It was Friday evening on 7th September, Rocky and I were curled up on the sofa on one end, Brutus and Kev were on the other. I was ruffling Rocky’s neck and tickling his ears when I felt a lump that I had not noticed before, my first thought was a cyst and I had seen many of those in my career as a vet nurse when I lived in the UK. ‘What’s that on your neck?’ I asked him. Staring back at me with his beautiful brown eyes now so cloudy with age, he shrugged ‘You know, I am a lumpy old dog – comes with age’.
With just the minimal pressure I had applied to the lump, I felt warm blood trickle down my hands, feeling somewhat concerned, I cleaned it up and made a mental note to book the vet the next day to get it looked at.
The next day at the vet
‘That’s not a cyst, I don’t know what that is but it’s not a cyst and it needs to be removed’, the vet looked concerned as she told me and after a discussion, Rocky was booked in for the following Tuesday for surgery to get the lump removed and biopsied to see what it was. The vet asked me to check him that evening for any other lumps and bumps so that they could investigate those while he was asleep.
We were both off on annual leave that week so at least we could be at home to look after him, we had plans to go on holiday but had shelved them – thank goodness and that was a decision that was a blessing in disguise because I shudder to think what might have happened had we gone to our usual ‘middle of nowhere’ type of trip.
Either way, it was a strange moment and even stranger feeling that I can’t explain in my usual way as you will probably gather from reading this.
We were in the car park at the vets and I was about to get in the car. Rocky looked at the car and sighed, he looked exhausted as though life had just got too much all of a sudden, or perhaps it had been a while and maybe I hadn’t noticed it. Gently lifting him on to the back seat, I kissed his head, smoothed his erect triangular ears and buckled his safety belt to his collar.
Rocky and I have always enjoyed music in the car so I turned on my Usher CD and made a face at Rocky to warn him that I would probably start singing – badly. He gave a ‘Must you Mum?’ kind of look and we both laughed.
Reversing out of the car park, I was about to indicate right but at the last minute, indicated left and engaged to go.
‘Shall we take the long way home, by the coastal route?’ I asked Rocky. It added about 15 mins on to the journey but I knew he liked it, I liked it too – the ocean always looked so spectacular at that time of the morning, well at any time of the morning really.
‘Lovely day for it’, Rocky said as he pressed his snout on the window adding to the vast selection of ‘nose art’ that I simply could not be bothered to wash off.
‘Lovely day for what?’ I said, not taking my eyes off the road but tapping my fingers on the steering wheel to the music.
Rocky shrugged, ‘I love this stretch of coastline, my favourite beaches and everything. How lucky we are to live here. Do you remember when I was on South Beach as a pup and started barking at that German man’s dog for not giving me his ball and the German man told you to stop me from shouting?’
We both laughed at the memory, it was hilarious and I could still here that miserable bastard saying ‘Your dog is shouting, you must stop him now!’ in his German accent. Of course I didn’t help matters by laughing which made him go bright red with anger, we actually thought that he might explode.
Then after the German guy had gone, Rocky managed to herd up a few other dogs and cause a canine uprising on the beach where all the dogs had refused to go back to their owners, preferring to run into the ocean in an act of rebellion instead.
Happy days they were, naughty days but happy all the same.
‘My favourite beaches!’ Rocky repeated with a smile on his face as he wistfully stared at the beautiful ocean as we drove past.
We arrived home about twenty minutes later and I opened the car door for him to get out. ‘Come on Rocky, Brutus is waiting for you and you know how he likes to hear about your car journeys’, I said to him.
He went to stand up in the car that he so easily got into an hour or so ago, he couldn’t get out.
Rocky looked at me all confused as though he wasn’t quite sure where he was. ‘Sorry Mum, if I could just have a few minutes that would be great’.
I could see Brutus’s anxious face pressed against the living room window, his tail which was initially wagging at high speed, slowly dwindled down to a swish. His brown forehead creased with concern at why his brother hadn’t jumped out of the car with the same enthusiasm that he had got in to it.
Initially I had thought he may have wrenched his hip as he has bad hips and so carefully lifted the senior kelpie out of the car where he just stood on the ground and looked at me. He wasn’t really there, it was like part of him had suddenly left me. I grabbed his tennis ball and threw it at him, he half bent down to pick it up and then looked back up at me and said ‘No thank you’ and stood there looking confused in an ‘Are we there yet dear?’ sort of way.
That was when it hit me, he had started to shut down and I shall explain more about that later.
I took him in to the living room where he managed to get himself on the sofa and settle down. He didn’t want his tea which was a first – ever, there was no vomiting, no drinking, no salivating, no diarrhoea, but no appetite either (he did have his breakfast that morning though).
Later that evening
We were all curled up on the sofa – me, Rocky, Brutus and Kevin, all snuggled up under a blanket. As the vet had shaved round the lump on his neck near his gland, I was able to get a good look at it and it looked nasty, it did not look innocent by any stretch of the imagination. It looked as though a hard piece of meat had erupted through his skin and I could see why the vet was concerned.
Now a few months back, Rocky presented with rapid respiration and fast heartbeat and as an ex veterinary nurse, I was quick to ask for Xrays and bloods – all were normal except for an ever so slightly enlarged liver and spleen (as reported by a radiographer), which was listed as unremarkable as that can happen in older animals having general anesthesia. His breathing settled down again and everything was fine – until now.
And it was now that Rocky’s belly looked swollen – not bloat swollen, but like it was ‘full of something’ swollen and it had only just happened on the journey home. He couldn’t really get comfortable. But in hindsight though and in recent months Rocky had started to adopt a strange position on the sofa where he would lie on his chest with his head propped up on the back of the chair, funny to look at but just another Rocky type quirk we put it down to – a bit like him barking at the stars at night for daring to shine in his garden.
‘Mum, what’s up with Rocky?’ Brutus asked me. He looked concerned and confused.
Rocky looked at me and I looked at him, his eyes were changing, it was like he was packing to leave his body, to leave me, to leave us.
‘You’re leaving me aren’t you?’ I blurted out at him and then burst into noisy sobs as I clung on to his little body. In between my sobs, I could feel Brutus trying to lick my arms while saying ‘Mum, is Rocky going to wear tweed?’ (animals do tend to wear tweed when they cross over to Rainbow Bridge).
When my husband arrived home later that night, he was visibly shocked at the sight of our little kelpie dog who appeared to be shrinking in front of our eyes.
‘Tomorrow we book him in at the vets’, I said to my husband. ‘I shall sleep in the spare room with him tonight in case he needs me’, I added.
As for Rocky, he gave a tired smile and mouthed the words ‘Thank you’ to both of us.
That night my little ‘beetle dog’ (as I called him), snuggled up to me in the spare bedroom, he felt cold so I covered him with my duvet. As he slept and relaxed a little, I stroked him over his abdomen where to my horror, I could feel a firm lump and the surrounding area did not feel right either. No wonder this dog had been uncomfortable and no wonder he had tensed up on examination but one thing was certain, whatever had happened, had occurred quickly.
Sunday Morning – 9th March
It was my husbands birthday and we had planned to go out for breakfast and then take the boys out. Obviously that had been cancelled and we were now at the vets.
The waiting room was empty except for us and a small dog and his human. The little dog was doing rude gestures at Rocky and barking at various things that had upset him. Normally this would have been enough to set Rocky in to a full on aggression frenzy of rude words and insults, but today Rocky just ignored him which surprised both us and the vet.
I won’t go into the full conversation between us and the vet, it is too painful for me to talk about let alone even think about and go over. But I will tell you that when Rocky had his chest X-rays all those months ago, I made a comment saying to the vet that it wouldn’t surprise me if Rocky had cancer and there was something nasty going on.
Don’t ask me what made me think it, it was a feeling that I had and I have always been intuitive with my animals and those in my care when I worked as a veterinary nurse. Rocky’s gums were a bit pale but his bloods came back normal.
We even paid extra to have the X-rays reported on by a radiographer and as I mentioned earlier – they came back ‘unremarkable’ – normal, except for a slightly enlarged liver/spleen which can happen when old dogs have anaesthetics. Yet despite those normal findings, my gut instinct and the way in which Rocky was looking at me, told me that something was seriously wrong. We just couldn’t put our finger on it and believe me it wasn’t for the lack of trying and veterinary check ups/tests either.
The tumour on Rocky’s neck looked nasty, his belly was now firm and very sore and when the vet went to palpate it, my husband said his face showed tremendous pain and discomfort.
His eyes had started to glaze over – well they had actually started doing that the day before as the vet had noticed something wasn’t right but again, things had escalated overnight.
Suddenly things had started to make sense, in recent weeks Rocky would go from trotting around to walking oh-so-slowly past the window, looking visibly uncomfortable and I had assumed it was his hips bothering him. His breath had started to smell foul – it wasn’t his teeth because they were excellent for a ten year old kelpie that had 4 monthly checks at the vet for his hip injections, his yearly boosters/health checks – we were on top of that stuff and always had been.
The vet had noticed that Rocky for the first time ever, had ignored a dog in the waiting room and shown no interest in it and more concerning, it was a dog that was barking and growling at him. Rocky usually has to be taken to a separate room when there are other dogs around, but on that day it was like that other dog did not exist, he simply did not see him.
How did we miss it? How did we not see his suffering? Perhaps we did but as the vet said, kelpies are excellent at hiding their illness/injuries until by the time they are showing signs and symptoms, they are at crisis point.
This was a different vet to the one we saw on Saturday but she quickly agreed that the growth on Rocky’s neck (by his lymph glands) had appeared quickly and seemingly at an alarming rate and on closer inspection, did not look harmless.
I will never as long as I live, forget Rocky’s tired expression as he sat in that consult room, how bad his eyes were, his face, his pain when his abdomen was palpated, but most of all, his face the day before when I threw his tennis ball to him and he had decided that enough was enough, no more ball, no more fluffy penguin, no more games – he was done.
I swore blind that I would be more observant with my pets after letting Gordon go on for longer than was fair to him, I swore and promised that it would never happen again. But my Rocky was so good at hiding stuff and I certainly recall asking my husband last week if we were being cruel with Rocky as lately even since his last vet visit, he seemed to be uncomfortable and his breathing was at times, becoming a struggle again and had started to not want to get off his bed to go out for a game in the garden.
‘Are you coming for a game of ball Rocky?’ I would say to him, he would just blink at me and remain where he was and I would make a joke about him preferring his bed to our company. Why did I not pick up on that?
My head could not grasp how well he could be one moment and then the next, barely be able to walk and look so unwell.
The hardest decision for us but the kindest for Rocky
After an in depth discussion with the vet, we made the heartbreaking decision to let him go. The tumour on his neck was most likely to be cancerous and I think that was just the tip of the iceberg to be truthful. The enlarged spleen/liver although reported as normal, the tender abdomen and the lumps that had been felt, his whole appearance, behaviour and eyes completing the bigger picture. The fact that he had stopped eating, no longer wanted his ball and no longer gave a stuff about a dog having a go at him in the waiting room.
The vet was honest enough and said they could go out to investigate and open him up, remove his tumours – test them, and if required or appropriate, give him chemo – we were insured and even if we were not, we were going to pull money from our house (we have done that before).
I made a point of asking the vet that if she thought it was the wrong decision, would she tell me, be honest with me because although I am an ex veterinary nurse, the boundaries often become blurred when it comes to letting go of your pets when the right time comes and the decision has to be the best one because it is not something you can take back.
The vet agreed that it was the kindest thing to do and she would not even contemplate it had she not believed in it. And looking at Rocky at that precise point, we decided to let him go with what dignity he had left rather than put him through surgery, scans and treatment to extend his life for what? And more to the point, for whose benefit?
Goodbye my beautiful, special darling dog – Rocky
Rocky was taken out the back to have his IV line put in, he willingly went off with the vet, he has known the staff for ten years, they know him well and vice versa. He is more than comfortable with them.
He walked back in albeit a little stiffly, you could see his abdomen was uncomfortable, his eyes were tired, the bald patch where his neck had been clipped to show the tumour from the day before.
If you looked ever so carefully and had my kind of imagination, you could see Rocky wearing an old tweed suit, while clutching a tatty brown briefcase and a peaked tweed cap.
My heart was pounding in my chest, I wanted to vomit – dear God what was I doing? Should I put him through surgery, chemo, could I continue to turn a blind eye to his discomfort, how much more should I or could I put him through? I didn’t want him to leave but I knew he couldn’t stay.
The vet had the two syringes in her hand, these syringes contained ‘Rainbow Juice’ which is what I call the drug that sends our pets to Rainbow Bridge. Rocky sat on some comfy soft blankets on the floor and I sat beside him and my husband sat in front of him. This was so we could be the last people he saw, felt and heard.
‘So, this is it then, I must admit that I am looking forward to not feeling quite so rubbish’, Rocky gave a half smile to me. His kelpie spectacles were neatly perched on the end of his nose, his peaked cap and tweed suit looking quite dapper but smelling of mothballs.
‘I am so sorry Rocky, I am so very very sorry I didn’t realise how sick you were’, I cried into his fur, memorizing every single part of him. I had taken photos earlier but now I wanted more memories because in a second they would be all I had.
‘Yeah well, these things tend to creep up on us, tumours are a bugger like that’, Rocky shrugged and licked my face as I cried (see photo above).
‘I love you so much, I don’t know what I am going to do without you, how will I manage without you?’ I stared at him – oh my god, how the hell did I miss not realising how sick this dog was?
‘You are going to have to keep Kevin in line, he is a bully and he walks all over you!’ Rocky laughed. Actually there was no love lost between him and Kevin to be honest. Rocky had gone for Kev a few times and Kev had given as good as he got but that very morning we took Rocky to his final journey, Kevin sat close to Rocky and Rocky allowed him to.
I felt his little body start to relax against mine – the ‘Rainbow Juice’ had started it’s journey into Rocky’s body and in turn, Rocky had started his journey over the bridge with the people that he loved the most right beside him – his human family.
‘Oh Mum, look at that – tennis balls and sheep! They are everywhere, can you see them? Oh my god, it’s Gordon, can I go to him? This is fantastic, I feel fantastic! Can you see it all?’ Rocky said sleepily, ‘Can’t you see it?’
But before I had the chance to answer, Rocky had left me and was running over the bridge to where Bowie the white greyhound and ‘Gatekeeper’ of the bridge was waiting to welcome him to a new life of where pain and illness do not exist and animals can have a life that only you and I can dream about.
The last thing I saw before it all disappeared, was my old cat Gordon gazing up at Rocky as they both trotted across the bridge to where a group of sheep were cheering at Rocky’s arrival.
I pleaded with him not to leave me – long after he went. I cradled his little body and broke down. I cried until I thought my heart would break and three weeks on as I write this, I am crying now.
‘Please don’t leave me Rocky, I love you so very much’ I sobbed, but he had gone and it was looking at his worn out and sick body lying on the blankets, that I knew my little old kelpie deserved better than biopsies and chemo/invasive surgery and bad hips.
I don’t know how long I remained on the floor holding my boy, but I do know it was for a while as I repeatedly said sorry to him. I don’t even remember getting up to leave either, but as I did, I glanced round and I swear to God I could imagine that old tweed suit crumpled up on the ground, with the peaked cap and kelpie spectacles on the floor next to the tatty briefcase.
Pippin Potter the Italian Greyhound’s house
Pippin Potter the Iggy – Brutus’s good friend had taken a telephone call. Bronte and her new sister Latte were having coffee in the garden while discussing puppies and stuff.
Suddenly Pippin’s phone rang, picking it up and dabbing his pointy snout, he replied ‘Pippin Potter here’.
Bronte looked up at her brother through the window and saw Pippin take a deep breath and compose himself.
‘I see, yes, we shall be right there’, Pippin said curtly and without saying a word, he and his Mum Denise quickly got into the car and drove off.
We arrived home from the vet and I cannot even begin to explain to you how hard it was to drive back into my garden and see Rocky’s kennel and toys where we left them. The tennis ball that I threw to him the other night when he refused it was exactly where I left it, the garden looked so empty.
Brutus’s face pressed against the sliding door, he looked as anxious as when we had left him. His tail no longer wagging, his eyes frantically darted round to find his brother.
‘Mum, where is Rocky? Where is Rocky?’ Brutus barked loudly again and again.
Getting on to the sofa with Brutus, I clutched my big brown dog as I explained that Rocky had gone to Rainbow Bridge.
For some time afterwards, Brutus searched for Rocky, getting quite distressed when he saw Rocky’s collar and leash. My poor sensitive and gentle dog could not and would not settle and to this very day, he appears lost without Rocky.
Pippin is the head of the Iggy Club, he runs pretty much everything in it really and if you have followed my stories about the Italian greyhounds, you will know him very well.
Pippin arrived at my house with his Mum, I opened the door to let them in and Pippin took Brutus aside to talk to him.
‘I don’t think I know what to do without my brother?’ What do I do Pippin?’ Brutus said to his little friend. He tried so hard to be a brave dog but a life with Rocky was the only life he had ever known, he did not know how to ‘dog’ without him.
Placing a paw on Brutus’s head, Pippin then bent down and gently licked Brutus’s face, ‘You take charge of your garden and house, you put one paw in front of the other and you slowly but surely carry on. Your Mum needs you’. Pippin said firmly, ‘You’ve got this Brutus, you’ve got this’.
Brutus said nothing, Pippin said nothing but both dogs just sat there quietly while the tiny Italian greyhound frequently touched Brutus with his paw just to let him know he was there.
‘Pippin?’ Brutus asked him a few minutes later.
‘Yes Brutus?’ Pippin replied.
‘How will I know how to protect my house without Rocky?’ Brutus sniffed and wiped his eyes.
Pippin looked at him thoughtfully before responding, ‘One day it will come to you and one day when that time is right, you will do it’.
Nothing more was said between the two boys but Pippin managed to send a group message to the Iggy club saying ‘Rainbow Bridge update – the Kelpie has landed’, while discreetly dabbing his eyes with his silk handkerchief.
So what now?
The house is different, Kevin seems to have taken over everything and I mean everything. He initially was unsettled, unhappy and more aggressive than normal but is getting better.
He and Brutus play fight more now, they chase each other round the house, Brutus has started to pounce like a cat which is a bit ridiculous and Kevin is back to humping his blankets with his toys in his mouth which is even more so.
Will we get a second dog? No, I don’t think we will. But I would be lying if I said that I miss having a kelpie because that is my favourite breed of dog ever. My health isn’t good enough for two dogs but if (and it’s a massive ‘if‘), we were to get another dog, we would look at a middle aged rescue kelpie in need of a loving home rather than a pup.
The harsh realities of pet bereavement
Losing Rocky has broken me and I don’t mind admitting it. Now I don’t give a stuff if someone thinks it is an over reaction or it is ‘just a dog’ because it is dogs that give us companionship, loyalty, service (as working dogs), and trust, and they expect nothing in return. So I make no excuses or apologies for the grief that I am showing for my kelpie because he was my dog, my mate and I was lucky to have had him in my life.
Thank you to Spearwood Vets (once again), for their kindness, care and compassion that was shown to Rocky, my husband and myself on that day and thank you for the beautiful flowers as well.
Samantha Rose © Copyright September 2018
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