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Friday, November 7, 2008

Puppy Love

We call them, only half-jokingly, our "fur children" . Dogs, cats, whatever pet we have, they enrich our lives.
When I was recuperating from being at death's door in the mid 90s, one of my brothers bought a puppy, much to his wife's horror, with 2 kids under 5 at the time, so I ended up looking after her for 3 or 4 days a week. I took her to obedience class. She made me get up every day and take her for walks, morning and night, summer and winter. In short, even though she adored my brother, she also bonded with me.
I seriously believe that having her in my life helped me in my recovery immensely. It stopped me focussing on myself and my troubles so much, something that's so easy to do. She made me laugh, doing silly dog things. She made me exercise. Having to keep up with a happy, energetic young Doberman cross is bound to make you fitter.
She had "4-paw drive" fast as lightning, up and down hills, running like crazy then stopping to see where I was. Rushing back, as if to say "Come on! It's FUN!" And she did make me happy and give me such a sense of fun. Constantly throwing a stick or a ball is goodfor building up your upper body strength after you've wasted away to nearly nothing.
I was very poor then, living on the Invalids' Benefit. So in winter I'd go to parks and collect pine cones and branches for the fire place. She'd come along too, happy as could be, whatever I was doing was fine, she just wanted to do it too.
And the thing with dogs is they give you unconditional love. Whatever you do is right in their eyes. They trust completely. They love us. And having that unconditional love when I was feeling so sick, so ugly, so diseased, and thought I would be dead before 2000 came in was hugely valuable.
We had our routines.When it was bed time I'd turn off the lights and she'd be on her blanket. As soon as I was in my room I'd hear her jump onto the couch. It was one of those things - we both knew but just decided not to talk about it. In the morning she'd come and wake me up, and after I'd let her out she'd come back into my room and jump up on the bed for a cuddle.
I needed a regular afternoon nap in those days, I was just so weak and tired all the time. She'd come and lie on the floor by the couch I was on, then she'd quietly climb up and curl up at my feet, after giving a little lift of her top lip to apologise "I know I'm not supposed to be on the furniture but..." Of course I always let her stay. I loved having her so close.
Once when I had been readmitted to Herne Bay House my brother brought her to visit me. It was her first time there, and as soon as she came into my room, where I was lying in bed, she started to whimper with excitement and jumped straight up on the bed to see me. I felt loved. And I looked after her as well as I could.
She loved the beach, she loved swimming, she loved learning new tricks, and she was fast and clever, and at times cunning, as Dobermans tend to be.
And yesterday she had to be put to sleep. Too many old age problems, enlarged spleen, cancers, cataracts, hip dysplacia, and worst of all - she'd stopped eating. Just suddenly in the last week, it had all come to a head.
My brother was distraught, as was my niece. And after the news sank in, so was I. I know it's sentimental, but I put Henry Gross's song "Shannon" on repeat. It's a song about his family's Golden Retriever dying.Guaranteed tear-jerker. And I cried.
She was so much a part of my life, and really, a part of my healing. She didn't know or care that I had HIV, that I had to take 40 something pills a day, that I was sick. She was calm, steady, and loving, when I was too tired she'd sleep. She was there. I owe her a huge debt. It's so painful to have that responsibility, of having to kill something you love and one that loves you back so much. It's the Devil's bargain we enter whenever we have a pet with us. The joy, happiness, comfort and love they give us means that one day we will most likely have to decide when to kill them. But that's our duty too.
Bye my darling Keo, thank you for all you gave me. I don't know if I'd be here without you.

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