Getting a dog proved to be a bit of a rigmarole, truth be told. It was 1998, and though we already had a cat, my parents decided that what the household really needed was a puppy. So, one day when I was at school, off they trundled to the nearby Dogs Trust (called the NCDL back then) re-homing centre and picked the one they wanted. They couldn't take her home, mind. What followed was a lengthy process that involved people checking out our garden, our house, our family and our sanity before we were finally able to bring her home and add one to the family. Even then, she wasn't allowed to walk out on pavements for the first week or so, for reasons I'm still not entirely sure of.
She's not able to give us her life story - she's a dog - so all we know about her past is what the NCDL people told us, and that might be one tall tale. Nevertheless, they told us that she belonged to a farmer based somewhere in North Wales, until he realised that she wouldn't be suitable for a farmers dog, so he promptly dumped her on some mountains somewhere and left her to die. Fortunately she was found by someone before she froze to death and was taken to the re-homing people. That's the line I've always been given anyway - quite how she went from North Wales to the NCDL place in West Sussex is anyone's guess, to be honest.
But whatever her past, she ended up with us, and the past 13 years round our gaff have been accompanied by barking, whining, begging for food and loose bowels - those last two attributed to me, admittedly. Sadly though, very soon that's all about to change, because the dog is old. The dog is on her last legs. The dog, alas, is almost out of time. The first notable sign of decline came about a year ago, when we noticed that one of her eyes had gone a bit cloudy. Since then, they've both deteriorated - she has cataracts, and the vet told us she's pretty much blind now. The second sign came at the end of a walk one day, when her back legs suddenly gave way beneath her and she struggled to scramble back upright. The third sign was the tumour.
It's awfully difficult to know what to do. The tumour is the main issue - it's the size of a tennis ball, and with it hanging down under her her mobility is severely restricted - not to mention that she has arthritis and her back legs are now very weak. She's fallen down the stairs a few times, and most nights one of us has to pick her up and carry her as she can't climb them any more. As mentioned earlier, her eyes are going/gone, and she spends most of the day sleeping. All of which leads us to one conclusion, except...
She walked three miles the other day. I don't know how - at one point I didn't think she was going to make it - but she did, even if she just plodded several paces behind us. She still barks like crazy at anyone at the door, still begs for food - though she can't jump up any more - and can still chase after next door's cat at an impressive rate. She still eats very well, and whilst her bowels have never been the greatest she's not incontinent. She certainly hasn't given up on life, of that we're sure, and we're pretty confident that she's not in any pain. There's no evidence to say she is. The last time we took her to the vets, he told us that the tumour is probably cancerous, but finding out would mean anaesthetic, and she certainly wouldn't survive that.
So what do you do? The first sign that she's in pain, the decision is made, but right now that's not a factor. From a purely selfish point of view, we don't want to make that trip to the vets over the Christmas period - although we will if we have to - and there's no reason to say goodbye just yet. But deep down, we know it's coming. It's 50/50 whether she'll see this Christmas, 0/100 that she'll see the next. I'm prepared for it, although the sadness will be inescapable, as will the puzzlement when the doorbell rings and there's no sound or no running to the door. I'm just hoping that she goes in her sleep, peacefully and at home.
I've never taken a photo of the dog, so the other day I went into the lounge with my phone and looked at her. She was sleeping, her tumour sticking out a mile, and I realised I couldn't do it - I couldn't take a photo of her like that. I've always thought that when I "grow up" I would like a dog - a big, cuddly, immensely loyal thing - but now I'm not so sure. They break your heart, pets.