Pad downstairs to see my baby. She is still in situ, under the table, breathing heavily through her double chins. I crawl under the table to sit with her, stroking her ears and neck. Dan is already up and out, feeding the animals. I am staying over at his, though he wasn’t best pleased at having to pick me up after he'd gone to bed.
Turn on my mobile. Six missed phone calls and three texts, all from Mike.
: ‘Just got your text. Pls call asap.’
: ‘Eliza, where the hell are you? Pls call as soon as you get this.’
: ‘Eliza! Call me! You can’t send the group off to
on their own! They have to change flights and we don’t have a rep there!’ Thailand
Switch off my mobile again. I try and breathe but my lungs seem to have seized up.
Call the vet. My nice man isn’t in yet.
Still not in.
Ah, he’s there.
'I think Dusty's near the end,' I say. I get as far as 'near' when my voice starts cracking up.
'Is she having difficulty breathing?' he asks.
'Well her breathing isn't great, but the swelling has got much worse. It's like an Elizabethan ruff around her neck and her muzzle looks like she's been stung by a wasp.'
'Ohh,' he sighs sympathetically. 'I've got a few things to do this morning, but I can come out late morning. I'll bring a nurse.'
The minute he says it, I can’t believe I’m doing this. It seems so sudden. So final. This really is it. Today she is going to die. And it's my decision.
'Oh, I don't know,' I squeak through suppressed tears.
'We knew she didn't have very long, didn't we, Eliza?' His tone is kindly but firm. He must have done this a zillion times before. 'We have to think about her quality of life, and it isn't good, is it?’
I ask if it’s OK for him to come to Dan’s. It’s the same distance as Mistlebourne from Candlebury, though in the opposite direction.
‘That’s fine,’ he says. ‘I'll be with you around 12.'
I am barely off the phone when a text arrives from Sophia, who has been one of Dusty's greatest fans since she was a puppy.
'How is Dusty? I woke up worrying about her. xx'
I call her immediately. 'She's going to be put down today,' I sob.
'Oh Eliza, I'm so sorry, oh I'm sooo sorry,' she cries. 'She's been your truest and most devoted friend.'
'She has,' I blub. Oh, she has.
'The thing about dogs,' says Sophia, 'is they always support you and never go off you for a day or say mean, sarcastic things like children do. Sometimes I feel very disloyal to Peggy and I love her to bits and will probably have to book into the Priory when she goes, but I think Dusty is more intelligent. She is so human in her responses. She's very intuitive.'
I love Sophia for getting Dusty. For not being stiff-upper-lipped and telling me it's for the best and she had a good life. I know it is for the best and she did have a good life, but such catch-all phrases don't touch the soul. It's because Sophia had a true connection with Dusty.
'I'd love to think of her in that happy hunting ground in the sky,' she continues, 'but I'm afraid I don't really believe it. I think she'll just go into a deep, peaceful sleep. And I love being asleep, so it can't be bad. The children will be so upset. She's like part of our family. Nothing could ever replace her because she's so unique. We will never ever ever forget her. Ever.'
Dan comes back from the animal rounds and, incredibly, Dusty gets up to greet him, wagging her tail.
‘There, you see,’ I bleat. ‘Now she seems OK! But I’ve just called the vet and he’s coming over at 12.’ I tail off, in tears again.
‘Yes but Lize, she’s not getting any better really, is she?’ says Dan. ‘I’m proud of you for making the right decision.’
The vet and nurse arrive. I go out to meet them and we exchange rueful smiles. As we go in the house, Dusty gets up to greet them, her tail whizzing round like a helicopter.
‘Oh look at her,’ I say. ‘I don’t know. Do you think she…?’
‘She’s lost a lot of condition since I last saw her,’ says the vet gently. ‘And look at this oedema.’ He grasps a chunk in front of her chest. ‘It’s not giving her any quality of life.’ Dusty sinks down to the floor again. ‘And look, she musters the energy to say hello, but it’s taking it out of her. I think you’re doing the right thing. You’ve given her a chance. As long as I’ve known you, you’ve always done what’s right for her. You could keep her going for another few weeks, maybe, and I’ve seen people do it, but it’s for them, not for the dog. She’s ready to go.’
My eyes are streaming, but I nod bravely. ‘OK, go ahead.’
They fetch a blanket and a towel and coax her on to it. She is now standing, unwilling to lie down. Is it a sign? The vet gently picks her up and lays her on her side. I sit on the floor beside her head. She’s so soft and warm, with her bear-like coat. So… alive. She breathes. She lives. I stroke her silky ears. I’m getting my last fix. I can’t believe she’s lying here, eyes open and searching, wondering what this is all about, and in a minute, at my decision and mine alone, she will be dead.
‘Keep talking to her,’ says the vet, as the nurse shaves off a rectangle of fur from her hind leg. Her front legs are too swollen, he says.
‘Good girl, Dusty baby,’ I say. ‘Good Dusty Do. My baby girl.’ Tears plop onto her head.
After a moment, her eyes stop moving and the lids half-close. Her body relaxes. She is still soft and warm. I keep stroking her and we keep talking. I’m reminiscing about when she was a naughty little puppy and used to bite my ankles. And the time she took herself for an after-hours walk in the park in
, and while I was waiting at the hole in the gate, I got a phone call from a girl to say she’d found my dog. She wasn’t lost, I told the girl, she was just having a little fox chase before bed and was on her way back to me. Oh, said the girl, so you mean I’ve kidnapped your dog? London
There is laughter. And more tears. My baby.