Dealing with Death Differently

Saying Goodbye

Last week I made the difficult decision to have our very elderly springer spaniel put down. He was almost seventeen and had become incontinent and quite senile, not knowing whether he was indoors or outside. He bumped into familiar objects and ate anything that had fallen on the floor or was left at nose height. He chewed the socks out of my wellingtons and ate napkins that had fallen to the floor. He had turned into a scavenger.

My daughter introduced him to our family. Someone had approached us whilst we were selling goods at a car boot sale to say that there was a rescued springer spaniel puppy looking for a home at the sale. I immediately said no as we already had two dogs – a Rottweiler and a clumber spaniel. I had some experience of springers and knew that they were not the dogs I preferred. As ever, I was ignored and with promises of how she would look after the “poor little thing”, my headstrong daughter sought out the person getting rid of the dog and brought him home.

His first introduction did not bode well. He saw our big, lolloping Rottweiler and squealed. He was then taken into the house where he proceeded to climb onto the dining table and eat what he could find. Our dogs have manners and I could see that this would be an uphill struggle. On top of everything he was also male and I usually have bitches that I find are more compliant for me anyway.

I did not care for him but he decided he adored me and refused to leave my side. When we went out, he cried and despite having two companions constantly with him he did not like to be left. I bought a radio so he could hear human voices and this worked.

He tried to assert his male dominance with the two female dogs but he was doomed never to succeed. They chased him and pulled mouthfuls of hair from his coat. It appeared to be a game they all enjoyed, despite how it might have looked to outsiders. He would initiate the chase and they would ambush him as he raced round the garden. We had him castrated as soon as he was old enough and it didn’t affect his behaviour in the slightest. He considered himself to be male and therefore the leader and refused to accept he was the lowest in rank. We were unsure of his actual beginnings; we only knew that he had been badly treated by his previous owner who was also a breeder. He had to fight for food and there must have been a brutal pecking order for him to work through. We called him Moss.

A Dog’s Life

Moss couldn’t be trusted with adults. He would appear friendly but if you bent over him he would growl. He never bit anyone, otherwise I would not have allowed him to stay. I used to train dog agility and he loved being active. He could race around the circuit, leaping over jumps and through tunnels more quickly than most dogs but he could never be fully relied on to return when called. He never learned to walk to heel and we have the dubious distinction of being expelled from ring craft classes as no one, not even the trainers, could get him to walk to heel without being horizontal.

So Moss found his place in the family. He survived three dogs – we had another Rottweiler when the first one died – he outlived them all and for almost seventeen years we have lived our lives considering his needs. He was terrified of thunder and heavy rain and became quite Houdini-like in his ability to escape from the kitchen where he lived with the other dogs. He has climbed up bookshelves and over cupboards in his frantic bids to get away from the noise. It was only as he got older and became deaf that his panic subsided.

His age also brought about even less humour. He was not the sort of dog to have a game with. Everything was a competition. Despite all of this we cared for him and looked after him. When my grandchild came along, he growled and barked at her any chance he had. I knew he wouldn’t bite her but I was frustrated by his attempts at dominance. We never left her alone with him but there were occasions when she would go into the kitchen for a drink and there he was growling and snarling on his bed.

Deciding on the Right Time

Towards the end of his life, he slowed down considerably. He never lost his appetite and was always welcoming to visitors. He loved men in particular. When I made the difficult decision that he was ready to leave us, I wondered how my five-year-old grandchild would take the news. I needn’t have worried. I was very tearful and still miss him in a strange way. I think it is more the habitual behaviours that a dog demands – regular feeding, going out for walks and toileting, getting up in the very early hours to prevent ‘accidents’ as he got older; going out last thing at night. I still wake up and get out of bed to let him out. I still have to go outside before going to bed.

Realistic Attitudes

When my grandchild was informed. She wanted to know if he was buried or ‘burned’; she was told he was cremated. She then proceeded to have an in-depth conversation with her mother about Jesus, crucifixion, resurrection and burial. For someone who was given no positive predictions for her quality of life this is beyond incredible. She wants to talk about Moss now and then and says that she sort of misses him. She has also asked for a puppy.

We are not considering that currently. It would be nice to have a break from dependent pets. I realised that I have constantly looked after dogs for the last thirty-four years, and I deserve a bit of a rest. Mind you, there is still the chinchilla, nine hens and one miniature pony to take up my time.

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