Knowns and unknowns – the story of Dougal

DougalThis 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.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

4 thoughts on “Knowns and unknowns – the story of Dougal”

  1. Heather, you nearly made me cry with this blog posting, one of many great posts in which you share your personal and professional life with the rest of us. I will be thinking of you tomorrow and wish Dougal a fond farewell, sounds like you’ve been lucky to have each other’s company for last 18 years..Lucy

  2. Heather Thinking of you and all you’re going through -it’s an incredibly tough call to make and brave thing to go through with. You have given Dougal the opportunity to live a fulfilling and loving life. Hope you have plans to get away or something for Christmas

  3. Whether humans or animals, in the end the decisions come down to are we doing it for them (him/her) or we doing it for ourselves?

    I am confident that you gave Dougal as full and rich a life as possible, both physically and emotionally, and that you received back as much in kind. So be sad but don’t regret “the end” decision. It is for the best.

  4. Thank you for your kind comments. He went very calmly and peacefully. I feel he was ready and it was a real honour to have known Dougal, loved him and been there to the end. My life is richer for his presence in it.

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