The Big Read: Dog owner Cheslyn Baker's agony at saying goodbye to a faithful friend
Dog owner Cheslyn Baker recalls the anguish she felt at saying goodbye the loving, faithful of 14 years
It’s raining – of course it is – when I make the appointment for the elder of our two dogs to see the vet. Daisy is nearly 15, a Labrador-cross. We have had her from six weeks old. As I speak to the vet’s assistant on the phone, the tiny puppy that once stole my heart is so large she nudges my thigh with her nose.
I have 40 minutes to get her from our house in Coalville to the vet in Sileby. I don’t even bother to shower, let alone put on any make-up. I find a towel – a new one – to put in the back of the hatchback to make Daisy’s journey comfortable.
She has a growth on her back leg that has got bigger and bigger. Once, about 18 months ago, we took her to the vet who did a biopsy, said it was nothing malignant, just fatty tissue, and removed it. However, he warned, it might grow back.
For a time, the operation seemed successful. She could still take short walks with us and our other dog, Rue, an English pointer, her constant companion of the past 14 years.
These latest brief sojourns were nothing like the long hikes across fields and beaches we had once all enjoyed.
Over the past few months leading up to this dark October day, Daisy’s lump had grown huge.
She could still walk, seemed pain-free and managed to eat, preferring to pinch food off her more active sister.
She even still had the cheek to give the cat a playful lick when he wasn’t looking, so it wasn’t crystal clear that her end may be nigh.
The day before, I had taken her and Rue round the field at the back of our house. She had struggled and only managed about 30 yards. As soon as we got in, she flopped down on the living room floor, panting,
This morning, Andy had gone to work early when both our dogs had been still asleep in the conservatory, as always.
I wandered through with a piece of toast in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, Rue came to greet me but Daisy stayed in her basket.
One look tells me she is far from well. Her side has burst open and the wretched fatty tissue that should be inside is now protruding outside.
Obviously, something awful is happening, which is why I need to get her to the vet quickly.
I find her collar, much the worse for wear, and a lead that hasn’t seen any use in the past year.
Daisy always stays close, you see, so we have no need of a lead, unlike in her more active youth when she would chase the wind and cause much consternation by refusing to come back until she was good and ready.
Now I have to coax her out of the house and into the car. Daisy is too heavy for me to lift, so I find an old door out of the shed and place it as a ramp. I attach her lead and encourage her to struggle up it.
She doesn’t want to go. Perhaps she senses this is her last journey. I hold her round her middle, talk to her and eventually get her into the hatchback. I make her comfortable on the towel.
It is still raining softly as I drive Daisy down the leafy lanes of Charnwood, through Woodhouse Eaves towards Quorn and then to Chine House Vets, in Sileby.
Normally, this would be a pleasant journey through autumn countryside, but not today. In the back, she doesn’t make a sound.
I pull into the vet’s car park, get out, open the tailgate and look into Daisy’s face. She looks sad, old and somehow sorry, but I steel myself, pretend I haven’t noticed, shut the back again and go into the vets.
I march up to the desk mustering resolve. “I phoned earlier and you said someone could help me lift my dog out of the car?”
“Yes of course, if you would like to wait a moment that will be fine.”
I am still hoping they will be able to fix her, save her. Or at least, I think that is what I want. I certainly don’t want her to suffer. I feel confused and anxious.
In under five minutes, someone comes out and gently eases Daisy out of the car and sets her down carefully on her unsteady legs. I put on her lead and she hobbles to meet her fate – whatever it may be.
Vet Rosie Thorpe speaks softly and I know by her expression when she first claps eyes on Daisy that the end is coming.
Without any warning, I burst into tears. I cry so hard I cannot see properly. But shockingly, even to me, I can’t bear to look at my beloved dog to say goodbye.
I dimly hear the vet reassuring me that having Daisy put to sleep is a kind thing to do and that her condition would deteriorate rapidly otherwise and she would suffer.
I realise all this is true. I have known it since last night when she flopped on to the floor after our last ever walk together. I have been kidding myself that a miracle might happen.
Is it selfishness that makes me want my dog to stay with me? She has been a good friend and we have shared so much of life.
We have seen my daughter marry, the arrival of two grandsons. My Daisy even shared my battle with cancer six years ago, throughout which she hardly ever left my side.
I start to babble to the vet about needing to let my husband know. She asks me if I want to stay with Daisy or if I want to wait until Andy can get there to be with her at the end.
This just makes me cry more. I am crying as I write this now.
At the vet’s I take what must be the coward’s way out. I am adamant I don’t want to be there when she dies, but I don’t say the word “dies” because I can’t bring myself to say that either.
The vet asks me if I want her lead, her collar – then broaches if I want her ashes... I shake my head. I don’t want any of these things. I don’t want anything to do with any of this whole sad business. Yet if this is being in denial – how come I am sobbing so much?
And so I leave Daisy there, in a strange place, go back to my familiar car and phone Andy.
He knows immediately from my broken voice that the dog we have both loved is to leave us.
“They want to know if you want to be there with her when… because I can’t be there. I just can’t. It is impossible. They said they’ll wait for you if you can get there by four,” I tell him.
“Yes, I want to be there,” I hear Andy say, for which I feel grateful. I am relieved someone Daisy loves is brave enough to be with her.
Oh, hell. Now I have to go back into the waiting room full of people and tell them. Damn. I can’t do that either! I give myself a talking to. What’s the matter with me? I am not usually this inadequate. I pride myself on being able to deal with any situation reasonably well and I don’t recognise this blubbering wreck.
Fortunately, I see a woman in a white coat emerge from the front door of the surgery. I get out my car, still sniffling, walk up to her and outline the facts. Our dog is having to be put down and my husband would like to be there please. He can get there for four o’clock. If she could go back in and tell them I would be really grateful.
She sees my pain and I can tell she sympathises. She probably understands better than I do how I am feeling.
I have just passed the death sentence on an animal I have loved and cared for and who has seemed to love me back. I feel sick and sit in the car, where the smell of Daisydog lingers.
I feel so bad and yet am aware of a glimmer of distant light. As I drive back over Charnwood Forest, I pass places where we used to play, Daisy, Rue, Andy and me.
A passage from Winnie the Pooh comes into my head. What was it? Something about though things have changed and Christopher Robin has gone away, somewhere in the forest a boy and his bear will always be playing. I find A A Milne’s closing words comforting.
When I get home, the rain has stopped. Rue trots to greet me, tail wagging, ready for a walk. In less than three months we would lose her, too, but not before I had learned to focus on good times we were privileged to share with our dogs as a family.
Thinking of them isn’t painful any more. But they were our dogs and we still miss them.