It was Monday’s snowfall that was hardest to take. Andy dearly loved the snow. He missed the first real coating by two days.
Arriving home from an inspiring Christmas concert Saturday night, we were greeted in the usual manner by our two dogs: our new black-and-white setter recklessly bounding around the hallway, and Andy, our golden retriever of almost nine years, lying at the top of the stairs looking down.
I climbed the stairs and gave Andy the usual scratch on the head, and then reached down to rub his belly. It was distended, balloon-like. He’s a bulky dog, but this wasn’t right.
We hesitated for a while, then decided to call the veterinary hospital. The answering service passed the message on, and within a few minutes the vet called us. We described the situation and she told us to meet her at the clinic.
We weren’t prepared for the news. He had what one would commonly refer to as stomach bloat. But this was no ordinary case of gas. His stomach was grotesquely stretched and twisted, with no hope of ever sorting itself out. It would soon start to push up against vital organs, cutting off blood flow and shutting down his system.
The vet gave us two choices. He could undergo emergency surgery, which would take two veterinarians and involve stapling his stomach. It would cost up to about $10,000, and came with no guarantees.
Or we could say our goodbyes there and then.
At first, I didn’t even understand the urgency. Is there some painkiller we could give him for the next few hours while we took him home and decided?
“You don’t understand,” she said. “You can’t take this dog with you when you leave.”
I appreciated the straight talk.
We made up our minds and the vet asked me to sign a release — Andy’s death warrant, I mused aloud.
I paid the bill, then told her neither of us had the stomach to stick around. The vet assured us she’d sedate Andy before giving him the needle. I took his collar off and we quietly slipped out of the room.
I’m not a pet fanatic. I try not to attribute too many human attributes to my dog, other than the most apparent ones, like joy, contentment, anxiety and fear.
But every owner knows their dog is the best. And we were no different. We were heartbroken.
Other than winter treks through trails and fields near our old home, my favourite recollection of Andy is of a planned visit to a seniors complex where my uncle was staying. A golden retriever club offered to bring their curly canines for a visit, and my uncle said I should bring ours, too.
The morning of the event, a friend came back from a walk with Andy to announce that his highness had rolled in something smelly.
Whatever it was, it had clearly been dead a long time. The odour was overwhelming.
My mother was home at the time, so she and I washed and scrubbed the dog as best we could. He still smelled. She put a dab of her Elizabeth Taylor perfume on him. Now he smelled like a dead movie star.
We arrived at the seniors home about halfway through the introductions. Owner after owner came before a microphone and pretended they were voicing their dogs’ thoughts.
“I love my sisters and my poppy, and am always ready for a romp in the park. Sometimes my mom puts pretty bows on me.”
At the tail end, I went to the mike, scriptless.
“Hello,” I said. “This is my dog, Andy. He doesn’t speak English, so I’ll talk on his behalf.
“Andy likes to explore the meadows and the woods. He likes to swim, and he likes to immerse himself in the darkest mud puddles he can find. He also enjoys rolling in stinky dead things.”
Despite the lousy intro, and the scent of eau de mort, Andy was still a big hit — and always remained so. He had the most friendly face and gentle demeanour.
And that’s the sign of a happy dog.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email email@example.com.