Gus has started to worry a spot on his leg. He lies on the floor and dozes between bouts of licking the spot clean. The same spot gets licked over and over again. He’s snoring at my feet as I type about this worry for a dog who is 14 years old.
Tales of two dogs are probably not what you’d expect now. However, these are stories of a past and future I can’t change. Colum McCann’s Apeirogon has made me reflective, sad and now, even a worry spot on the dog’s leg makes me worry that I will somehow let him down.
I found this note from 2009 in my Gmail. I recall writing it on the planes and trains that were an integral part of my hyperactive life back then.
I didn’t realise that Oscar would be dead within 24 hours when we were discussing how much he would have loved being on our walk to Three Rock Mountain.
We’ve known for a long time that his age and quality of life issues would soon be forcing a decision on us. Back in February, when N was in New York, I was certain it was time and drafted an email saying that it was time to let him go. It remained unfinished and unsent because Oz rebounded from several weeks of misery to his normal ‘old man’ self, as if he knew what we were thinking.
On the mountain, I was thinking days, perhaps weeks and maybe even months remained. We were imaging scenarios where the girls might have to deal with this while we were away in September. Down off the mountain, that looked like wishful thinking as he limped across the room, struggled up steps and barked at open doors. While he worked very hard to hide his incontinence, doing everything he could to clean up after himself, there was always going to be a time where he’d loose control and that time had just arrived.
Now there is no way to bring him back for one last rub of his warm ears or a squish of his wrinkly forehead. The signature of consent that I wish I had countersigned, set in motion a short but high speed series of events that culminated in one last sigh, our tears and two plastic cups of water that quietly appeared. This sigh wasn’t accompanied by the jaw quivering we’d seen so often recently after he managed to stand ready for yet another fallen morsel. Even after the nurse said his his heart was still, I thought he inhaled. ‘Goodbye Puppy’ you said. We both wanted him back, perhaps imagining him running in the snows of Glencree, sniffing out visiting dogs on the Rock Lodge trees, drinking deep draughts of the Irish Sea or just snoozing at our feet, chasing dreamland rabbits. Who will run to the front door now when the doorbell rings?
I am wracked by how much he normally enjoyed his trips to the vet because I feel that I have betrayed his loyalty and trust. Oz may not have understood the veterinary hospital as a place a of repair and healing for him. But he knew it did him good to be the centre of attention, to be loved and treated with great kindness as he was on every visit. As the nurse reached to shave the nearest foreleg, we quickly deflected her to the left, avoiding the arthritic shoulder that came to symbolise his decline. Ironically, she shaved clean a spot just above the healed sore from the catheter entry that Oz worried for over two years despite being forced to wear a lampshade for most of that time.
The wall clock ticked and tocked. I watched as in watching the kettle that never boils, as if watching would delay his euthanasia. Still the wall clock ticked and tocked, the silences never stretched to delay the inevitable.
The two nurses, Carol and Niamh, held his leg. You rubbed his ears and I stroked his wrinkles as the needle administered the last pain killer, directed at more than just the arthritis. It was so quick, as you would want it for yourself. And yet it was too quick as our view on his best interests suddenly seemed unsafe. Irrevocable. Irreversible. But these are words that affect us, the price we pay for doing the right thing.
Oz was finally pain free.
Busherstown Edwin, his kennel club registration name, was born in April 1996 in Moneygall Co Offaly. Oscar Mills, his nom-de-chien, died at 1210 on Sunday August 22nd In Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin. His many aliases included Bob, George, brother, Puppy and Oz are retired. His 13 years enriched our lives. His memory will continue to bring us pleasure for many more.