About 10 months ago, to go with a column I’d written, The Globe and Mail’s great cartoonist Anthony Jenkins did a marvellous drawing of a creature that was half-human, half-canine — a likeness of me and my dog Daisy inarguably in the process of becoming this strange single being. It had her ears, my eyes and glasses, her nose, my bangs and the tilt we shared.
A friend of mine snared the original shortly afterward, presented it to me for my birthday, and to the mantle of my fireplace it went and there it remains.
I guess it is no surprise that when I walked in the door of my house in the early hours of Tuesday morning, having just stroked Daisy and told her I loved her as a young veterinarian gave her the big needle and put her to sleep, I stupidly still expected her to be there to greet me. She had been for so long.
For about 14 years, we were together, having met at the Mississauga pound when she was just a young dog and I was still married. My then husband and I recently had lost another dog, Boo, to a terrible accident, and when we walked into the pound, we were hoping that the new one would, like Boo, snap her jaws upon demand. Daisy was in a cage, and immediately marched over with wagging tail. “Snap your jaws!” David or I said, and by God, she did it.
Never underestimate the smarts of a dog looking for a new home. Never underestimate the ability of a dog to please.
Never imagine you soon won’t be trying just as hard to please the dog.
Daisy and I outlasted the marriage. We went through three job changes (mine, Daisy being a stay-at-home mutt) and a couple of houses. We saw one set of cats die and another set take over. We buried my mother and the beautiful Blux, our older dog. We saw various young relatives move in with us, and move out again. We felt each of these losses, but we had each other.
As with many relationships, there was a plain one and a pretty one. She was beautiful. She had a white stripe running from the centre of her head to her nose, a gorgeous full ruff, a thick shiny coat of brown, black, taffy, white and honey, a big fat tail, lovely brown eyes. Even when she was very old, from a distance she looked like a puppy, and I came to take inordinate pride in telling admirers her real age, as though it reflected well upon me.
She was also ill-mannered, bossy, demanding, which is how I like my dogs. She was gentle with people, if a little distant; tolerant of cats, except at meal time; fiercely protective of me, but only when she was on the leash. An unrepentant heterosexual, the only dogs she really liked were un-neutered males. She was nuts about a splendid spaniel on our street and would flirt outrageously (the canine equivalent of lifting her shirt and flashing), and in fact, just a few days before she died, she saw him and lost her head one more time.
We were like an old married couple, by which I mean that although we didn’t do much, we did everything together.
We had three or four walks a day, sometimes more. We liked the same things — lying on the floor, me blowing on her face until she faux-snapped at me; me putting her through her routine of tricks (she would sit, shake a paw, twirl, snap her jaws and speak and, one my ex taught her in about three seconds, whereupon at the cry of “Be a slut!” she would roll on her back, grinning); her putting me through mine (chiefly, she would stand at the kitchen door and bark in her highest-pitched tone, the message clearly, “Get your lazy, toilet-using human ass down here!” and I would come running from wherever I was).
She was diagnosed, a short time before Christmas, with an abdominal tumour. She had a couple of marvellous weeks, when she was fully her lunatic, barking, cheerful, indomitable self and, on some level, I pushed the diagnosis into the back of my mind.
Never underestimate the human capacity for denial.
But on Sunday evening, she stopped eating, refused even the treats she usually inhaled, wouldn’t play. Still hoping it was just an off day, I headed off on the Liberal election tour on Monday morning. By Monday night, the reports from the niece and nephew who live with me, and Daisy’s dog-walker George, were alarming enough that I flew home. As one of my friends put it, “You don’t owe the Prime Minister anything. You owe your dog.”
She was at the emergency clinic, in a big cage, asleep when I got there. She recognized me, and I lay beside her for a time, with my head in the cage. Once, she managed to lick my face, but that was as much as she could muster. The kind vet told me the tumour may have spread to her brain and that, even with a course of steroids, it was but a matter of weeks. He was good enough to say that he thought the time had come.
By the look in Daisy’s eyes — it was as though the light had dimmed in them — I thought so too.
They say it is painless. It is certainly fast. One minute, she was sitting up, my hand on her head, the next she fell over on her side. It is a terrible, shattering thing to have that kind of power, and although I’m assured that it was such a kind death and we humans should be so lucky, I am haunted.
My ex said it best. Kind, fast, right or not, it is still death, and living is the thing.
When I had a bath, she was on the mat by the tub. She slept on my bed until she couldn’t make the jump any more, and then she slept in a bed of her own by my bed. She followed me from room to room, nails clicking on the hardwood. As she got older, she often woke me in the middle of the night — barking to be let out, dragging her bum in circles on the carpet, noisily slurping herself clean. This is what I listen for still, my ear cocked, as hers always was for the sound of me, for the sound of her.
The Animal Advocates Society WatchDog News
Date: Sunday, 8 January 2006, at 6:32 p.m.