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“It’s one of life’s great cruelties that a human’s lifespan greatly outweighs a dog’s.” Anon.
It was the final image of her as I closed the vet’s door that will remain with me.
Lulu – although all the family dogs throughout the years have gained the affectionate name “Wiggle” – first came into our lives to replace a similar black mongrel called Daisy 15 years ago.
We met her as a 9-month old, leaning back nonchalantly in her favourite chair at the rescue dog’s refuge in Sussex. Rumour had it she had been rescued from a recently-deceased owner, and was probably keen to find an owner who would last her longer than the few months she herself had been alive.
And so the new “Wiggle” worked her way into our lives, protecting us from the postman and, in fairness, virtually anyone else who rang the doorbell. She took everything in her stride, her love for us was unconditional – but always hankered after the freedom she had at the rescue home, regularly going running through the fields with other dogs and horses. From every house we lived in, she found ways to escape the confines of the garden, evading capture for hours before coming home exhausted but unable to tell us of her exciting travels.
Everyone seems to enjoy her antics – even Wagging Tails, the “dog hotel” she went to when we were all busy.Over the years, she became older and her chin became whiter, giving her an air of maturity that we all knew, her included, was never really present. In fact, she remained convinced she was still about 1 year old until the last few months of her life, escaping when she could, running around with toys, barking at anyone on the other side of the front door while all the time looking for unmitigated affection and scraps of food.
These last 12 months, though, it must have dawned on her that the game was up. She stopped trying to escape, she seemed in pain when trying to sit down, became deaf and mostly blind, and became little more than bones and skin. A false alarm a few months ago – when the final vet visit was called off at the last moment – only prolonged the inevitable. And finally, last Sunday, my dad reported that while Lulu was still struggling on, the tail – one of the happiest tails I had ever seen – had stopped wagging, and that life had finally become too much of a chore for her.
Last Wednesday, we all met at the vet’s surgery, taking her in for her very final visit. She was looking very old indeed, but still tried to sniff anything within neck distance in the waiting room. My mother had brought her bed – “she’s going to die in it”, she informed me miserably but matter-of-factly – and other people looked on kindly at the final moments of a very old dog.
“Come in,” said the vet, before taking one look and agreeing that the time was nigh. The bed was laid on the floor, the lead was handed over. And then, regretfully I now realise, I followed my mum and dad out of the room, taking one final look at Wiggle as the nurse reached over for a needle. I closed the door.
If I could have that time again, I would have stayed for her last moments; as it is, she died while I was somewhere on the A3, travelling home and revisiting my memories of her. I hope she wasn’t lonely – chances are, she would have been enjoying the company of friendly strangers, sniffing the nurse’s sleeve as she administered the fatal dose.