It annoys me when animals are poorly cared-for.
Many years ago when I was in the Showground Road house and my daughter was just a baby, it rained heavily for several days in succession in the middle of a cold winter. Somewhere in that time, I heard a car door open, followed by a single high-pitched yap of a small dog. I didn’t think anything of it. The car door closed, the car pulled away.
But when the rain stopped a day or two later and I emerged, I found huddled against the front fence, utterly unsheltered from the wind and the rain, a drenched, chilled-down little dog, an elderly Yorkshire Terrier as I later found out. She had bald patches everywhere, running sores both on some of the bald patches and in furry areas as well, inflamed-looking teats and a nasty, hacking cough.
I immediately felt terribly guilty, knowing that I’d even consciously heard the sounds of some uncaring owner dumping her in the terrible weather, and yet because it was wet and the outdoor world was uncomfortable, I’d chosen to stay indoors and leave her out on the wet, blustering, cold weather day and night for an extended period.
I carried her in. I turned the heater on full-blast, and sat on the floor in front of it. I wrapped her in a towel and dried her off, then wrapped her in another towel and cuddled her in it in front of the heater, trying to get her warmed-up again both with the heater and with my own body-warmth through the towel.
She was so filthy and so running with pus, that both towels were ruined. I quietly threw them away later. She was diseased, and she stank. My partner commented at the time that they thought I was more compassionate than they were, because the dog was so diseased and ugly-looking that they would never have been able to bring themself to touch it.
That thought had occurred to me, too, but I had to bring myself to touch it. After all, a domestic animal is entirely at the mercy of its humans. Once you take on an animal, you take on the duty of its care and its quality of life. The terrier only became so sick because of human mistreatment and neglect – it was certainly not the dog’s fault, and the dog should not be blamed.
After a time, the terrible shivering that was wracking the dog’s frame lessened, and although I had no dog-food in the house, I found something soft and digestible in the house to offer her. She ate a little, and despite having spent days in torrential rain, drank thirstily when offered water in a bowl.
Even to a layman, and one who wasn’t really a dog-person, she seemed terribly ill to me. When she was fed and rested and warm, I wrapped her up again, and called a cab. I was between cars – my partner at the time had an ethical objection to owning motor vehicles – so I rang for a cab, and the dog and I went for a ride to the nearest veterinary surgery, leaving my partner and baby behind at home.
I told the vet the circumstances. He would have been aware of the rain, so I merely told him about the car door and the yelp days before the rain stopped, then going out and finding this pathetic thing huddled up to a wire fence. He asked what I’d given her, and when I told him he nodded in approval. He looked at her sores and her bald patches. He looked at her teats and her slightly prolapsed vagina. He palpated her gently, terribly gently, moving his hands as softly as he could.
And stoically, she bore it. She was obviously in pain and she whined, but she didn’t snap, she didn’t even try to escape. What a good little dog. He finished with his stethoscope and his rectal thermometer, and told me she was still hypothermic despite my efforts at raising her temperature and that she must have been near death when I found her. She had pneumonia, to judge by her breathing and that cough. He told me she had some kind of serious abnormality to her heart rate, and her kidneys felt tumourous and distended. (On cue, she urinated on the examination table, producing a pale, watery urine that the vet also thought looked characteristic of kidney disease). Her skin condition and baldness was due to extended poor nutrition and poor hygiene, leading to infections and parasites. She recently had had pups despite being really too old to bear a litter, and her teats were full of mastitis. Further, her body showed signs of having been overbred for the whole of her life, by someone who wanted to sell her pups for maximum money and didn’t care about her welfare.
What did this mean for her future? It meant she really didn’t have one, he told me. If I were to keep her, she’d cost me thousands per year in veterinary costs to keep alive, would have a very poor quality of life, and would die within the next couple of years anyway as she really was very old. He left it to me. Did I want to keep her alive?
I really, really wanted to keep her alive. She had been overbred and criminally neglected all her life. I wanted to prove to her that there were humans who were kind and gentle, and generous with food. I wanted to give her a couple of good years, because according to the vet she had not had any good quality time for a very, very long time, if ever. Standing there next to the vet by the examination table, my hands resting on her, I would have done anything to keep her alive.
Then she met my eyes and whined miserably. She whined her thoughts straight into my brain. She appreciated my kindness, she truly did. And the morsel of food, and the warm towels and the heater. She most of all appreciated the cuddles. But she was tired, she was worn-out, she didn’t want to be sick and in pain any longer.
We’ll do it, I told the vet. Pull out the Big Needle. He offered to let me leave. Over the last thirty years I’ve had four animals euthanased, and I’ve never once been so cowardly as to pay the fee and walk away. I wasn’t about to with her, either. He shaved a forepaw, and with some difficulty found a vein. I cuddled her close to me, and spoke to her softly. He injected gently. All the time she watched my face, and listened to my words. She gave my hand one last lick. Then she was struggling to keep her eyes open, then she was gone. The last thing she saw was my face, the last thing she heard was my voice.
The kindness she had deserved to receive right through her entire life, she only found in her last few hours. I had only known the dog a short time, yet I cried all the way home. Not for her death, but for the evident quality of her whole life. I cannot believe how callous some people are.