lead and he and the kids were running through the muddy silt in their wellies, having a great time. One of my youngest’s wellies got stuck in the mud as she was running and she left it where it was as she was running too fast to stop to pick it up. She got upset as she reached me to tell me about the missing welly, crying into my leg and pointing at the muddy area a few meters away that she couldn’t reach without getting her feet even muddier. I was about to ask my son to go and pull it out of the mud when Ash ran over to where you could just see the top of the welly sticking out, grabbed it with his mouth and shook it free, bounding back over to us with the welly. What a good boy and definitely deserving a handful of cheesy treats. On the way back from our short river walk in the country park we passed a huge area of wild brambles and I stopped to pick some. Ash has always loved brambles and is quite nifty picking only the ripe ones. We shared as many as I could reach and I fed him from my hand, his soft muzzle nuzzling my palm as he ate the soft juicy dark fruit. We made our way home slowly as I wanted to savour every step.
That evening my son stopped in on his way to work to see Ash. We talked about the appointment the following night at the vet and he said he wanted to come with me. I phoned my other son who had just moved away to start University and he also said he would get the train back the following day so he could be there too. Later that evening my friend Rachel came to visit, bearing raspberries and baby bel cheese (she knows Ash well). We remembered all the walks we had been on together and how her cats had never really taken to Ash although he was always very keen to play with them. He was very sprightly, wagging his tail and looking for cuddles as usual and I did wonder if I was doing the right thing. Then I told Rachel about the accidents, the sore legs, the tablets and the prognosis…and knew I was. He snaffled a couple of baby bels and most of the raspberries and had a lie down.