I decided to work from home to spend one last day with Ash at my feet. The early morning routine was the same as always but as I was getting his breakfast ready I wondered why I was adding tablets to his meals for the day. I missed out the prednisolone but decided to keep the others as I didn’t want him to be itchy again, especially on his last day. I added some extra kibble, worries about him putting on old-lab-weight irrelevant now. I put his bowl down and he sat patiently, head tilted, waiting for me to give the ‘yes’ command as he has done at every meal since he was a puppy.
Ash is a Labrador, ergo food is his favourite. A number of words elicit a guaranteed head tilt:
“Do you want…. (insert any word here)?”
or just –
and best of all, “Breakfast?”
Clare and I found each other on borrowmydoggy.com around 3 years ago. Clare would take Ash for weekends and Ash loved visiting her; he got to lie on the sofa for a start, and she would take him for long walks in country parks and beaches.
She soon discovered the effect the word “Breakfast?” had on him – head tilt, intense stare, waiting for a bowl full of kibble or a bit of cheese. Not confined to the morning meal either, Clare would ask him if he wanted “Breakfast?” at supper time too. Maybe even at other times of day; endless amusement.
Clare and her new husband Kevin came to say farewell to Ash a couple of weeks ago. They brought a banana, keen to see if Ash could still take it out of the skin without help and without thumbs. She asked if he wanted “Breakfast?” (of course) and gave him a banana. He sniffed it and looked a bit confused. Then a huge front paw held one end down as he daintily but efficiently ripped the skin off with his teeth, discarding strips of skin all over the floor as he ate the ripe fruit inside.
Who says Labradors are stupid?
A day’s work
Today’s work is punctuated by frequent trips out to the garden as Ash needs to wee at very regular intervals. No sooner has he come in from the garden than he has another drink, lies down for a few minutes then sits staring at me, asking to be let outside again.
We yo-yo between my desk and the garden. Ash sleeps for short bursts but doesn’t really settle. I wonder if the trips outside are just a distraction from feeling uncomfortable or sore. His legs aren’t quite right, even sitting I can see his back legs are positioned differently as he leans slightly on one haunch. I let him enjoy a couple of apples from the ground in the garden but I don’t leave him outside for long as I want to spend every moment I can with him. I am grateful my job lets me work from home if I need to.
After work, my son arrives and we get ready to pick up my other son from the railway station and head to the vet. He gives him another bowl of kibble and I put the leftover Baby Bels from Rachel’s visit into my handbag along with the usual cheesy treats and some poo bags. I remember to put the lead the hospital lent me yesterday into my bag so I can return it – I won’t need it as a spare. Alasdair helps Ash into the car, hoisting his back legs up as he tries his best to jump into the impossibly high boot.
Ash sits with his head between the back seats in the car looking adorable. He usually looks out the rear windscreen, waiting for motorbikes to dare to come close before barking at the rider. He has never been a big barker but has always been a bit scared of people in motorbike helmets. This is unfortunate as we have sat at many traffic lights with Ash barking madly at a biker sitting behind us, probably wondering what he/she has done to upset this large, loud dog. Today, however, he sits looking at us from the boot, his big soft head with its new pointy shape fitting perfectly between the seats.
Although I know we are doing the right thing, I am filled with guilt and questions about whether I should wait, whether chemotherapy would have given him more time, whether it really is time. But I just know he’s not himself. Someone recently described him as stoic, commenting that Ash never complains. He really didn’t complain, even if I stood on his tail by accident or fell over him in the hall, he might give a small yelp but would then look at me with those beautiful brown eyes and prick his ears up a little.
We reach the hospital and as we go in through the front doors the receptionist comes right out from behind the desk to ask if this is Ash and takes us straight through to a room I haven’t seen before. It’s next to the room I first saw the Oncologist in and it’s what can only be described as a relatives’ room. It has a desk, a sofa and a couple of chairs. The Primula cheese vet comes in and Ash is pleased to see her again, wagging and appreciating the biscuit she gives him.
The vet tells us she will come through in a few minutes and give Ash a sedative. She will then leave us alone for 10 minutes or so while the sedative works. She tells us that when she comes back, if Ash is still able to walk we will go through to one of the treatment rooms but if he’s too sleepy she will come through with ‘everything she needs’ and we will stay where we are. She disappears and we give Ash some Baby Bel cheese and make a fuss of him.
The vet comes back in. She gives Ash an injection into the fleshy scruff of his neck and says she will come back in a while to see how sleepy he is. He wanders around for a few minutes then begins to get a bit wobbly, standing still but not wanting to lie down, a bit confused. I tell him to lie down, clicking my fingers and pointing at the floor as I always do, and he does, resting his head on his front paws. He is barely panting now. He has eaten all the cheese.
I keep stroking him, gentle, reassuring.
The vet comes back through and speaks to Ash but he doesn’t lift his head or wag his tail. She puts a slice of ham in front of his nose and for the first time ever, he leaves it alone. She says he’s clearly too sleepy to walk through to the other room; no shit, Sherlock. A Labrador not eating ham? Never thought I’d see the day. She leaves again and a few minutes later comes back with the nurse and ‘everything she needs’. My kids and I shuffle around the room so that we can all see Ash and touch him if we want to and the vet and nurse can reach his front leg. The ham sits in front of his nose between his paws, untouched. His eyes are still open but unmoving. His breathing is slow, settled.
It takes a while for them to find a vein, his tough old blood vessels defeating one or two needles before she goes to find a bigger one. He stays perfectly still, seemingly not aware of what’s going on with his leg. We keep stroking his fur. They take a few minutes to attach the cannula securely, bandaging his leg neatly before asking me “are you ready?” I want to scream
NO, OF COURSE I’M NOT READY TO SAY GOODBYE TO MY COMPANION, MY FAITHFUL RUNNING PARTNER, MY COMFORT, MY STOIC, SOPPY, SILLY CONSTANT.
Still, I look at my kids and hear myself saying yes.
We rest our hands on him, telling him it’s all going to be ok, that he will see friends and family in the forest and he can wait for us. His breathing slows further and after a few minutes, stops completely. He lets out one last sigh, just like in the evening when he has been lying comfortable in his bed and lazily turns over, letting his paw or his head hang over the edge of the cushion.
Except this time he stays completely still, the ham still in front of his nose, his eyes still open but sleepy. It’s a small comfort that he can smell ham rather than clinical hospital smells. The vet packs up the bits & pieces no longer needed and says we can take as much time as we need and when we are ready she will let us out the side door.
He feels just the same, his soft head and belly still warm. We all cry.
We don’t want to leave but know we have to, that it’s only his body left in the room and that he is already running in the forest, joints and bones weightless and pain-free once again.
The car seems empty and quiet. We go home to drink tea, Ash’s bed still in the corner and his bowls still in the kitchen.
I don’t have to mop up water from the kitchen floor.
Lovely words by a dog lover and beneath it James Stewart reads a poem about his dog, Beau