A lady of my acquaintance has endured a very tough week. She had to take her twelve year old dog to the vets yesterday to have him put down.
I am a big fan of dogs – when I was young my parents had two brindle boxers in succession – but have only ever owned one in my life, a highly intelligent collie-cross (a rescue dog) who was laid-back, characterful and popular with all he met – so I guess you could suggest that it’s easy for me to say. A bit like those who profess to love kids … but only on condition they can hand them back to their parents at the end of each day.
Unlike me said lady has a pronounced love of all living creatures to the extent that she regards them all as equals of human beings. People in her vicinity risk getting scolded if they even shape to swat a fly or walk unconcerned across a terrace if there are ants or ladybirds likely to be trod on in the process. When it comes to her dogs, perhaps because she never had kids of her own, they tend to be treated as quasi-children.
My attitude is slightly different – for me, dogs are just dogs.
There’s a small but then again enormous difference between a pooch being treated as a full (human) member of the family, subject to little discipline, always allowed scraps from the table, sometimes even given leeway to jump up on the sofa, and so on … and being treated as a dog, e.g. trained properly, given simple black and white boundaries as to what it is allowed to do and which areas of the house it can visit and which it cannot, often petted and interacted with, but then again only up to a point.
To my mind dogs are wonderful but simple animals. They score over more-independently minded species like cats because they want nothing more than to please their owners/handlers. As basically a pack animal, in return for being housed and fed, a dog readily acknowledges the obvious pack leader (i.e. one of the human family) and plays its role as a guard and companion with wholehearted devotion. It’s only desire is to know its place and then be treated as a valued member of the pack – hence its display of distress whenever its humans go out on their own and leave it behind (even if the moment you’ve departed all it does is lie down and metaphorically put its feet up until you return).
You can call me a fascist swine if you like, but in my view a dog treated like a dog is generally a happier being that one which is treated like a fellow human.
Like all creatures, dogs get used to what they get used to. They like to know the rules of the house and they far prefer the security of straightforward clarity – whatever that entails – to the uncertainties of, for example, being treated as the most important person in its owner’s life one minute … and then completely ignored the next, or indeed being shouted today for doing what it did without reproach yesterday. They crave consistency over the opposite.
All that said, the dog that met his end yesterday was a wonderful companion to his owner, who already had two-year old bitch of the same breed when she took him on as a puppy.
The former was a bit strange – she didn’t really like other dogs, seemed reluctant to be stroked at times and was a bit choosy about which humans she responded to and which she didn’t. As (family-wise) I’d only ever come across male dogs, I wasn’t sure whether this was a bitch thing generally, or just peculiar to her.
The point is, this male dog was a delight. Fluffy, bouncy, slightly dotty, he was curious, not over-intelligent, but full of energy and very comfortable indeed in human company. He’d do absolutely anything to please, even act the fool if he couldn’t get you to respond to him any other way.
The breed doesn’t normally live much beyond eight years of age, but the bitch reached twelve before she had to be taken to the vet about eighteen months ago. That experience was traumatic enough for her owner, whose love for her dog was as all-consuming as you might imagine, not that it stopped her (when the time came) fulfilling every dog owner’s ultimate responsibility to do the right thing for their pet in terms of suffering-avoidance.
The boy dog didn’t live quite as long. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer of one of his elbows a couple of months ago. This seemed a surreal development because he seemed as lively and full of life as ever at the time. Looking back now, over the past eight weeks maybe he had gradually slowed down, to the point where last weekend, staying at the coast, he was struggling to get up the stairs and tended to spend his time lying curled up on the floor (as opposed to bouncing around and demanding us to play with him as had been normal) at the feet of his owner. It was obvious that the end was not too far away.
For domestic family reasons his owner had been hoping he could hang on for a further week. She was naturally dreading the thought of ever losing him but – when he deteriorated rapidly last Tuesday/Wednesday – she accepted the inevitable, rang the vet and booked to take him in yesterday morning. Last night she rang me, obviously ‘down’ and still constantly on the verge of tears. Apparently, and typically, even as they were attaching the line to a vein in his leg, he had been playfully licking the faces of the vet and his assistant nurse.
I shall miss the old boy, even though he had such energy that one never thought of him as old.
From where I type I can see the large bag of his food, his lead and his rug – all of which I keep in the corner of the room for when he stops off here before we go on down to the coast for a weekend.
It’ll be strange doing that again later today without him.