I dread dog stories. I don’t mean I hate dogs, or reading about them, but I always get the feeling dog stories annoy a lot of people. Must we really talk about our dogs as if no one else has ever experienced the joys of ownership? All of our dogs are cute — end of story.
It’s like we’re all still in grade school, writing about our pets or summer vacations or what our parents do for a living (the latter always a minefield: “My mommy and daddy roll grass up in paper and burn it in their mouths”).
But write about dogs we do. And often, I am the worse offender.
People who acquire their dogs as puppies must realize they will be looking after that animal from cradle to grave. But few like to think about the latter part of that equation.
My wife and I finally had to face it on the weekend with the elder of two dogs, our English setter. She was 14.
Having been feeble for a year or so, she quickly started going down hill a couple of weeks ago. By the time we did the deed, she hadn’t moved from her pillow in 24 hours.
It seems like such a natural, humane thing to do, to put a dying pet out of its misery. But no matter how stoical you are, you cannot prepare for the waves of despair when you arrive at the vet.
Ours was all skin and fur and bone. She could no longer stand and had not eaten in a day. Yet, when I lifted her from the car, she raised her head and looked around in innocent curiosity. Just another trip to the vet. I went inside and waited until someone took her out of my arms and out of my sight.
(There’s the requisite heart-wrenching moment. Cue the fond reminiscences.)
Fergie — named after Sarah Ferguson because of her orange freckles — was a gentle dog. She was delicate around small children, taking care not to knock them over when running and playing around them (unlike our large golden retriever, who often did not hesitate to bowl over a toddler to get at his cap or scarf).
Our setter liked to swim, but became more obsessed with dunking for pricklies along the shores of a pond. When not otherwise occupied, she liked to flatten herself out on the grass like a rug and take in the smells around her.
Her neuroses were many. The main one was grates.
She would not go near any kind of grate or manhole, bringing up solid before you had a chance to react. If you were behind, you’d trip over her. If she was behind, the leash would suddenly become taut.
The worst of it was that she would stop in her tracks at anything even resembling a grate, especially bridges of any kind.
Downtown one day, she and I were halfway across a crosswalk when the grate-o-phobia suddenly kicked in. It must have been the white stripes. I could neither push nor pull her either way. She could not be beckoned nor coerced.
As drivers and pedestrians stopped and watched in amusement, I finally picked her up and carried her to the curb.
Fergie had bad habits. The worst was rolling in the smelliest animal droppings she could find. It was instinctive, and nigh on impossible to prevent.
In recent years, she spent most of her time curled up on a pillow, like a princess, incessantly licking her paws and chewing her nails. But she still enjoyed going on a jaunt, if you could convince her to go.
So now, there’s just the big lout. Only one food dish on the floor. Only one dog to let out to do his business. He will be getting all the attention now, and he will revel in it.
Some day down the road, we will be faced with the same sorrowful task. And we will curse ourselves for having ignored its inevitability.
But will it stop us from taking in another mutt? I doubt it.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.