Gypsy, painted by Netty Shone

We who choose to surround ourselves
with lives even more
temporary than our own
live within a fragile circle,
easily and often breached.
Unable to accept its awful gaps,
we still would live no other way”
Irving Townsend

 

 

Last years

(Taken from Anne Finch’s book “The Pet Owners Guide to the Greyhound”, see our Merchandise page.)

A Greyhound can live to 15 years or more. I notice that imported dogs from Spain have shorter lives. Your dog will need more veterinary care as he grows older and you owe it to him not to deny him anything that will make life more tolerable for him in his last years. Above all, do not abandon him! You may think this is impossible, but I recently removed a dog, 12 years old, from a wet, cold kennel in a refuge. He had been returned there after spending ten years with one family. At 12, a dog requires only comfortable, familiar surroundings, regular food and a little exercise. He will mainly sleep all day. Uprooting him has caused almost intractable anxiety and phobias in this once contented, undemanding dog.

More commonly, owners dread the day when they must part with their beloved companion. It is hard to face the fact that a dog’s life is shorter than ours, and more than once in a lifetime we may suffer the pain of losing a companion who has found his way so deeply into our hearts and lives.

Deciding on euthanasia

The time may come when you have to decide whether euthanasia is right for your dog. The decision is usually made with the sensitive help of your vet, who will be experienced in handling such a situation and can sometimes see m ore clearly than you that an animal’s life should not be prolonged. Although euthanasia should not be based on convenience, your own situation does need to be taken into account: whether you are out working; whether there are financial constraints; whether there are children and the animal is incontinent; or whether or not you are becoming seriously distressed yourself by nursing your sick pet. Ask yourself a few questions. Has he lost his appetite? Is it a long time since he wagged his tail? Is he in pain? Does he no longer sleep soundly? Is he incontinent? Does he have breathing difficulties? If the answer is yes to any of those questions then, maybe, euthanasia should be considered. 

Sit down with the family or an experienced friend and think ahead how you will deal with the situation. All too often the distress is so great that you get carried along by tears and the persuasion of others and then you may reproach yourself for not having carried it out differently. There is quite enough pain afterwards without added guilt.

I believe you should involve the children in the decision-making and give them the opportunity of saying goodbye to their pet. This will be painful for you to watch, but it will help their mourning process in the long run. It is hard to know what sort of expression to use to explain euthanasia to a child. However, ‘put to sleep’ or ‘special injection’ or ‘gone to heaven’ are all terms that can be understood. 

Talk to your vet about where and when you want it to take place. I personally favour the vet coming to the house to give the injection. The dog simply drifts of ‘to sleep’ in his own basket. A lot of practices offer this service and it does cost more. 

Alternatively, the vet may come to your car, which is still friendly and familiar territory for your dog. This also saves you the agony of entering a surgery full of people. It is very upsetting for them too. If neither of these are possible, then ask if you can take your pet out of surgery hours.

Think ahead about whether you want to be present during the injection. It is obviously better for your pet if you are, but do try and smile at him and talk reassuringly to allay his fears. Think of the joys that pet ownership has brought to you and embrace him firmly with gratitude. When a dog is sick his veins collapse and it is sometimes difficult to give the injection. That is why it is easier sometimes to have the dog standing so the veins are more prominent. In the surgery, standing is more natural for your dog anyway, rather than forcing him into a lying position. He will sink slowly into your arms.

Grieving

Think what you will do with the body. If you have a big garden, you may wish to bury him there. Your Environmental Health office will give advice. You may ask for individual cremation and you can request the ashes which will be given to you in a sealed casket. Otherwise the body of your pet will be collected from the vet’s surgery and cremated in a purpose-built incinerator.

If you have children it is a good idea to have a burial ceremony in the garden and to plant a monument of some kind with flowers beside it. Be as positive as possible, saying he has gone back to nature, is not in pain anymore and is now at peace. Creating an album of his life can be therapeutic and helpful for children.

The pain of losing a pet should not be underestimated. People who laugh and say ‘but it was only a dog’ should be pitied. At your worst moments you may feel you are in a black void from which you will never recover. Keep your feet firmly on the ground and let the tears flow freely. Be comforted. Hundreds of us have been there before. You will get over it. 

For some who have experienced a previous painful human loss, the wound can be reopened. If, after a few weeks, you find you are simply not coping, do consider consulting your doctor who may surprise you with his understanding of your feelings. Alternatively, there are pet bereavement counsellors trained in helping people in your situation. Your veterinary surgery or one of the large animal charities will be able to put you in touch with someone. 

Getting another dog

Some people feel that they cannot live without a dog and will adopt a replacement almost immediately. For those who would choose a Greyhound, this is always welcomed as there are so many thousands longing for adoption. Others may need time to mourn and recover before being able to accept another.

A retired couple I know lost Gyp from cancer. Peter phoned me within a few days to offer a home to another dog. On my arrival with Souki, Joan, his wife, was obviously too distressed about Gyp to be able to respond to Souki. Peter persevered and eventually, after six months, Joan opened up to Souki, accepting her and was indeed grateful to Peter for adopting her and for their patience in waiting for her to be able to respond. The loss of Gyp was no easier for Peter than for Joan but Peter had had five dogs before, whereas Gyp was Joan’s first dog in adult life and bond went very deep indeed. The adoption of a new dog does not detract from the love and memory of your deceased pet. You will find you can love your new pet equally alongside his memory.

There is safety in numbers. Some people may adopt a younger dog as the existing one is approaching old age. This will often give your old dog a new lease of life, and the presence of the younger dog helps considerably to overcome the grief when the old dog dies. Remember all the joy and benefits of owning a dog. A dog relaxes you and improves your health by encouraging exercise and lowering your blood pressure; a dog brings humour, fulfils your caring instincts and teaches you about health matters; he makes it easier for you to make human friends who share the same interest and is especially meaningful for those who are lonely or who have lost human loved ones. 

May you continue to enjoy the sweetness, beauty and grace of this regal breed of dog, the Greyhound.

Dinah in Heaven

(“The Woman in his Life”) by Rudyard Kipling

She did not know that she was dead
But, when the pang was o’er,
Sat down to wait her Master’s tread
Upon the Golden Floor.

With ears full-cock and anxious eyes,
Impatiently resigned;
But ignorant that Paradise
Did not admit her kind.

Persons with Haloes, Harps and Wings
Assembled and reproved;
Or talked to her of heavenly things
But Dinah never moved.

There was one step along the Stair
That led to Heaven’s Gate;
And, till she heard it, her affair
Was-she explained-to wait.

And she explained with flattened ear,
Bared lip and milky tooth-
Storming against Ithuriel’s Spear
That only proved her truth!

Sudden-far down the Bridge of Ghosts
That anxious spirits clomb-
She caught the step in all the hosts
And knew that he had come.

She left them wondering what to do,
But not a doubt had she.
Swifter than her own squeals she flew
Across the Glassy Sea;

Flushing the Cherubs everywhere,
And skidding as she ran,
She refuged under Peter’s Chair
And waited for her man.

There spoke a Spirit out of the press,
“Said:-“Have you any here
That saved a fool from drunkenness,
And a coward from his fear?

“That turned a soul from dark to day
When other help was vain;
That snatched it from wanhope and made
A cur a man again?”

“Enter and look,” said Peter then,
And set the Gate ajar.
“If I know aught of women and men
I trow she is not far”

“Neither by virtue, speech nor art
Nor hope of grace to win;
But godless innocence of heart
That never heard of sin:

“Neither by beauty nor belief
Now white example shown.
Something a wanton-more a thief-
But-most of all-mine own.”

“Enter and look,” said Peter then,
“And send you well to speed;
But, for all that I know of women and men
Your riddle is hard to read”

Then flew Dinah from under the Chair,
Into his arms she flew-
And licked his face from chin to hair
And Peter passed them through!

If I knew

If I knew it would be the last time
That I’d see you fall asleep,
I would tuck you in more tightly
and pray the Lord, your soul to keep.

If I knew it would be the last time
that I see you walk out the door,
I would give you a hug and kiss
and call you back for one more.

If I knew it would be the last time
I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise,
I would video tape each action and word,
so I could play them back day after day.

If I knew it would be the last time,
I could spare an extra minute
to stop and say “I love you,”
instead of assuming you would KNOW I do.

If I knew it would be the last time
I would be there to share your day,
well I’m sure you’ll have so many more,
so I can let just this one slip away.

For surely there’s always tomorrow
to make up for an oversight,
and we always get a second chance
to make everything just right.

There will always be another day
to say “I love you,”
And certainly there’s another chance
to say our “Anything I can do?”

But just in case I might be wrong,
and today is all I get,
I’d like to say how much I love you
and I hope we never forget.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone,
young or old alike,
And today may be the last chance
you get to hold your loved one tight.

So if you’re waiting for tomorrow,
why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes,
you will surely regret the day,

That you didn’t take that extra time
for a smile, a hug, or a kiss
and you were too busy to grant someone,
what turned out to be their one last wish.

So hold your loved ones close today,
and whisper in their ear,
Tell them how much you love them
and that you’ll always hold them dear

Take time to say “I’m sorry,”
“Please forgive me,” Thank you,”
Or “It’s okay.”
And if tomorrow never comes,
you will have no regrets about today.

 

As we get older

As we get older we seem to get more sensitive and less resilient. I always feel it is so significant that it is the elderly who give their last pennies to the animals, not the young with their enormous optimism and energy and attention to physical beauty and instant pleasures.

As perfection and beauty fall away we hold on to things more eternal and spiritual and look to the defence of the vulnerable and the innocent, hence the wounds, when the object of such love is terminated by death or anything else.

Anne Finch

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