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Friday, 29 June 2012

The Last Days of Dog

When Xena was first diagnosed, I started trying to think of nice things to do with her. We did some of them. I stuffed her into my bike trailer and took her through the canals into Vicky Park. The thing is that she was still seriously unwell, even if she was functional with pain killers. Her favourite activities almost all involved physical activity, which she had trouble with.

We went on some nice walks, but not long ones. Her favourite low impact activity was always going to parties, so we went to parties. Sonia's going away party was large and crowded, with densely packed people, all merrily drinking. Xena weaved among them, charming people and nicking unguarded food. She was a social butterfly. As it got very late, I got worried about her getting tired or trampled, so I took her upstairs to chill out. I was exhausted and wanted to go to sleep, in fact. A lost party guest opened the room door and she darted out and rejoined the stragglers, happy to be in the midst of things.

That was probably her happiest night after being diagnosed and I'm glad she got it.

I found a new flat in time for my eviction. Sonia left the country for the year. Xena slowly, but surely kept declining, with brief rallies. Meanwhile, all the pills she was taking meant she needed frequent walks, during the day. And during the middle of the night. She often seemed at her perkiest, happiest and most mobile at 3 AM.

When I finally moved to a ground floor flat, it seemed to greatly increase her mobility. This week, on Tuesday morning, I took her to the park and she actually ran a bit. Wendyl, my new housemate, took her out for a walk, and Xena excitedly tugged on her lead the whole way.

Wednesday, maybe from overdoing it, maybe from just reaching a threshold, she was much more stiff and limped to the park. On previous days, she would often limber up as she walked, even if she got off to a rough start, but that day her limp just got worse and worse. I gave her pain killers and they didn't help. I accidentally left treats within reach and she left them alone, preferring to lie on the floor. So I called the vet to make an appointment.

Then I fed her every treat in the house whilst waiting for the cab. I knew this would eventually upset her stomach, but I thought she would not actually experience the ill effects of this. But then the vet was running behind and we waited over an hour. She looked miserable from being in the vets' office, from the pain in her leg, and presumably from an upset stomach.

Because the euphemism is "putting her to sleep," I assumed it would resemble sleep in some way, but it did not. She did not tire and relax as much as she crumpled.

Vets say these drugs are humane and painless and kind. Anti-death penalty activists say they're painful and cruel. Somebody here is wrong.

I wish they had sedated her first.

I've never seen anyone die before. The dog I had as a kid apparently got into rat poison and died 10 minutes before I arrived to see him. I was not at the bedside of either of my grandmothers or my cousins. My uncle died in his sleep without warning. When my mum died, I was at opera, seeing Messiaen's St Francis of Assisi, feeling unhappy about how the hugging of the leper was treated. My experience of death is funerals and loss and digging my first dog's grave and fetching my neighbour's drowned cat from the pond. Xena won't have grave, won't have a funeral. The only thing left is to give away all her things.

The vet said I did the right thing. I tried to explain I hadn't just let it go until she was staggering. That she got suddenly worse. That I hadn't carried her because I knew that also hurt her shoulder.

Today, I woke up extremely early and got on a train to Birmingham to sound check for a gig I played in this evening. Because my life goes on, at least, even if hers doesn't.

And when we finished earlier than I expected, I got a train tonight back to London instead of waiting for the morning, as that's easier, so I was feeling kind of good about it and thought I should send a text to … nobody. There's nobody waiting for me. There's nobody who cares if I go back today or tomorrow. I have no particular responsibilities. No job. I am uneeded. I can sleep through the night without having to wake up for a walk. If I reach to my side while I sleep, my bed will be empty and my floor bare. I can go wherever I want and do whatever I want. And if what I want is a walk to the park, I'll go alone.

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