This is without doubt the most difficult blog post I have ever had to write. It will also go down as one of my most challenging pieces of writing, personally. My act of writing this is a form of therapy. I aim to be able to begin to accept this because right now I can’t do anything much more than cry over the loss.
Shortly before 7am on Friday morning (31st July 2015), our Jack Russell/Border Terrier-cross Katie was put to sleep.
I appreciate that this blog post won’t appeal to everyone and that it’s far removed from my usual mixed stream of content but I’d like to try and write about her, for those who wish to continue reading. There are photographs to accompany this but my images only date back as far as 2008.
I can think right back to the first day I met her, at Holly Hedge animal sanctuary. My mum sister had already been to see her once; I still couldn’t understand why we were getting a dog or what the appeal would be, after years of rabbits, numerous cats, guinea pigs and goldfish. I was encouraged to stroke her as my mum hold her why we went for a brief walk up the road. I’d never had a positive experience from a dog before but as I tentatively reached out to touch her, she responded on instinct to try and lick my hand. There was no biting.
She was eight-months old at the time we adopted her (March 1999). I can’t remember much at all about those early years but a care towards her developed quickly, as much as she could also be a pain in the backside; constantly scrounging for food, climbing to the top of the leather settee for sunbathing opportunities and barking. If she wasn’t sleeping or eating, she was almost certainly barking at something.
Like a lot of young dogs, she would occasionally mess indoors before learning that she must always do her business in the garden. Our new conservatory became her expansive bedroom. I will never forget one occasion where I heard a lot of commotion going on in there… As I investigated, I found she’d ripped a bag of soil open and dispensed of the contents, only so she could have a wee on top! Allegedly, the first cat we had was able to use the toilet like a human (I was far too young to remember this) but I’d never seen anything like this first hand from any other pet!
She had an interest in football, of all things. When I was out kicking the ball around, she’d immediately give chase. Admittedly, she often appeared to be trying to consume an object at least six-times the size of her own head but she was always willing.
For the first decade of her life, she was extremely energetic. She used to do these crazy never-ending circuits around a 12ft square patch of grass in the garden. After that, she’d leap in to the house (avoiding all three of the steps) to complete a figure-of-eight circuit around both living rooms, through closed doors and behind each settee, while skidding like a cartoon canine, up and down the hallway!
I believe it is because of her and the responsibility that I first became interested in walking. I forget the exact point at which I began taking her out on my own but the act of taking her to Felton Common each evening after school (and then work) was something I looked forward to. It was always the same locations, often following one of several familiar routes but it was a time we both enjoyed.
It was only two-years ago, at the age of fifteen that I began taking her to never-before seen places, including Brean Down, Sand Point and Stockhill Forest near Priddy. That same year, she lost her hearing without warning and the fear that time was running out suddenly awoke within me, hence why I began to make more of an effort. It had only been a year since I started walking myself and I realised how much I wished she’d have been able to join me more often.
Whenever I was out in the workshop, she was always curious; waiting for a time when we might get to go for a walk.
In reality, she was born with a form of arthritis in her hip and has always had a ‘funny’ walk, running on three legs with the right one often suspended above ground. But she never seemed to be in great pain or any discomfort when she was younger. We’d sometimes go out for hour long walks. It was when she got to 13 that I think I began to realise that 45 minutes was becoming her limit and that I’d have to restrict longer walks to alternate days.
I’m glad Katie got to see the snow in her time.
In 2011, I first moved out on my own and Katie lived with me for the eighteen months that I was there. It was a good experience to have her company, even though the situation wasn’t ideal for her, with other dogs on the premises. Since then, I moved back to my mum’s for a year before moving to my current location, where I’ve been for less than two-years. This current time alone has been hard, for the simple fact that I’ve frequently missed Katie. But at the same time, I’ve always been able to visit her on the weekends and evenings, when I’d have to face up to the fact that she’s much older and less able than the friend I’d always like to remember.
Now, the hardest part is knowing that I can never see her. No matter where I go, how far and how hard I search; she is gone. I’ll never be able to hold her, watch her snatch a biscuit from my grasp or allow her to wander over and lick my palm.
It was Wednesday evening (29th July 2015) when I knew that her time was up.
I’d taken the day off work to help mum clear some clutter from her home and we were finished by lunchtime. With time to spare, I had an idea about taking Katie for a walk up to Goblin Combe – she lives with us in Cleeve for a good ten-years but I never once took her up here and only returned on my own, for the first time since childhood, in 2014. I was very aware that her hip had been giving her more discomfort over the past twelve-months; it was clear to see as she made her way around the garden, running for only short bursts and struggling to climb steps. Still, I wanted her to see this place as I knew there would soon be a day where she couldn’t.
Katie on her final walk up Goblin Combe.
I helped her across the drive and up in to my car. It had been so long since I’d taken her out that I don’t think she understood. But as soon as we arrived, she was up and raring to go like I hadn’t seen in a long time! Her pace was a little slower than I remembered it and so we didn’t go far, we certainly didn’t’ go fast and we were back at the car about half-an-hour later. She was literally at a walking pace but still willing to hobble on.
We got back home and she seemed okay. I left to do my own thing. But as I returned that evening, Katie wasn’t right. She was clearly very weak and uncomfortable on her right side, occasionally falling over. Before leaving, I lay her in her basket on her good side to rest and as I stroked her, I could see something was wrong. She was relieved to be able to rest and I knew in that moment, that her time was due to arrive.
This was while I was replacing the gate a few years ago.
I couldn’t bare seeing her the next day (Thursday), especially when mum told me she was no better after a night’s sleep and that she’d be calling a vet. It plagued my mind the entire day at work and I shed more tears privately that evening. Mum told me the vet had given her antibiotics and that we’d now have to wait until the morning. Even if the medicine was going to help on this night, Katie was seventeen; we wouldn’t be able to keep her comfortable for ever. I barely slept on Thursday evening.
So, Friday morning comes and I only wanted time to stand still. I was dreading the phone call from my mum, which arrived at 6.15am. Mum was already in tears and the vet was on his way for an early-morning call out. I was supposed to be in work for 7am but I couldn’t even think of that when I had this chance to say goodbye.
As I pulled up outside my mum’s home around 6.35am, I saw the vet’s car already there and felt this dread hanging over me. As I entered the home, Katie, despite lacking one or two of her senses, immediately hobbled over in my direction. Even in her final morning she recognised me, even though she lacked the strength to properly lick my hand. Mum said it was the most active she’d been for the past two-days.
A few minutes later, the needle went in and I held her head during those moments where she fought to resist this new sensation. The vet told us it would take ten-to-fifteen minutes to have effect. After a minute or two of shaking, sat in the floor in front of us, Katie slumped forwards in to a more comfortable position, resting her over her right arm (front leg).
This is a moment that keeps replaying in my head. Although her heart continued to beat for several minutes afterwards – perhaps fighting to stay with us; unaware of what was going on – for me, that was moment she died; her final signs of physical activity, ahead of the short quiet breaths that followed. She did look peaceful.
I kept stroking her, as if she would remain with us; like the end would never come. I wish now that I’d held her in my arms but I was afraid. Eventually, the vet told us she had gone.
I’m trying to remind myself of the good times and the happy memories, in the hope that this will become easier, if never easy in itself. But I’m not ready to let her go. She was a part of my life for sixteen years – that’s just over halfway.
I have some spiritual beliefs based on past experiences, although I would never class myself a being religious. As hard as it is to realise I can never see her again, I wish I could know that, wherever she is now, that she is comfortable, that she understands the decision we made and that I and we love her. I always will.
If you were to ask me what Katie means to me or how I’m feeling right now, I could not answer either question with a short or simple answer. But I hope that this post provides a clue with some insight. I’ve shed enough tears writing this; I cannot give any more.
I’d been worrying about this time for over two-years, given her age. I’ve cried myself to sleep just thinking about it on several occasions. I always hoped she would go peacefully in her sleep, without pain but now, I’m glad I was able to be there with her. Seventeen years was a fantastic age for her to reach, given her life-long plight with arthritis.
If you’re interested, I have an album with over 70 photos of her, right here.
Thank you for reading.
July 1998 – 31st July 2015