All those who have a companion animal in their life, be it dog, cat, rabbit, horse or sheep, is fully aware that animal is likely to depart this planet before they do. I’ve buried several dogs and cats, and a couple of rabbits, and it doesn’t get any easier when it’s time to say goodbye. But who’d be without an animal in their life if they’re able to have one? Not me, that’s for sure, but realising the time to say goodbye to Della might be considerably earlier than we expected has come as rather a shock.
We’d noticed Della was carrying her left hind leg a bit a few months ago but thought little of it initially thinking she’d perhaps just sprained her foot. But it didn’t get any better, so we rang the vet. Paul had just left for an overseas holiday and wouldn’t be back for several weeks so we had to take Della into a different clinic. The young vet there was very thorough, and I’m sure knew her stuff but she couldn’t find anything definitive, so we left with a box of anti-inflammatories, and advised to come back if they didn’t do the trick for what we and the vet suspected was the beginning of arthritis or rheumatism. Della is around 11 years-old – she’s a rescue dog so the RSPCA could only estimate her age – so this diagnosis was entirely plausible.
Initially we thought they did do the trick. They weren’t necessary every day so the box lasted several months, and we also trialled Rosehip-Vital – a natural treatment to relieve arthritis and rheumatism.
Despite all our efforts though Della’s limp became more pronounced, so it was time for another visit to the vet. Our own this time. Paul explained the situation as tactfully as he could but it’s obvious he believes Della has cancer, and it’s in the legbone. There’s a chance it’s a badly torn and inflamed cruciate ligament but it’s a slim chance. We’ll known on Wednesday when she has an X-ray.
It’s true Della has slowed down a bit from her younger self. She was a very timid and subdued dog when we picked her up from the RSPCA in December 2013. We’ll never know the reasons behind her being found wandering the streets, thin, starving and with obvious signs of mistreatment, but the trauma has never completely diminished over time. There are triggers. But it was a moment to celebrate when she finally felt comfortable and secure enough to really run when we walked her on a neighbour’s property, and where she had the freedom of paddocks empty of livestock. And could she run! She went bonkers doing that crazy circular dash that dogs do a few times just for the pure joy of it. Whatever her exact ancestry there’s certainly some well-honed hunting instincts involved, adding to the basenji traits, that we’ve been told is certainly a factor in her parentage. She has characteristics that are common to the breed.
Next week we’ll know if it’s time to say goodbye to Della but until then I’m hanging on to the possibility it’s that 25 per cent chance the problem is cruciate.
Our lovely dog Della is showing her age. She’s had the tell-tale white whiskery face for some time but was as lively as ever until very recently. Perhaps it’s the first early signs of approaching autumn and that unmistakeable morning chill as we set off for the morning walk before the sun has properly risen. Whatever the cause Della has suddenly become a little less enthusiastic to emerge from her basket, and a lot less bouncy first thing in the morning. She’s also noticeably more stiff in the legs, especially her left rear leg which is clearly giving her trouble.
I mentioned it to Paul, our vet when I took Della in for her vaccination booster recently. He confirmed my suspicions. Della is showing the first indication of arthritis or rheumatism. Not yet serious, and medication not yet recommended but the day will come when she may need some pain relief. It seems none of us are immune to the ravages of age.
Since she was a rescue dog, we aren’t exactly sure how old Della is. The RSPCA thought she was about seven months old when we picked her out as our new dog to replace the lovely and recently departed Mona. We collected Della earlier than expected because she’d been able to have the necessary desexing op due to a last minute cancellation, so she was a lovely surprise Christmas present that year.
But in common with far too many rescue dogs Della’s biography didn’t make cheerful reading. She’d been found wandering the streets as a half-grown, thin, starving and fearful dog, who’d obviously been ill-treated. Why people want to mistreat animals is beyond my understanding, but they do, as we know. In spite of her timidity though Della was pathetically eager to please, but she’s remained needy in many ways. And even after so many years of love, care and security we have to remember not to surprise her with a sudden sharp movement that could be interpreted as the precursor to a blow. This is especially so if we are holding a broom or some other implement that might be likely to cause her pain.
Those early weeks and months of trauma obviously still run deep, suggesting animals don’t forget abusive behaviour any more than children do. They are sentient and emotional beings after all, so it shouldn’t be surprising. In the first few years there were several embarrassing encounters that saw Della highly distressed, shaking and frothing at the mouth in fear if a visitor – it was always a male visitor – came to the door. We can only assume the person – often a tradesman – resembled in some way the fellow who was responsible for the early cruelty and abuse she suffered.
Hopefully we’ll have Della for several more years yet but as winter approaches I can see there will need to be some adjustments to the daily walk routine. That might not be a bad thing since I’m not getting any younger either! And it’s certainly more pleasant to walk in daylight and sunshine than it is on autumn and winter mornings when the moon is still visible in the sky, and the sun is barely up.
Death is hardly the most cheerful topic to be writing about on the first day of a brand new year, but as the saying goes, it comes to us all eventually. And for my 19-year-old Aggie-cat her time to depart this Earth is rapidly approaching.
For most of us there’s often little choice in the when, where and how we leave this world, and too often for many it is sudden, brutal, and painful. Most governments are still tip-toeing around the admittedly enormously difficult subject of euthanasia for those suffering with acutely painful symptoms of terminal illnesses, yet we don’t think twice about euthanasing our companion animals, believing it to be the best and most humane option.
Those who work in palliative care say we have more control over when we draw our last breath than is generally recognised, and will offer numerous stories of patients who seemingly and knowingly choose to expire either when all the family members are present, or else when they are completely alone, because said members have nipped out to grab a cup of coffee, go to the loo, or duck outside for a smoke. I totally get that, and I maintain my mother chose to delay her departure for a good 24 hours after I arrived in the UK from Australia because she was enjoying the conversation around her bed, and didn’t want to miss any of the gossip.
But to return to Aggie, we’ve been counting down her final hours now for eight days. That’s when she stopped eating. For the first day or two I could put it down to the undeniably hot weather – we all tend to eat less when it’s hot – but by Day Three it was apparent there was more to her refusal to eat than just the heat. She’d decided it was time to go.
By Day Four she’d taken up residence in the bathroom – not one of her usual favourite places – appropriating the bathmat, and content to just sit quietly, undisturbed, and sleep, interspersed with the occasional stretch, a change of position, and to drink some water. Any need for her litter box ceased. Which was just as well since it was some distance away, in the garage!
And the bathroom is where she’s remained, patiently waiting for the end. Or that’s how I see it. There’s no indication she’s in any pain, or is suffering in any way. If this looked likely then of course I would have taken her to the vet – Christmas or no Christmas – but she truly appears to be calmly and serenely waiting for the end to arrive, quite content to let nature take its course. No fuss. No dramas. No fighting the inevitable. Just a recognition and an acceptance that her time is up and she’s ready to go.
For all our intelligence sometimes animals manage these things so much better than humans do.
God bless. I will miss you little Aggie-cat.
According to the vaccination certificate we received from the RSPCA when we adopted her, Aggie puss turned 19 at some point during March. She’s understandably slowed up a lot, and these days spends most of her days – and nights – sleeping. She certainly poses no threat to wildlife or birds any more either, content to watch them from the window, in the sunniest spot she can find, while she muses perhaps upon her more agile youth, but she remains as glamorous and glossy as she was when we brought her home.
Aggie was 18 months old when we adopted her, and rejoiced in the name of ‘Biddles’ – a name that didn’t suit her at all, and one we immediately ditched. We knew from previous experience a name would manifest itself eventually as a result of her own personality and behaviour, but it has to be said Aggie (or Agnes) has subsequently become the official, and certainly the most respectable of the many alternate monikers, my partner in particular, uses.
Despite the appealing show she put on for us at the RSPCA, Aggie was a bit snooty at first when we got her home. I suspect she’d been over indulged by her previous owner – a youthful twenty-something apparently, whose job involved an unexpected move to New Zealand for an unspecified time. She’d left the cat in the care of her parents, and I’ve often wondered if they ever confessed to their daughter they’d surrendered Biddles/Aggie to the RSPCA shortly afterwards. Or offered another explanation for the cat’s disappearance.
It was a stay in the RSPCA’s boarding kennel facility* that cured Aggie’s initial aloofness. Despite the excellent care she received there while we were overseas, my theory was always she was so horrified to find herself back at the RSPCA she felt she’d better change her tune when she finally arrived back home. Certainly she looked relieved to see me when I collected her, and ever since has been remarkably friendly, affectionate and placid. For a cat.
It wasn’t all lazing about being waited on hand and foot though – which is arguably what she’d been led to expect and deserve. Aggie had a job to do living with us, and it was keeping the rodents under control on our semi-rural property. It was a job she swiftly took to with typical feline skill and enthusiasm and her tally of mice, rats – and young rabbits – mounted steadily. Possibly because there were enough rodents to keep her occupied Aggie never – thankfully – seriously turned her deadly hunting instincts towards birds.
These days any of those residual hunting instincts are limited to seeking out the sunniest spot in the house, so she can enjoy the warmth in her ageing bones. Or else snuggling up as close as she possibly can to the heater. How many more summers and winters we’ll have Aggie is, of course, unknown, but hopefully come next March we’ll be celebrating her 20th!
* Tasmania’s RSPCA no longer offers boarding facilities for cats and dogs.