Those who have been following me, on this blog or social media, will have seen lots of photos of Morgan and Jess. I write the following in the hope that it might help someone else faced with the heart-breaking decision I had to make a week ago.
It never ceased to surprise me, how even when he seemed to be fast asleep, snoring even, Morgan would have one ear cocked and one eye half open and spring up the moment I got up from my seat. I thought you were sleeping! I’d say. It always made me smile, how even when asleep he was aware of exactly where I was and what I was up to.Now he is no longer here and springing to attention at any move from me, I am more aware than ever of just how devoted and attached to me he was.
While I sat at my desk, he’d want to lie in the foot-well. I’d have to place one foot either side of him and carefully move my chair forward so that his head rested beneath. It was a tight squeeze! I’ve written three novels with him lying here between my feet, fast asleep and snoring…
If I got up to leave the room, he’d follow my movements with his eyes, and he’d be at the door with his tail wagging, the moment I so much as thought it was time for a walk, and long before I’d reached for my coat or boots.
Through him, I became aware of things I said to myself out of habit. ‘Right, then!’ would have him on his feet in a second. A shout of exasperation, or a certain swear word, would have him on the alert, searching my face, his eyes great pools of curiosity and concern. Then I’d have to reassure him – it’s okay, pup, take no notice, it’s nothing to worry about, just me blowing off steam!
Now, still, I feel the impulse of my hand to reach out and stroke, the impulse to speak and reassure, so ingrained are my responses to him. Then reality kicks in – he isn’t here anymore, tuned into my every emotion.
I’m beginning to see that I was as tuned into him on a subliminal level as he was to me – that I was always aware how my own emotions affected him – happy, sad, joyous or despairing – whatever I felt, he felt it, too. Being aware of this, I would try to buffer the effects of the stresses in my life on him. If I was reduced to tears about something, he would come and rest his dear head upon my knee – and I would be trying to reassure him not to worry, that all would be alright. How many times – more than I can count – did I pick myself up for his sake? My love for him, my concern that he should have a happy life and not suffer because I was suffering, was what gave me strength to overcome the rock-bottom times in my life.
If someone came to the house or stopped to chat along the lane, he would be there by my side, trying to be part of the conversation, talking his doggy-talk which no person could understand. He never used to ‘talk’ to me like this, perhaps because he felt our understanding went beyond words. But he was well aware that speech was the main means of communication between people and tried so very hard to speak to others and be understood. Some people found it amusing, I think, but some probably thought it pretty weird.
Then, one day back in March, something changed. He began trying to ‘speak’ to me whenever I was near – a low, mumbling, pleading sound I’d never heard before. It was a sound which filled my heart with dread. Though I did not know it then, it was the beginning of the end for Morgan.
Too many times I’ve heard people say of their dear departed loved ones – if only the doctor had listened and acted sooner. Well, the world of veterinary medicine is no different to ours. But to be fair, the end result for my Morgan was always going to be what it was, even if they’d listened sooner, but his suffering may not have gone on for as long as it did.
I’ve looked at the calendar on my phone, at the number of weeks that went by. Phone the vet. Take Morgan to vet. Phone the vet. Take Morgan to vet, on and on and them telling me there didn’t seem to be anything wrong and to come back again if he didn’t improve. I’d be back again within days. There was even a suggestion that the steroids he’d been on for something else at the beginning of the year had made him a bit ‘loopy in the head’. And all the while, it was heart-breaking and frustrating beyond belief to listen to him trying to tell me what the matter was and me not being able to understand. All I knew was that something was amiss.
The last straw came with the arrival of a new vet at the practice, who became positively hostile to my request for Morgan to have pain-killers. He refused to give them, told me to come back again next week if he was no better. I’d been told to do that too many times. He said ‘pain-killers are not a treatment’. (Neither was doing nothing!) He was an arrogant man who seemed to view my request as an affront to his authority. I told that vet that I had not brought Morgan all that way only to be sent away, yet again, with nothing to help him. He grudgingly gave me just 2 tablets to be spread out over 4 nights. They made no difference at all.
By then, Morgan was now struggling to sleep at night, tossing this way and that, moaning with pain at intervals which had me lying awake at night, anguished for him. Incensed and bewildered by the attitude of that vet, I took Morgan to a different practice, nearer to home. The minute the new vet examined him, she said she believed the problem was in his hips. Why, oh why, did the other vets not even consider this, I asked myself? If this vet was able to, then why weren’t they? She booked him in for an x-ray. She showed me the x-ray plate. His hips were in a terrible state, riddled with arthritis. She said, from now on in, it was a case of ‘management’. I was so relieved! At long last, we knew what we were dealing with and what to do for him.
He was put on a high dose of glucosamine which would be reduced after a month to a maintenance dose of one per day. And, without question or argument, he was given the pain-killers I’d had to beg for and so grudgingly received, previously.
As the weeks progressed on this regime and he got no better, in fact seemed to be getting gradually worse, I began to pray. He will turn a corner, he will, he will, I told myself while waiting for the glucosamine to work its magic. I bought him a large memory foam mattress in the hope of making him more comfortable at night, which was when, with no distractions, he seemed to suffer most. His pain-killers were increased and still the sleepless nights went on.
In desperation, I sent away for a light-therapy unit which was meant to be beneficial in the treatment of arthritic joints and dysplasia. He continued to get worse. It was all too little, too late, for Morgan. I went back to the vet and was told the brutal truth. The kindest thing to bring an end to Morgan’s pain was euthanasia. He was already on a high dose of painkillers but, at my request, I was given a higher dose and told to come back in a week with a view to putting him to sleep.
As it turned out, we didn’t have even that week. Over the next twenty-four hours, the pain suddenly got much worse for him and the last grain of hope that he would turn a corner evaporated. The end of his life rushed towards us with such rapidity that I only had that one more night with him. At three in the morning, I made the decision that I had to admit defeat and put an end to his suffering as soon as possible.
As I sat up with him and stroked him, clouds of his fur floated around and surrounded us – for a couple of weeks he’d been shedding his old coat as he always did at this time of year. He went to heaven in a brand-new coat, shedding his physical life along with his old coat.
The next morning, I phoned the vet and arranged to take Morgy on his last journey. I will never forget what Morgan did after the phone call. He led the way to the car. I opened the door. No more pain, now, Morgy, I told him, no more pain. He did something he’d never done before. He reached up and thumped both paws on the seat, as if to say ‘right, let’s do it!’ I lifted him up (he was no longer able to get in the car unaided) and he sat in his seat, tail wagging, looking ahead with excitement.
Given my emotional state, having to take him to end his life, his behaviour seemed bizarre and baffling. Along the way, I felt him thump my arm with his paw to get my attention; I slowed down and turned to glance at him. He was gazing deep into my eyes, his eyes soft and misty with love. He wasn’t looking anxious or concerned as he would normally do at seeing my distress. He seemed to be smiling. I placed my hand on his head, stroked him, and told him ‘I love you, too, darling, I love you, too!’
He sat back in his seat with a sigh, staring intently ahead, with that open-mouthed smile of his as if he was excited and pleased. I was utterly bewildered – I see why, now. For the first time in all our years together, I was not seeing my own emotions reflected in his response. Here I was, torn apart by grief at the knowledge I was about to lose him, and there he was, seemingly as happy as could be.
He had never feared going to the vets as some dogs do. Whenever he went, even when ill or in pain, he always had a smile and a wagging tail for them. On his last visit, he was the same as always. He faced his end with no fear at all and was gone from me so quick… it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, to put an end to the life of he who had been so dear to me.
Anyone who has had to do this will know how it feels. We never imagine that one day we will be called upon to do it. When to do it, seems to be the hardest call to make. If I had known my hopes were false ones…if I had known it would end this way…if I’d known from the start that it was pointless trying…if, if, if. I couldn’t have predicted how it was going to end. From that first day when he tried to ‘speak’ to me of his pain, my only objective was to find out what was wrong so that we could make him better. Where there is life, there is hope, as they say. But when there is no hope left, what is there? Love, and to do the most loving thing we will ever be asked to do – let them go.
Morgan let me know on that last journey, God bless him, that he was ready to go, and was grateful to me for releasing him from his pain. I am certain now of that, although at the time, being a human, I failed to understand.
He was so loyal, loving and giving. He didn’t have one aggressive bone in his body. He lived life to the full and with passion. When I think of all the adventures and walks we shared; beaches or mountains, rivers or seas, woodlands and meadows, he loved them all, exploring every inch of every place we went. And each time he saw we were leaving for pastures new, he’d leap up front, excited to discover where we were going next. Most importantly, he was loved and he knew that he was loved, and that is the greatest comfort to me.
He was the most remarkable soul. I will never know his like again. He was one of the greatest blessings in my life. But Morgan is not grieving, Morgan is not suffering, and I would go through this heart-rending pain and grief a hundred times over rather than see him suffer.
I’ve reached some form of acceptance – that the ocean of life will go on crashing upon the shore, however much we may try to swim against the tide. And much of our anguish comes, I think, from our not being able to change the course of things when they head in a direction we do not want them to. It’s necessary to accept not only my own limitations but those of the people who we expect to be able to do far more than they actually can. I suspect that the arrogant vet was coming from a place where he was not prepared to accept the limitations of his own knowledge.
Never let anyone try to persuade you a dog is ‘just a dog’. Knowing Morgan has convinced me; they are wiser, kinder and more generous souls than many humans are.
Please share this to pay tribute to Morgan and all the other wonderful dogs who give us so much in their too short lives.
In memory of Morgan; 16th March 2007 – 15th June 2016