FAREWELL, MY FAITHFUL FRIEND
Many years ago, a young journalist cut me to the quick when he said: “I don’t know how you could waste an entire column writing about your dog.” He was talking about the love of my life, my child and my faithful friend. I don’t know what it is about pets. Why it hurts so much when they die or suffer or are neglected. Is it because your dog or cat is quite happy to be your best pal for nothing more than the odd tasty morsel or treat. He or she accepts you unquestioningly. It is unconditional love, in its finest form. Not for nothing did George Bernard Shaw say: “Animals bear more than their natural burden of human love.” Therefore, when a pet dies, our whole world collapses.
Our Westie, Coll, had Cushing’s Disease. Four years ago, we were told he had between six months and four years to live, so, every symptom, real or imagined, was viewed by us with hyper-vigilant suspicion. He lasted four years and died on May 28th at the age of 12. We spent a lot of time with the amazing Donald Mactaggart at Thistle Vets at Clovenstone, here in Edinburgh. Despite his illness, Coll was never afraid of the vet. He always jumped out of the car and trotted to the front door, without the slightest hint of trepidation. After we moved through to the east from the west in 2004, he developed his first major problem – inter-digital cysts on his front paws. Whenever we left the surgery – usually after having a cyst burst under anaesthetic, Coll would ignore us. He would attempt to sustain a massive huff, while stumbling into furniture – making a sulk difficult to maintain with any degree of dignity. The last time I left that surgery, it was without Coll. I left him dead on the table. Despite the terrible pain of losing him, I could not have left him to go through that alone. The day before he died, he seemed to be fading away in front of our eyes. He lay on the chair and barely seemed to be breathing. The following day, he was the same. He could still eat but… Coll could always eat. My friend Anne-Marie Birch came with me to the vet and Donald Mactaggart took X rays which showed that Coll’s heart was double the size it should have been. He said kindly: “I’m afraid we may have reached the end.”
A peaceful death
Donald was so dignified and caring. He was upset as well. He let me say goodbye. I held Coll in my arms while Donald administered the injection. One minute, my dog was there. The next he had gone. It was so peaceful. My guilt was assuaged by Donald saying I had done the kindest thing I had ever done for Coll. He said if I had taken him home, he might have had a massive heart attack during the night and we wouldn’t have known what to do. I also felt bad that my husband, Alastair, wasn’t there but he had to work and told me to follow Donald’s advice. There is something about Westies. No other breed can compete with that cheeky upturned face, the tiny black, damp button nose and those huge brown eyes. We miss so many things : the way his paws would hit the floor exactly the same time as I got out of bed in the mornings. I miss those ecstatic greetings whenever I come home – to have this fluffy, white ball hurl itself at me, whining, gasping, wagging its tail so hard you expect it to spin into the ether and disappear, is wonderful beyond belief. No human being could even begin to emulate the sheer, undisguised enthusiasm of such a welcome. I miss the way Coll loved opening parcels. The more paper there was to unravel, the more intense the experience. His brand new squeaky toys lasted all of three seconds before the squeak was chewed up and spat out. I miss the walks in the dell, the way he would never give up on trying to catch squirrels outside. I miss his contented grunts, his snoring, the way he ran to fetch toys and his many neuroses – particularly the look of panic whenever he passed his water bowl – because once a tennis ball landed in it and splashed him. I miss looking after him when he was ill. Pets bring so much joy to a household and to life. Once we took Coll to the Old Course Hotel where the manager was a dog lover. I was there to write a travel piece. Every evening we received a special call. A polite voice asked: ‘Is Coll ready for his tuna?’ Even though Coll was used to being spoiled, not even he expected room service – a decent-sized serving of tuna, brought by a charming flunkie, on a white china dish. Our dog was able to dine in his own suite without having to bother dressing for dinner.
Farewell my faithful friend
It has taken me three months to write this. I apologise to those who do not understand. I often wonder whether I loved my dog too much. So many of us do. Many vets, like doctors, are on call at night and at the weekend. At three in the morning, the poor souls can be found on the telephone, listening patiently to some neurotic owner describing his guinea pig’s stool consistency in gruesome detail. We will get another dog in the autumn. Meanwhile we look after other people’s pets when we can but none will ever take Coll’s place in my heart. My Coll, I feel nothing but gratitude for the joy and love you brought us and which we returned every minute of every day. Finally, you are free from pain and the anxiety for us is over. We are slowly but surely coming to terms with the dreadful hole you have left behind.