This doesn’t feel much like a Christmas post, but I suppose its sentiment is the heart of this time of year. This is the story of Dougal – my 18-ish year old dog. He is now a sad shadow of his younger self and tomorrow will be the day when he goes to run free as he really is too poorly to carry on now.
Dougal might have been born in a manger, I don’t know – one of the unknowns. I do know he had a poor start in life and had been beaten. When we rehomed him in 1997 he was terrified of men, would destroy anything put through a letter box, was a nightmare to capture if you let him off the lead and had the most stroppy attitude I’ve ever seen in a dog. But for a German Shepherd-Lassie Collie cross bread, he’s the most gentlest of dogs. He never complains and has never nipped no matter what you do to him.
Four years ago he suffered two incidents of geriatric vestibular syndrome. He had the classic head tilt, nystagmus eye movement, walking in circles and ataxia (unsteady gait). I didn’t know what was happening the first time and thought it was the end. Both times he was pretty immobile for three weeks – then he demanded to go for a walk and forced himself back to health (helped by Vivitonin tablets). That’s what attitude can do for you.
Since then he’s been diagnosed with a minor heart murmur, various aches and infections but continues to be wonderfully stroppy, wanting to do things his way. Until a few weeks ago, he could still manage the stairs but has been getting stiffer and weaker, and has been more disorientated with other old dog symptoms.
I didn’t know when to make the decision but it was a known that the time was coming. Living with the unknowns has been hard – would something unexpected happen and I’d find he had broken a leg with a fall, or worse?
When he was younger he was such a handsome dog – now he is skin and bones, just like when he first came to live with me. He loved to bark – but hasn’t done so much recently. He can hardly see – but he knows me still. His favourite is to come in the car with me – even now he’ll rush to try to get out the front door and into the car. Tomorrow, I’ll feel so bad taking him for that last journey – although I think he’ll understand why.
He’s been with me for a third of my life – and that’s a long time. He’s a legend – and I know he’s had a life that has been longer and fuller than many people, let alone a mongrel who had been abused and abandoned. He has a full passport from his trips to France and he’s clocked up more car miles than many an old banger. He’s loved walking in forests, on beaches, in parks and in the field opposite my house. He’s enjoyed his time on earth.
Since I was six, I’ve always owned a dog. Dougal was my third, and there were two more, Simba and Barley, that he outlived (along with one cat – who reached 22 years) and he will leave behind the young ones, Savannah and Toffee. I’ll always be a dog person – and know sometime there will be other sad days like today and tomorrow. I don’t know what happens after life, but I like to think that he will join up with his chums, and be part of my dad’s heavenly pack.
Knowing the time is right and what you have to do isn’t easy. But it is the responsibility that comes with loving a dog. So many poor dogs will be abandoned over the next week, and I hope they can be lucky like Dougal and find their forever home.
It’s that time of year when hope is in our hearts and minds. Sadly this is the kindest, and only, thing that I can do to show my love for him now.