My dog is dying. The vet has no hope to sell us. Faithful Sam. Passive recipient for the past few weeks of our best efforts at palliative care. He appears not to be in any pain. But there is no doubt he has seen his last summer.
His once lustrous black coat is lank and somehow ill-fitting on his now skinny frame. His nose has lost its shine and is dry and warm. His eyes, the communicators of his smiles, his intentions, his zest for life and his affection for us, are sunken and weary.
He has progressively consigned his considerable repertoire of routines to merely nostalgic memories of all of us. The first to go was the energetic farewell performance. This involved standing motionless and staring intently as the car backed out of the driveway, then charging up the side of the house and barking loudly, followed by skidding around the corners at the back of the house hoping to catch a last glimpse of the car as it drives off and to offer a final bark. This protest never once saw us return in response, yet it was faithfully maintained. Next to go was the ever-alert, ever-energetic, guard dog routine, which was triggered by the front gate squeaking, or a knock on the front door. This ritual involved a dash on the entrance hall, a skid on the polished floor with his nose and front feet colliding with the door simultaneously, and a barking fit to scare even the most faithful Jehovah Witness.
Sadly and unbelievably for us all, his early storm warning capability seems to have been decommissioned too. Sam could hear approaching thunder from as far away as Warrnambool. Indeed, in recent years he learned to respond to many more subtle signs of approaching thunderstorms, such as backfiring cars and flash photography. His response to storms was to seek out our company in usually forbidden locations such as the pillows of the double bed or amid the cushions on the leather lounge. His fear was primitive and real. I got to watch many 2am storms with Sam.
In fitting recognition of his condition, Sam has upgraded his menu from dog food to gourmet menu. He has eschewed the quivering gelatinous cylinder of maybe-meat which was his staple diet for 11 years. He seems to like fillet steak (medium rare) and has developed more than a passing interest in pasta. He considers a warm risotto just the thing. He latterly insists on encouragement to eat as a prelude to his meals, and he no longer likes to eat alone.
But some routines have remained, and when they go, sadly I fear Sam will follow. His days are spent lying on cool, comfortable surfaces. When I come home from work, he rouses himself and walks wearily and unsteadily out the back to greet me. I exit and pat him, give him a scratch around the ears, and then lean down inclining my head to his, and receive a routine lick on the ear.
The last routine to go, I suspect, will be the cuddle from Sam. When I lie down on his rug with him, while he is apparently inert and sleepy, he will still raise a paw and place it over my arm or foot. If neither of those is available he will press his paw against the nearest part of me and leave it there. He likes touching.
If there were doctors and nurses, they would be in the whispering phase, with the ward lights dimmed. We won’t withdraw any of our love-support systems, but Sam will surely wind down to a complete standstill in the coming days.
I have stopped calling him when he is somewhere else for fear that he may not come to me, and that this will precipitate the awful decision. I love it when he decides to struggle unbeckoned from the blankets to come and see me, or to join us for a meal. But I know I am clinging to remnants not hope.
How can I possibly take him to the vet for the last time when the time comes? Then again, how can I not?
THE AGE, THURSDAY APRIL 22, 2004
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