‘I am never having another dog again’ I sobbed – at the tender age of 23, my heart had been broken when my greyhound called Caesar had peacefully died in his sleep – an ending most of us could wish for when it comes to our pets.
Fast forward to 2007 – I am holding my beautiful blue whippet bitch, 12 years old with kidney failure – her time had come to let her go and suddenly every single memory I had of her was flashing in front of my eyes as the vet who is my friend and ex employer, gently injected her with the lethal injection and that tiny blue bitch that at one point seemed so enormous in character, literally shrunk before my eyes.
I will never forget seeing her looking so tiny on that table after she was euthanized. Funny how you can have a dog with big character and/or big in stature/appearance, become so tiny and little once they have been put to sleep. This really does confirm my thoughts that the spirit and character of your pet merely lives in the body and it is not really the body that we love – but the personality of the animal because once they are gone, you could get an identical breed, but at the end of the day, it just wont be the same. All pets have their own personality that makes us love them – end of.
‘That is it! I am never ever doing that again’ I sobbed to my friend Norma, who drove me home clutching Rema’s toys and blankets that still smelt of her.
And yet again, here I am with my kelpie Rocky and my newly acquired Kelpie mix Brutus whom as you all know, we nearly lost due to severe gastro.
So why do we do it? Why do we get an animal that we know will worm its way into our hearts, spend our money on various vet fees – knowing that we will end up going without essentials for ourselves in order to get them their treatment (as it should be).
Why do we get so attached to our pets that we sob and cry and feel a gap so large once they have died, that we can never envisage it ever being filled again? We are mad, we are gluttons for punishment and pain.
So what are the benefits of pet ownership? I would say the memories that they give you and that you build together. My memories of my greyhound Caesar taking a shit up a shop window one day, he had diarrhoea and trust me, it looked as though someone had spray painted the shop window with turd. This is going back almost 30 years when I first got him when I was 16 years old, in the days when it was safe to tie your dog up outside a shop without fear of it being stolen.
Well Caesar shamed himself and splattered the window with turd and the shop owner came out and told me off and I did what Brutus does when he has been naughty and denied it and said ‘It wasn’t my dog who did that’ Which of course could have been plausible had it not been for Caesar still trying to empty the rest of his stomach and was leaving drops of turd over the pavement. Being a kid, I ran off with my greyhound in hot pursuit, as fast as my skinny legs would carry me away from the faecal mountain – much to the horror of the shop owner.
Then there was the time Caesar jumped into someones garden, he was an ex racer and built like a gazelle and he would dig up cabbages, only cabbages mind you but he would dig them all up and look absurdly pleased with himself, jump back over the fence and come home.
Then there were my cats Bruno and Juniper who on one occasion stole 3 trout that had been defrosting for our tea, and they had eaten everything except one trout head and when I got home from work I was greeted with the strong smell of fish along with an empty wrapper and two very bloated and sick looking cats.
Bruno and Juniper also shredded their share of sofas and carpets, in fact Bruno used to eat carpets and had seen a vet on many an occasion due to vomiting.
Juniper had a liking for pulling apart our venetian blinds and would completely dismantle them and find herself stuck on the sash window crying. I would get off the bus and see her stuck on the window, with her pink mouth opening and closing, frantically denying all involvement and claiming that someone put her there and it wasn’t her fault at all.
There was another time when we moved house in Devon, that Juniper got her head stuck in the ‘S’ bend of the sink and it took my mate Veronica several goes to get her out and some phenobarbitone from the vet (our boss) to calm her down afterwards (the cat not Veronica!).
Bruno also broke into a box of mince pies and scoffed most of them and he also had a bad habit of breaking in to 20kg sacks of dog food where he would emerge looking like a Bovril stock cube because he would be covered in gravy dust from the bag. I think that he had a bit of an eating disorder to be honest and I fondly remember him for his food theft and robbery of chicken bones from your plate.
In London, Juniper would enjoy digging up the sofa and would love to dig before she lay down. She was diagnosed as ‘retarded’ by the vet at the Royal Veterinary College where I worked at the time and would actually ‘get lost’ in our flat and if she wondered downstairs, would cry and look at the ceiling with a vacant expression and one of us would have to go down and ‘save her’ and bring her back and convince her that she was safe and her family loved her. Her nickname later became ‘Family’ as if we said it in a high pitched voice she would get quite excited and appear absurdly happy about that word and found it reassuring.
Sadly both cats died within 18 months of each other due to pancreatic cancer which we suspect was down to a vaccine that they both had at the same time when we lived in Devon but that was never proven, suspected but not proven.
I was totally devastated – Bruno was put to sleep whilst still on the operating table and I wasn’t there for that but Juniper was brought out of theatre and wrapped in a blanket and and I held her tiny body as she was injected.
I remember seeing her tortie body which reminded me of a patchwork quilt, her fur so soft, I stroked her and held her as she went and always remember saying ‘thank you for being my cat’ as she died in my arms and I also remember the vet nurses Sarah and Wendy being there at the time and Sarah driving me home as I clutched Junipers cat basket (thank you girls and thank you to Sarah for driving me home that day). Talking of baskets, there is a term called ’empty basket syndrome’ and this is where you go to the vet with a cat and leave with an empty basket and is the most devastating thing for a cat owner to go through.
As for my whippet Rema – now she was a well traveled dog. In England, dogs can go on public transport with you, I used to bring her to work with me when I worked at the Royal Veterinary College in Camden and Rema knew the time of the train to Marylebone and even the platform from Marylebone to our station, she would always know which side the doors of the train would open.
Gordon the cat and Rema the whippet discuss naughty tactics
Rema loved the tube and would jump into my arms to be carried up the escalator and when we got off the tube at Marylebone, she would run and almost drag me to the escalator as she had learned that is what people do – run from one train to the next.
There were times where I would be drunk on a Friday night after a night out round my friends house (Our Maria) and I would have Rema with me, looking all nice, blue and dainty (she was a blue whippet), wearing her muzzle as she used to bite, and I would be pissed out of my head at the platform and Rema would protectively wait with me and not let anyone near me. You could almost see her looking apologetic to other passengers as if to say ‘I am sorry, but she got herself into this state’ And that little dog would escort me home. If there is anyone reading this from London that used the Marylebone line that remembers the blue whippet bitch wearing her jacket and muzzle back in 2005-6, well she was my girl.
When I studied for my NCTJ Preliminary Journalist exams in Islington, I sometimes even took Rema to college with me and she would sit in the boss’s office – I think she actually quite liked him (remember that Steve?) In fact the more places I took that little whippet, the more traveling she did, the happier she seemed.
We bought Rema when we lived in Devon and then moved to London and when I used to go back to visit my friend Veronica in Torquay, Rema would sit on my knee for the three hour train journey. She also loved going up on the train to Chesterfield to see ‘Our Maria’. Rema really should have had her own travel card I reckon.
When I failed my first year vet nursing exams, after work we all went to the pub and got pissed (you can see a pattern here!) and I tried to sneak Rema in as a ‘hearing dog for the deaf’ and for a while it worked, as she was hidden under the table but we got sussed out and kicked out. I turned up home in a drunken misery a few hours later and Abdel opened the door to find me standing there with Rema who had no muzzle or leash on. Rema looked embarrassed and said to Abdel ‘I tried to stop her, honest I did’ and shook her head in disbelief while Abdel led me upstairs and put me to bed whilst I cried about failing my exams. Rema snuggled up to me that night and never left my side which was brave of her as my breath reeked of alcohol.
Rema was also there when I passed my vet nurse finals and lay on the bed with me as I cried, I cried because it had been so hard and I had failed both part one (written) and part two (practical) first time so the relief of passing my exams was immense.
(my proudest moment – I love my VN badge!)
Rema had earned a nickname called ‘The Goat’ as she found a goat on Torre Abbey Sands in Torquay, Devon and proceeded to chase it round the beach and nip it on any part she could reach – blaming the owners saying it was their fault for having a goat on the beach.
My little whippet used to enter Exemption dog shows and do very well in them and I also entered her in scurry races as well and she would bark her head off in excitement as she raced – she loved it and had a good circle of doggy friends on the show circuit.
When I worked as a vet nurse at Crufts Dog show one year, Rema came with me and had her own bed in the Hilton Hotel, my friend ‘Our Maria’ was with me that night, I remember it well as she got chicken pox (do you remember that Maria!). Rema looked so funny snuggled up in her own bed, and she had her own cage in the vet centre when I was working and would tell the show dogs off by barking at them when they came in.
One day I remember when I was out with my friend Sam Porter and her boxer dog ‘Bags’, Rema chased a squirrel and broke her hock and had to have surgery. If you could see the xrays, it must have been like repairing the leg of a fawn as Rema’s legs were like matchsticks but the vet did a superb job on that (thank you Trevor xx).
On another night, Sam and I dressed up our dogs, Rema wore my bra and knickers and Bags wore boxer shorts (don’t ask!) and we drew big red Bindi’s on their foreheads and went out collecting for the Big Issue. But we won’t say any more on that as there is no excuse for dressing a dog up in a bra any more than there is collecting for the Big Issue when you have no business to.
I had entered Rema in a contest for Dogs Today magazine – this was for 2000 – the Millennium Calendar – ‘best advert for dog ownership’ and Rema won it, she was Ms February and posed on a pink silk love heart cushion and even appeared on London Tonight (any of my London pals remember that or have a copy of the photo I could have?)
Rema was also a chewer and enjoyed chewing Abdel’s trousers, the curtains and other bits and pieces.
Animals of the present
Gordon the cat chews towels and still does so, despite being a respectable old gentleman of 11 years old.
Gordon is my piece of England, he is from the Motherland – having just lost my Mum, I was in no way prepared to lose my Gordon so I went to extreme lengths to raise the funds by writing a blog and also doing writing for people, so that I could pay for his passage to Australia.
He was naughty in quarantine and chewed the carpet on his cat run and has continued his chewing in Australia.
Rocky has dug 4 feet under the retainer wall, eaten my mortgage settlement documents the day we moved into the house, he has stolen cushions and eaten my entire CD collection and chewed a rare one of a kind, hand made artists bear made out of alpaca wool.
Brutus is following in hot pursuit in terms of naughtiness, he gathers stones and brings them to the door, chews our shoes and is planning what his next line of attack will be in the form of chewing. He is also learning from Rocky on how to be a proficient digger to the point I am thinking of hiring out the pair of them for bobcat purposes.
So I shall ask again – why do we do it? They chew our stuff, they demand our time, they cause us worry and they cost us money, so why do we pay for the privilege of the above?
Because quite simply, they provide us with love and they provide us with memories – all of the memories that my animals have given me have and still do make me laugh.
Animals stand by us when we make crap decisions, when we are in a bad mood, when we think that the rest of the world hates us, when we dont want to communicate – our pets are always there for us.
They don’t care if we embarrass them and trust me, I have embarrassed Rocky in public on many an occasion. I have dived in when he has been attacked by another dog and yelled, screamed and threw a punch at the dog attacking him when Rocky couldn’t defend himself.
At the end of the day the stuff that they chew is just that – stuff and more to the point it can be replaced. ‘Stuff’ cannot give you the memories that an animal can give you.
I was there for Rema when she was put to sleep and I promise I will be there for Gordon, Rocky and Brutus when their time comes.
I know it is painful, I know I will be the sobbing wreck that I vowed never to become again but I want the only person to be holding my pets when they leave this life – to be me.
So never ever regret having your pets, and never let the pain of losing them stop you from embracing another animal into your life.
You may think that by getting another pet, you are ‘replacing’ the one that you have lost. Well you are not, in your life there are in fact many places – unlimited places for animals waiting to be loved and the new pet is not replacing the old one, just merely making a new place for himself.
And the spirit of all your animals will live on in the sofa, the chairs, your shoes and whatever else they may have chewed.
That my friends, is why we do it.
Samantha Rose (C) Copyright 2013