A good life and a good death

I’m going to start the MyTopDog blog off with a personal experience. One our family recently went through. The passing of a much loved family pet. Though we felt ripped apart from the experience, it is something that we dog owners all go through. My hope with this blog is too in some way also cast some beauty in this heavy time.

Hattie, a Chocolate Lab first joined our family 13 years ago. I was away at the time visiting family. Like many things with myself and my wife, when I’m away she is prone to act on impulse. Always with outstanding outcomes.

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Though our two boys, aged 2 and 4 at the time, had been surrounded by numerous family dogs on frequent occasions, they still had a positive fear of dogs. We had been toying with the idea for some time of getting a pup to help overcome this…and now we had one.

Hattie became an instant hit. Gentle, caring, everyone’s friend. Always the case of the tail that seemed to wag the dog. Chocolate Lab owners probably know what I mean by this. 

With many a hike, holiday, family visit and Christmas’s she had a great life. A lover of water she especially had a real knack for body surfing and free diving. I kid you not, the first time she free dived gave me concern. she disappeared under the surface of Lake Coniston and didn’t reappear for at least 1-2 mins. When she did, she had a huge stone in her mouth which she could have only dredged from the bottom. This became a lifetime of work for her, to clear the sea, lochs, tarns and lakes of stones. 

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Busy doing what she did best

We were only a couple of weeks into the Covid lockdown when I first noticed that something wasn’t quite right. She was suddenly struggling with walks, constantly having to try and go to the toilet. With in a week or so, what would have been a half hour walk was taking us well past an hour.

We took her to the vets. Even with the restrictions in place, they were delivering their usual brilliant service. The process of elimination had begun.

Over the following weeks she underwent various examinations, treatments, medications and antibiotics. eventually what we feared had turned true, the prognosis wasn’t good.

When I was very small, we had to have one of our German Shepards, Kelly, put to rest. I remember my mother saying to me at the time ‘It’s so important to give them a good life and a good death’. I didn’t quite understand at the time but she meant that we couldn’t let Kelly suffer. Her rear legs had gone and with no quality of life it was time to do the right thing.

That time had now arrived for us with Hattie. This is no easy task when you have to break this kind of news to your children. It hurts to see them hurt. I guess all that can be done is what my mother did. Reassure them, explain why this is necessary and evoke the happy memories.

It was a wet and blowy Friday, the autumn in full swing. Hattie was booked in for later in the afternoon. A hard day, time passed very definitely and extremely slow. Dragged by a dread. The last meal, last walk, the last time spent with Clodagh (our other dog), the last goodbye to the boys. Sentimental I know but I don’t mind admitting it was agony and heart wrenching.

Lockdown meant that nobody was actually allowed inside the vets surgery. But for this procedure they did offer an outside option in the garden. Whilst my wife and I quietly waited, thankfully the rain cleared from a dramatic sky. At that moment appeared Hattie, catheter fitted. She seemed bonnie. Was I doing the right thing? Yes. The cancer was advanced, she was in pain and well into her 13th year. Remember, this is my responsibility to give her a good death.

The nurse laid out a velvet purple blanket in a beautiful spot under the Beech trees and gave us some time. 

Though sad, it was a very peaceful, dignified and magical moment. Coincidence or not the sun shone through at the very moment she went to sleep. The pain was gone for her. She had a good life and a good death.

Below is a poem by someone we know who also lost his dog, another chocolate Lab called Murphy . Sums it up pretty well…

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