There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.
Ecclesiastes 3 comes back to me today following two weeks of non-stop sobbing, trying to decide whether it is time to have dear Maddie put to sleep.
Maddie is my mother’s Bichon Frise. I have known her since she was a puppy, when I drove to West Wales with Mum to pick her up. She was so tiny, she could have fitted into a beer glass, and she spent the journey back to Cardiff, where I was living, trying to escape through the back car window.
She was terrified by her new surroundings and kept retreating behind the rubbish bin in my house. She had to take an early visit to the vet to be treated for stress.
For the past 12 years, she has lived with Mum in Bristol, and a more adorable, friendly and good-natured dog you could not hope to find. True, she had a penchant for opening the airing cupboard door and building up a supply of bras and pants in her basket, and house-training was pretty much anathema to her. She also devoured several of Mum’s hearing aids; but she was a wonderful companion to Mum, who worshiped her with every fibre of her being.
I, too, have had a lot of contact with Maddie throughout her entire life. When she visited me in Cardiff, she was exemplary in her urinary habits, going instantly into the garden when she arrived because she knew there was the reward of a chicken dinner if she did so. She loved the big open space, taking great delight in hiding in the bushes and sending me into hysterical panic, thinking she had escaped (Escape from Alcatraz had been in her blood from the off).
In October, Mum had an accident and was admitted to hospital with a fractured kneecap, and Maddie became my full-time companion. Because the dog suffers from severe separation anxiety, she really can’t be left alone. I would see her face outside the shower door, and when I emerged she would frantically lick my wet legs as if I had just survived the Titanic.
Because I am not allowed pets in my rented property in Bath, I had to live at Mum’s house in Oldland Common in Bristol, and Maddie and I became regulars in the nearby Crown and Horseshoe, where she became mega popular with locals and made friends with other dogs. She was less keen on karaoke nights, when she took refuge in my Robbie Williams hoodie.
She also made it in to Bath on the bus, to my favourite local, the Garrick’s Head, always emptying her bladder right outside Sainsbury’s Local – I have no idea why that was her favourite spot. Maybe she was reminding me that Nectar points would not convert to Virgin Air Miles as my Tesco points do.
It was Maddie’s first time on public transport, and the bus was also our means of getting to see Mum at the nursing home where she had been moved for rehab. Back in Oldland for just a short time, Mum was again rushed into hospital on New Year’s Eve with a raging temperature and chest infection. She is still there, waiting for a care package to be put in place.
Throughout this time, Maddie has been diagnosed with a heart condition; she has dislocated her legs attempting jumps she can no longer manage; and, two weeks ago, her tests came back to show she has Cushing’s Disease. It’s incurable and manageable, but, as the vet pointed out, with everything else going on, she is not a well dog.
Stephen Pullan at Oldland House Veterinary Surgery, has been extraordinary. Explaining every symptom and condition in easy to understand language, while displaying a sublime level of care, he has been as much a counsellor to me in my distress as he has been doctor to the dog – as has Helen, the wonderful receptionist.
And so came the options: keep her going a little bit longer on the heart tablets and start her on treatment for Cushing’s (which were likely to make her more sick), or have her euthanised. Mum was heartbroken, as was I. Never have I cried so much. After a very bad fall before Christmas, I am still nursing cracked ribs and am not very mobile. With little help, either practical or emotional, it’s sent me spiralling downwards, while my blood pressure rockets. Friends nearby have been supportive, as have so many people on Facebook, even complete strangers, one of whom sent me a beautiful bouquet of red roses. My friends Debbie and Theo Paphitis saved my lonely Christmas by sending me enough goodies to see me through to next year.
I could no longer cope with the stress, and Maddie has been staying with Joan, a friend of a friend, who has shown her so much love and care. Twice, in the past week, I went to see Maddie to assess the situation.
She went wild when she saw me. Barking and barking to be picked up and sitting as close as she could to me on the sofa. I could see deterioration, but was she saying: “It’s okay, you can let me go”, or “Please don’t do this, I’m not ready”? Trying to interpret canine sign language tore me apart. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever tried to make.
She is a tired little dog. She struggles with breathing and, although still enjoying short walks and eating, she became less comfortable. I struggled and struggled with what was best for her. She was not going to recover, and when her “currant eyes” as we always called them looked up at me, I didn’t know if I would have the strength to lose her; the well was empty. I tried talking to her, explaining the situation. She licked my hand non-stop. Then she sighed, lay down and went to sleep again.
Last night, she took a severe turn for the worse. She was struggling badly with her breathing and spent most of the night in the corner of the room, scratching the carpet. She is in great distress, panting non-stop, and I know what I have to do. 100%. Mum has trusted me to make the right decision. I’m spending a few hours with Maddie this afternoon before her visit to the vet at 6pm. I have no idea how to say goodbye.
I am crying for Mum as much as I am for Maddie. Incarcerated and separated from her beloved pet, this is the most devastating time for her. I know that my brother, who also adores Maddie, will be distraught, too. The hospital offered Mum the chance to see her, but she thinks that would be worse. I agree.
There is a time to be born and a time to die. Dear Maddie’s time is up and I don’t want her to suffer. She has had a wonderful life, filled with lots of fun and so much love from so many people.
When I recently watched A Dog’s Purpose on a flight, I cried non-stop. Maddie has had a long, purposeful life in the love and pleasure she returned a million fold. This is one of the worst days of my life. I know I am not the first and won’t be the last to go through it.
There is a time to weep and a time to laugh. Today, I weep for our darling girl.