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The life and death of my dog

24 November 2012, 11:09
I lost my dog yesterday. He was only a dog and his time was close. I took him to the Vet and held his trusting face in my hands as he was being killed. He responded to my touch - trusted over so many years that he did not flinch at the prick of the fatal needle.
"Its ok my boy, its ok" and he looked at me with his rheumy old amber eyes – trusting to the last.
He lost consciousness still trying to please me – holding still and being a good dog. Yes, he was only a dog – just as I am only a human.
Puzzle came into our lives as a boisterous half-grown adult early in1992. He was graceful, athletic and single-minded as only pointers can be. My children were all still children and they grew up with him, while he grew old. They are now adults and he is now dead.
My job, as a farm manager, required fairly regular moves, in my quest for position and prospects in my profession. Finally, an opportunity to own a share in a going concern presented itself, so I became a partner in Riverside Piggeries.
Puzzle moved house with us when we moved from Potgietersrus to Pretoria based Riverside and he was always a reminder of the long road we had travelled together. In his prime, he was nearly shot by me on several occasions, owing to his irrepressible instinct to hunt. He would dissapear into the verdant vlei that bordered the Apies river. Gone for days, sometimes, he would appear, bedraggled, thin, hungry and chaste. I would always forgive him, after an initial beating and he would, I think, forgive me. I then stopped beating him, as he just could not help this overpowering instinct and I sensed that I would merely break him in spirit by continuing this practise. Instead, we built a wall to keep him in, which only partially worked, because he could (and would) vault the wall. He also learned to open the spring-loaded gate by hooking his right-front paw in the bars, walking backwards and then rushing through. Finally, after much remedial work to these barriers, he was contained.
As he matured, so did he become more contented with his restricted territory. Although he could still stand for hours pointing at the chickens (after a long and careful stalk), he became happier with the more mundane tasks that befell him, such as taking the occasional provocative nip at the gardener, or catching and devouring the unwary doves that waddled carelessly into his carefully laid ambushes.
Our coterie of dogs had increased, meanwhile, with the acquisition of Queenie, Luke and Terror. Queenie mothered Luke and Terror, while Puzzle simply ignored the lot of them. Terror, being the highly –strung terrier that he was, challenged the old pointer from a very young age. He was regularly chastised by Puzzle, till the time came when terror won his first fight with his older and much larger yardmate. From then on, there were relatively frequent fights between the two of them. Gradually, puzzle began to lose most of them, but could and would not give in to this young interloper. Eventually, we put Terror on tranquilisers, which decreased the frequency of this deadly rivalry.
When he was twelve, Puzzle developed a cancerous growth, which we had removed. In time, it grew back and we realised, that it had probably spread. He began to wheeze. Medication helped, but did not eliminate it. Still, he was happy and enjoyed the extra priveliges he was now allowed. His coat still sparkled and he still ate well.
Last year, he should have died. An enlarged liver made him nauseous and he would not eat. After spending a few days with the Vet, he was returned to us in a most pathetic state. I had to carry him – he would, or could not, walk.
"I will come out to the farm to put him down" Nadine’s concerned voice intoned. "If he doesn’t eat, he will die". Straight talk from the best Vet in town.
She had sent tins of super digestable tinned food, very high in protein, that were Puzzles only hope. He would not eat it.
"Come on boy, eat it you old bugger". I smeared a little round his gums, but he merely pulled a face and spat it out.
In the end, I force fed him in small amounts over the next 3 days and was rewarded by his renewed interest in his surroundings and small walks around his territory. The turning point had passed and was reinforced by his jumping over the gate on the stoep. He was back!
He turned 14 this year. His right eye began to cloud and one day, a few weeks ago, he had a fit. The terrier automatically attacked him, for which we chucked him in the pool – it always worked! The next day Puzzle had another episode. We pumped him with cortisone and he seemed to really enjoy the "high" it gave him, but time was short. Tina and I resolved to have him put down if he had a third fit and he had it two days ago. That was a bad day. I was locked in meetings with anxouis neighbours who felt threatened by the outbreak of Classical swine-fever and worried about the many pigs from the district that went through our abattoir. During the next meeting, of the Abattoir Forum, I learned of the intimidating inspection being held at our premises by the labour department and … Puzzle’s next fit.
Is there ever an appropriate time to loose a good companion? Is there ever a time that we can say, yes: bring on the death I was expecting but not ready for? Annie, our faithful Domestic of many years standing, fed Puzzle a few titbits, while all the time crooning her goodbyes to him.
"Puzzle, Puzzle. Ons ken mekaar lankal. Jy moet mooi loop – kom eet nog a bietjie"("we have known eachother for a long time. Go well - come, eat a little more") as she fed him carefully grilled chicken wings and other forbidden delicasies.
She talked to him and talked to him, while I unhappily ate my depleted lunch with a cold and determined, but fragile heart. Having the power of life and death over him, hung heavily on me, as I called him in a cheerful whistle, picked him up and put him in the Subaru SUV. I had fooled him completely – he seemed happy to contemplate the scenery as it swished by him on this his last, but unexpected journey.
After it was done and he had collapsed on the stainless-steel table, the Vet wrappped him in a blanket and carried him to the car for us. I could not help but weep. What did I weep for? My poor old dog – yes, to be sure, but what did I really weep for? He had, after all, had a very good life, as lives go. I wept for him, yes I really wept for him – a life come and gone, with only infirmity and discomfort to look forward to. I also, though, wept for all living things, that by design, had only death as the prize for living life.

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