I think I've shared this one, or parts of it, here before, but if so it was a long time ago, a number of people who read this blog now may not have been reading it then, and others may have forgotten. Either way - here it is - and, fair warning, it's sad.
When I moved to New Zealand in 1994, it was with the full knowledge that my dog, a German Shepherd called Ari, would have to go into quarantine for six months before she would be allowed into the country. Suffering from mild hip dysplasia, her condition was nevertheless stable while she was living at home, sleeping in a basket, living in a warm house with carpets on the floor and being cared for by a loving family. In the kennel where she endured her six–month confinement, none of those things were true. When she came home to us, she was paralysed.
This is her story.
Thursday, April 20, 1995
Ari's coming home.
Half past five. It's half past five, it's still dark outside, her plane won't even land for another hour and a half, but we're up. Mum tucks up the car so that she'll be comfortable, and yes, we know she's supposed to be paralysed, but her leash and collar are ready too, there on the back seat. Inside the house, her place is set - a nest of her blankets, bits of old carpet so that the floor won't be too hard. We're all ready for her.
We kick our heels for two hours on the airport; people are so slow with the paperwork. Finally I get her release from the Agriculture people, and I fly with it on winged feet to the cargo department. "Wait here," they tell me, and disappear into some fastness where I cannot see.
It is I who step with trepidation up to the grey crate when we are called outside at last to receive our dog. And die for the first time. Inside there's this grey, etiolated creature, trembling, eyes half wild; she sees me, and the ears go down, slowly, so very slowly, as if in disbelief. I fumble with the door catch, and only as it springs fully open do I see the full tragedy. The back legs are wilted, dead; she sees me, hears my voice, but is facing the back of the cage and cannot turn around. Her ribs are upholstered only by a thin layer of skin; the individual vertebrae of her spine stand out like battlements, and you could learn canine anatomy on the bony protrusions of her pelvis. I die again, and again when this wraith which used to be my loving, happy, healthy dog crawls out of the cage into my arms and collapses there shaking, urine leaking from between the useless rear legs. Half the airport personnel are in tears by now; a business card gets thrust into my hands, to phone the department later and let them know how the dog is. All I can do is sit there and hold her.
There was no water in her crate, and she drinks copiously, once she's collected her wits sufficiently to realise that she's thirsty. In the car, later, she sits as of old, snout outside, ears laid flat back in the slipstream, taking in the scents of this new world. In between times she manages to devour a dozen biscuits, and turns every now and again to lick at my fingers.
We call in the vet, later, and he shakes his head. Her rear paws are a mass of sores from dragging, and there is no strength in her back legs at all. The prognosis is not good. But other than the shrivelled rear, she's so alive, so alert, so full of life, that the vet gives her only ointment for the sores, and a dose of optimism.
All her little weaknesses are catered for here at home. Apples, bananas, grapes, pieces of apple pie, even a dish of watered-down coffee (she never was a dog, this was always a human being in disguise). We help her crawl into her basket that night, and the joy on her face is reward enough. Already she looks quite different from that creature from Dante's Inferno who crawled out of the pitifully clean cage at the cargo terminal.
I go off later to pay the bill for the vet's housecall, and to get some bandages and the ointment he said he'd have ready for her. Just outside the vet's front door I have a flat tyre. The world seems to be against me; I actually felt like sitting down on the kerb, putting my head in my hands and howling. And then I come home, and there is the expectant face wreathed in one of her silly grins, a dog eager and waiting to see me return, and the ears go down, and... the tail can't wag, but I can almost see it doing so. The wag of the tail is written all over her expression.
Friday, April 21
It's a happiness to wake up in the morning. She greets us with glowing eyes; we'll probably never see the tail wag again, but the intentions are all there for us to see. Mother has taken to putting a pair of my old knee-high socks on the poor abused rear paws every time the dog goes outside; a German Shepherd in tartan socks is a sight to behold. My camera is making a few weird noises when I take a couple of photographs, but the photos seem to be moving normally. I'm too busy enjoying my dog to check.
We've met more neighbours since her arrival than I've done for the entire year that I've been living in this house. There's something in this dog that attracts people. The lady from across our back fence is appalled at the state of her, running disbelieving hands across the pitiful ribcage and the ridged spine. Ari tries to run when she is called by Mother or me, full of will and heart, but she moves like a seal, the useless back legs dragged behind her like flippers. We've heard that there are dog carts for paraplegic dogs - but when we phone the only person who used to make them in New Zealand, we discover that he died last June. I phone a sheepskin factory shop about the possibility of making a pair of boots for the rear legs, so that we can graduate from socks (some of which are already showing signs of wear) and her feet are encased in softness. The proprietor of the factory shop, once he gets over the strangeness of the request, is enthusiastic.
Saturday, April 22
She's eating well, sleeping beautifully in her beloved basket. We take her out early in the morning for a waddle on the deck around the house in order for her to do her toilet, feet swathed in socks and plastic shopping bags from Woolworths so that the socks don't get wet. We've tried just carrying her down the steps from the top floor to the garden, but she's terribly scared of the stairs and it only works if we carry her while she's in the basket. But it's back-breaking, she's so heavy, and if she sees Murphy the cat somewhere on the way then it's an impossible task. Murphy seems to want to be friends - he's certainly cried off since she got here, except when he's trying to charm her into a relationship, but she won't have it, snapping and shaking as if she's about to have a heart attack. And he's certainly a guarantee that she's going to do her business - every time she sees him, the bladder goes.
We're lucky with the weather. There have been a few accidents in the house, but we can always wash the blankets and air them. However, we are seriously considering nappies.
She's happy, so happy that her shortcomings are really secondary. The neighbour remarks that she already looks different - and so she does, transformed, no resemblance any more to the wraith from the airport. We do physiotherapy on the poor wasted back legs - fifteen, twenty bends a leg and then fifteen or twenty more for both legs together. Already the back legs are beginning to have a bit of definition to them - or so we think, hope, imagine. We keep on looking at one another and begging for confirmation of our wishful thinking. "She's moving that leg, isn't she?" "She's moved her tail! Good girl!" "Look, if I tickle her, the back leg goes - surely that means something?" "If I tickle her paw, she jerks her foot, look." Look. It's a word that begs confirmation. Look; do you see what I thought I just saw? Can you confirm the faint hope that smoulders fitfully every now and again, buried beneath the load of despondency which descends every time she tries to get up and walk?
But we still have to wrap her up in her socks to go outside; we have to figure out when she's thirsty so that she can have some water. We also have to make sure that the cat's inside when the dog's out, and vice versa - otherwise, paralysed or not, we're all in trouble.
She's such an angel about everything - she accepts bandages and ointment, the socks, the indignity of the nappy beneath her bottom, of having her feet constantly manipulated from underneath her. She's lying there with a blanket over her hips like an old lady or a baby. She can't seem to go to sleep like she used to, a brief catnap in the middle of the day, she seems to think that we might be a dream and that all of this will disappear if she closes her eyes and she will find herself back in the cold concrete cells of the quarantine kennels. But when she does sleep, she no longer dreams of running with her back feet, as she once did. All the movement is now in her front legs, and she drags herself forward by sheer strength of will even in her dreams.
Sunday, April 23
We're giving her four different homeopathic medicines every morning and evening, wrapping the small pills in honey and letting her suck it off our fingers. Apparently a friend's dog has been taking these for her rheumatism for years, and they are supposed to have helped. Ari has nothing against it. She's having a bit of trouble with the toilet; the nappies are coming in useful. Going outside, it sometimes helps if I lift her rear, holding her around the back of the stomach - perhaps it creates a sort of pressure on the bladder, and she voids. But she's done it on the carpets, going in or out of the house, so it's not as if we can control it.
She knows the cat usually appears out of some fastness below stairs; she's been up to the beginning of the staircase and peered down it, but she seems to know that it isn't for the likes of her. Nevertheless, we wanted her to have a look at the bottom floor - this is her house as well, after all, and she deserves to know where everything is. When she was down in the garden, we let her inside through the lower door, and she waddled through all the rooms below in a detailed inspection. She caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror, and seemed to stop for a moment to look at herself in bleak disbelief; she paused by the French doors to the pool deck demanding that they be opened, and then peered outside with pricked ears and quivering snout trying to imprint the scents of the place. The armchair where the cat usually sleeps then claims her attention, and we think that it is this which causes her to completely lose interest in everything else, including going upstairs again. We had thought to help her up on the inside stairs, the same staircase which she had inspected with such doleful understanding from the top end. We soon realise that the armchair was an excuse. She's terrified of the stairs, simply terrified, and she writhes in our arms at the base of the staircase, trying to wriggle out of this ordeal. Her head whips back and forth, banging against the banister. I pick up her front legs, and they're stiff as two wooden poles; Mother tries to bring up the rear. Halfway up Ari urinates copiously on the stairs; in the lounge upstairs she waddles quickly up to her blankets, ears flat against her skull, and lies facing the darkest corner, knowing she's in disgrace. We won't repeat the experiment.
Monday, April 24
It's my poetry reading night, but it doesn't take much to give me an excuse not to go - it's drizzling, the pavements are gleaming under the streetlights outside. It's been miserable the whole day. The dog's hardly been outside. We can tell that she's frustrated. The front paws just keep on shifting, weight going from one to the other, as if she's itching to get up but can't quite make it. We've evolved a system whereby we keep tabs on Murphy's whereabouts; when he wants in, one of us, Mother or I, is downstairs to keep an eye on him (and to yell "Cat alert!" if he should try to come upstairs). We try to get Murphy to conform to his normal behaviour patterns - he used to wander all night, and happily sleep all day curled in his armchair - but he's not cooperating at all, and wants to go outside on all the nice days that we want to have the dog outside instead. She's been lying out on the deck, keeping an eye on what's going on around her. So far she hasn't uttered a sound; but this morning, when the weather was nicer, she was out on the terrace and I asked her where the birds were when a couple of Little Brown Jobs fluttered around for a while in her sights. She sharpened her ears, pointed her nose, and barked. Once. Mother came running out, and we made a great fuss of her, telling her what a good dog she was. Yesterday she tried barking at Murphy, and it was heartrending to see her going through the motions as if she were in a silent movie - opening and closing her mouth with no sound coming out at all. Later, when the weather went foul, she came back inside without a protest, lying in her spot on the blankets, an old jersey wrapped around her wasted back.
I tried to explore the possibilities of a cart again, even phoning around to find out if we could possibly convert a skateboard. The widow of Trevor Manson, the guy who made these carts before he passed away last year, isn't answering her phone. Apparently there are a few carts out at Massey University, but they can't loan them out without her consent - and I can't get hold of her to try and obtain it. Sometimes, if I position Ari's paws right underneath her and stand her square on them, there is a split second that she actually stands on her own four feet with only a preventative hand underneath her belly - but then she collapses again. When I pick up her rear to carry her dead paws off the ground she can move with incredible speeds, dragging me with the powerful front quarters so that I have to canter quite quickly in her wake to keep up (I feel like the rear of one of those pantomime horses where one guy plays the front and one brings up the rear). And when I do that her legs just hang, frequently getting themselves twisted up in such a way that I can't just put her down at all without unravelling them first. Maybe we're all just indulging in wishful thinking.
We've been putting bandages on the sores, and ointment, and I've bought her one of those tube bandages that goes right up her right leg and covers all of the sores, even the really foul one on her hock which is enormous and red-raw. When we leave the bandages off, she's even taken to giving the poor wounded legs a lick or two, something she hadn't done before. And when we do her physio, she sometimes pushes back. There's nothing wrong with her reflexes, the legs pump when we scratch certain spots on her belly, but she can't seem to lift them - she tries to roll over on her back as she used to do before, but the back legs won't cooperate. And we've seen her stretch them, right out, like someone whose limbs had gone to sleep and who's trying to get some life into them. There's nothing wrong with her circulation either - the rear paws are warm. And if we tickle the furry spaces between the pads she'll jerk the paw away. She tried to snatch a paw away from me when I tried to put a sock on her once, and I started telling her off before it dawned on me that she'd moved her leg, and then I fell on her neck and started kissing her snout and she made one of those silly faces of hers, a big, soppy grin plastered all over her face and ears laid right back in pleasure. I was sitting on the ground next to her for hours while she tried to sleep earlier. She's still having trouble with the simple process of resting. But she's quite content to go into her basket at night - she's even managed to pull herself in or out without any help from us one or two times - and she keeps very quiet there all night.
Tuesday, April 25
So far she has been clean at night, but this morning Mother heard whimpering noises from the kitchen. Getting up to investigate she found that poor Ari had fouled her basket, and then waddled to the French doors where she usually went outside, possibly in the forlorn hope that she could get out that way, and deposited another sausage next to the door. Then she crawled back into the corridor which led to the bedrooms to try and call mum because she was in trouble. She was pitifully abject, whining and whimpering; I heard them, later, thumping about on the deck upstairs. They caught a glimpse of Murphy, and I heard the tempo go up, the waddle becoming a sort of gallop by just the strong front legs. By the time I came upstairs and heard the whole story, Ari was in her spot by the breakfast table, head tucked well down between her paws, and wouldn't meet my eyes.
I tried phoning Mrs Manson again, the widow of the dog cart gentleman, and managed to get hold of her this time. She gave me the names and phone numbers of some people who had carts and might not need them any more. I got in touch with an old gent from near Warkworth (he answers the phone with "Are you there?") whose own dog, it transpires, died last year and he has a cart which he is not using any more. He also happens to have a number of "surfies" from Auckland whose car has fortuitously broken down just outside his front door. Not only is he happy to let us have his unused cart, but he also arranges for the surfies to bring it out to us that very day. We have it by sunset. I'm over the moon; it was beginning to look hopeless. Perhaps now we can begin to make some plans.
Wednesday, April 26
Ari fouled her bed again this morning, but this time did not get up. Mother had to clean it up when she got her out of the basket to go outside for her toilet. The day was nice, so we got her downstairs again and into the garden; she was there the whole day. Late in the afternoon we tried strapping her into the cart; she bucked and twisted a bit, probably because she isn't used to dragging this strange object behind her. The front strap is a bit too low and hangs over the top of Ari's front paws, making her try to pull her paws out from underneath it; we had our neighbour out to help strapping her in and leading her about. She went at it gamely for about five minutes, with three of us pushing and pulling and adjusting things, and all of us, dog and helpers, were thoroughly exhausted afterwards, sitting down and panting when we'd unstrapped her. This is going to take time.
Thursday, April 27
It's her first "anniversary"; she got home a week ago. It's unbelievable. And she looks and acts completely different from the awful creature that arrived on flight NZ 9 last Thursday. The neighbours were around again and commented on it. She was in fine fettle, and we had her down in the garden again for a long time; she was playful, and even barked at the neighbourhood dogs. I went to register her at the Council today, and got her licence disk; once again, she was there to meet me at the gate when I got back. Apparently she now knows when I return from places even when she is in the house; Mother says that she's already learned to associate the sound of the opening or closing garage door with my imminent arrival.
I got the prototype of her boots today, made in canvas according to my measurements; we tried them on and they fit beautifully. ("I've heard of Puss in Boots," the lady who'd made them had said to me at the factory shop, "but this is a new variation for me." "You're a caring owner," said the proprietor. Little does he know. There are no lengths to which I'm not prepared to go for this dog's sake.) But they have an end-of-month deadline at the factory, and the boots won't be ready for a while. We're stuck with tartan socks and plastic shopping bags for the duration. I've taken to just about buying every bread roll wrapped in a separate plastic bag at Foodtown. The last time I went to Woolworths I stole a whole lot of empty shopping bags. We just can't get enough; it's a one-time-only-use commodity, as they rip to shreds on the hard boards of the deck. As well as it's not her feet that are taking the punishment.
Before, there were lambs' hearts galore in every shop I used to visit, breaking my heart as I thought about the poor dog stuck out in Hawaii in her quarantine. Need I say that now, now that we want them, there is nary a one? I ran around the entire North Shore the other day looking for some - Sunnynook, Mairangi Bay, Brown's Bay. Eventually had to settle for a package of two sheep's hearts, and that had to last until the next lucky strike. But it's worth the trouble, just to see her gobble it up. She's quit tearing food out of our hands now, which she was doing for the first day or so, and is back to being her own dainty self (except when she's actually eatinmg her supper out of the bowl, when she was always, and remains, an absolute piglet).
Friday, April 28
Murphy had an appointment with the vet this morning for his vaccinations. Under normal circumstances he'd have been inside by nine a.m., probably on my bed at eightish while Mother and I had our morning coffee, but he'd sort of stopped that since the dog had arrived. We'd made plans to keep him inside the house all morning so that we could be sure of finding him when the time came for him to go to the vet. We lured him into my bedroom, and shut him in so that he had the run of the bedroom and the bathroom. Secure in the knowledge that he was there, we took the dog outside on the deck. We almost walked straight into the swanning cat - I couldn't believe my eyes. Apparently he noticed the open bathroom window and figured out what that was for. We shut him in again while we took the dog down the stairs in her basket, and then I discovered that Mother had "shut Murphy inside" while conveniently leaving the lounge French doors open. Another hunt ensued, and we finally had Murphy cornered in the house barely fifteen minutes before his appointment. We get him to the vet on time, and they're there in the garden later to greet me on my return, Mother and Ari, as I sneak the rocking box with a thoroughly foul-tempered Murphy into the house where I release him, making sure that all the doors and windows are closed this time. He eventually goes to sleep in his armchair in a high dudgeon. The day is gorgeous, and we have coffee with the dog outside. She tries to communicate with the noisy neighbourhood dogs; the exertion means a pile of poop on the carpet which mother had dragged outside so that Ari's sensitive arthritic rear doesn't rest on the possibly damp ground, and a copious urination by the fence where she'd dragged herself. But the barking still sounds as if she's being strangled by piano wire.
The neighbours come round after seeing us in the garden; "This dog's going to walk again," they say; "Look how she's already found her voice again after only a week." We drink it all in - from their mouth, as the saying goes, into God's ears. We offer titbits - this morning she did this, and the other day she did that, and we forget the time that she leaked urine all over the carpet as she was being taken outside, or the way we discreetly throw away a soiled nappy every now and again as if we have a baby in the house. We tell them the good things. The way she moves her legs; the way she balances on her paws if they are properly placed underneath her - we even saw her lift herself into a crouch, so that I could see daylight between her stomach and the ground beneath. But call her, and she comes running, tossing her head in pleasure as she used to do before, and her rear drags behind any which way exactly as before. Nothing changes.
Saturday, April 29
I leave them all at home today, cat, dog, and mother. I have an appointment elsewhere. I go at ten in the morning, come back after four. People I meet ask after the dog; I try to sift out the good news, but there's really not that much good to be said. If asked outright whether the dog is getting better, and if I am honest about the answer, there isn't much I can say. But people know, and the sympathy half-helps. it's not as if it is going to change anything at all, but it's good to know that someone else out there is thinking about her with compassion.
We'd brought her downstairs again just before I left, and because it takes two of us to bring her up and down stairs, she'd stayed in the garden the whole day. Luckily the weather held, and it was sunny, if a bit chilly. She was waiting for me by the gate when I came home, just as of old, and sat with ears back waiting for me to come and make a fuss of her. Mother greeted me with the news that she'd just had the cat sitting there in front of the two of them, preening, deliberately oblivious to the effect that he was having on Ari; she shook at him for a while and then urinated so copiously on the carpet end on which she had been made to lie that it had to be hosed down and hung out to dry. At least there shouldn't be any accidents tonight.
Sunday, April 30
We decided to give the cart another bash today; I was out around lunchtime, but when I came back we hoisted her into the cart and tried pulling her around the garden. It went much better today, except that the front strap still keeps on slipping. I'm still thinking about that, but perhaps Mother's suggestion (get pieces of sheepskin and wrap it around the strap, thickening it sufficiently to make it at least feel 'shorter' and therefore tighter around her chest) is best. We'll have to deal with that.
"Let's take her outside in the street," I suggest; it takes two of us to pull Ari in that cart, one to tow and the other to keep the front strap high enough for it not to be a nuisance, and Mother demurs in going out into the street dressed as she is, but I prevail. "We don't have to go far. Just up and down the road."
It's worth any temporary embarrassment over an old T-shirt which shouldn't be worn in public. Ari pulls with a will - with such a will that both her aides (Mother and myself) are panting after a couple of hundred meters. There are scents out here, and all kinds of interesting stuff; she's alive, alert, her ears are up, her nose is quivering, and she hasn't looked this happy in a long time. Her joy is ours; we puff and pant, but we wheel her out over the lawn, onto the sidewalk, beside the young rubber trees planted on the verge. The wheels of the broad-beamed cart are constantly running over our feet, or threatening to slide off into the ditch beside the sidewalk, and need constant watchfulness. We eventually haul her back into her yard, careful that she doesn't roll out of control down the downhill driveway, and unhitch her; she's panting, exhausted with the small effort, but glowing. It's been worth everything.
The paws have healed nicely by now; even the bad sore on her hock has grown a thin film of skin and doesn't quite look as awful as it did only days ago (although it still oozes a little bit sometimes, as can be seen on the bandages we still put on every now and then or on a light-coloured sock which shows the stain). We carry her upstairs again in her basket; she's back in place, in her spot in the lounge, peering at what we are doing over the edge of the coffee table. She hides her frustrations, but she still shifts her weight on her front paws, from one to the other, as if she wants to get up, and can't. She is in a playful mood, nipping at me, even trying to "speak" as of old; she tries to lift both rear legs up and lie on her back, and to give Mother a slobbering wet kiss whenever she's in range.
It's been a good day. But she won't perform outside that evening. When she is eventually brought inside and settled into her basket, Mother and I keep on sniffing the air because we smell urine but aren't at all sure where it's coming from. Only when we're about to switch off the kitchen lights do we realise that she's actually urinated the whole length of the kitchen while she was going towards her basket. Mother cleans up; all I can do is sit there trying to tell a badly upset dog that it's all right.
Monday, May 1
The basket is clean, but she doesn't seem all that playful this morning. She found it difficult to get up, and got out of her basket only after heavy cajoling and lots of help. The urination is out of control, and gets worse during the day - she seems to be leaking constantly. We throw away half a dozen soaked nappies. She has managed to get herself outside in time to defecate on the deck just outside the French doors of the lounge; it's raining, and she lies there in the chill, shivering and upset, while we try to clean up. Some of the stuff is stuck between the slats of the decking, and is messy and damn near impossible to remove; more of it adheres to her buttocks and tail where she hasn't been able to move away fast enough. She's listless and wan, and when we finally get her inside again she just lies there in her place under her blankets. Her front paws are very cold.
Sometime during the late afternoon and early evening she begins to exhibit symptoms of being in pain. She stretches out her snout at the end of a long, long neck, with eyes half-closed, lower teeth visible beneath wide nostrils. It gets bad enough that I phone the emergency vet line to ask if we are allowed to give the dog human aspirin; we are given the go-ahead, so long as we call the vet the next morning. We give her one aspirin. It doesn't really seem to help. I go off to my poetry evening, half-reluctantly, leave early, and manage not to enjoy myself at all. I don't know what I'll find when I get home.
It's worse. Ari's been given a second aspirin later in the evening because the first one didn't seem to help; there's a mute appeal in the eyes she turns to me, and I can do nothing at all. I sit up with her for a while, and am then sent off to bed. Mother doesn't sleep much; from her bedroom she can hear the dog's breathing, and the occasional whimper. She spends half the night sitting up with Ari next to the basket. The aspirins didn't seem to have worked very well. She won't drink any water, and keeps turning away to fold herself up into tight little balls of misery. The night is as still and cold as a premonition.
Tuesday, May 2
Mother comes to get me out of bed in the morning.
"Help me. She won't get out of the basket and I can't move her."
Ari's breathing is heavy, rasping; she started that last night, and made me want to constantly clear my throat on her behalf. We were wondering if it was a cold or something, and I kept on checking whether it came from her throat or her chest, but it seemed innocuous enough. Now, in retrospect, it looks like it was her way of telling us that she was in pain.
She tries to get up when I call her, but then settles back heavily into the basket. By dint of pushing and pulling we manage to get her out of there for a few steps along the deck; but she can't take more than just a few before collapsing against the cold wall of the house. I haul her away from that but she cannot sit unsupported; she leans, instead, on me. Mother hurries inside to cut her up one of the ox hearts which I had managed to find for her the other day; hearts, the delicacy she has always loved. But when she sniffs at this one and turns away, Mother and I look at each other with leaden spirits. If she won't have this, then she's far gone.
She won't do her toilet, and we somehow manage to manhandle her back into her basket. She seems happy to be there.
The morning is beautiful, warm, sunny, quiet. We haul the basket out to where her blankets were, and leave her there in the sunshine while we have our breakfast; later, Mother pulls the basket right out to the open French doors and leaves the dog there in the sunshine and the fresh air. She seems to enjoy it, but she's in trouble. Her eyes have gone small, opaque, she's still rasping down deep in her throat, occasionally a paw comes up and grips the edge of the basket as if in supplication. The cat comes right up to the basket at one point, as if he knows that the end is near... and, watching, we realise that it is. The dog is suffering now.
The choice is out of our hands. She was going to live only so long as she was happy with life. But she is in pain, and something has gone badly wrong with the plumbing - she has not even tried to urinate or defecate since sometime last night. She eventually manages to eat her sliced-up ox heart, and she eloquently eyes a chocolate biscuit that I have just bitten in half, so I take it out of my mouth and give it to her. She drinks a bit of water. But that's it. She won't even look at anything else.
She's gone very quiet all of a sudden, watching everything around her with a strange, focused attention, as if she was already seeing it from the perspective of a different world. We're out of time. I phone the vet. He says he'll be around at half past twelve.
We bring the basket down into the garden, into the gazebo, in dappled shadow and the scent of chrysanthemums and pine. She follows the flight of a butterfly, cocks her ear at the warble of a small bird somewhere nearby. Mother tells her that she'll be going on ahead to a place we'll all be coming to; that she must go, and be a good girl, and wait for us up in whatever Happy Hunting Ground awaits us; she's to say hello to all those who have gone on ahead already. She's met my Gran, who's been up there a number of years already; and there's the other dog, our first Alsatian, with whom she's to make friends.
The guy who mows our lawn has arrived, and is making a racket outside. I go and ask him if he wouldn't mind coming back in an hour or so, and tell him why. Eyes full of compassion, he tells me he'll be back the next day, and leaves us wrapped in the cocoon of our silence beneath the pine tree. The vet is half an hour late; when Mother hears the sound of a car pull up outside the gate, she flees into the house. I can't. I won't let my baby, who came into my arms at six weeks old, who has just come home from six months in a foreign place with strangers all around her, die alone. The vet is astounded at the improvement we have made on her paws in the short time since he's seen her; but when he lifts her back leg, it just flops back into the basket. He shakes his head.
I cuddle Ari with one arm, holding her paw with my other hand, telling her that she's a good girl and that I love her very much. That's the last thing she hears.
It's calm and quiet there under the eaves of the gazebo, its wooden doorways looking as if they were leading into a church. I sit stroking Ari's head long after the vet declares that there's no heartbeat, playing with the silky ears; it is my hand that eventually closes the dark eyes now empty of life. I can't watch them carry her away and turn away at the last, running back into the house.
The weather turns as we pack up the food and titbits which have remained behind, and it is on quite a different day from the glorious morning, an afternoon grey and oppressive, that Mother and I set out for the SPCA village to give all this away to the strays. For Ari's soul. I give a handful of dog biscuits to an Alsatian which happens to be there, and crouch for a long time by his cage, crying my eyes out.
Wednesday, May 3
The lawnmowing guy turns up as he says he would; I ask Mother, later, if he'd left an invoice as usual. He has, but it's different; a scrawled message across the form instead of the usual neat numbers. No charge this time around; sorry you've lost a friend.
We took the film out of my camera in to be developed this morning. It came out utterly, perfectly, completely blank.
The guy doing Ari's boots tells me they will be ready on Friday.