Monday, 21 March 2011
Happy Birthday Gem!
Today, my Jack Russell terrier is 17 years old. Seventeen is a good age for a dog, though terriers have been known to live to 20.
Gem had always been an incredibly healthy dog, only ever visiting the vet for her annual booster shot. But three years ago, she developed doggy dementia (yes, dogs can get it too) and so, since then, I have effectively been her carer. Many times over these years I have thought I was losing her. She would have a bad day or a bad few days, and seem to be at death's door, but always she sprang back to (relative) sprightliness.
Then she developed cataracts and is now effectively blind. And still she soldiers on, She is amazing (and fearless). On encountering a new place, she will quarter the room, banging into chair legs and bouncing off walls, until she understands the layout. Then, sometimes after an hour of this, she will settle down and sleep. I am sure her doggy brain is then processing all the information she has painfully absorbed. I have moved house twice in the last three years and, each time, she has been able to find her bowls and her bed within a day.
(or the Aga!)
She has given me far more over the last three years than I have given her.Yes, she is now somewhat incontinent and, every day, I have puddles and steaming piles to clean up. We can't go for long walks any more; and she can't interact with me the way she used to - she's not such a strong presence in the house. And yet, I am so glad she has survived all this time. I wouldn't have changed a day of her company. Well-meaning friends tell me it would be "kinder" to have her put to sleep. Kinder to whom? Not to the dog, surely. She's had three years of cuddles and sleeps by the fire and gentle walks among the trees. Who is to say that her life is less worth living than that of a puppy?
I have come to believe that the way we treat our pets is a microcosm of the way we treat the weak amongst our own species. If you think it's okay to put a dog to sleep just because she's old and not as much fun as a puppy, then what would you do if you had that power over the life of you old auntie? I think I know the answer to that one.
We have settled down into a calm and pleasant routine. She eats well enough, we try to take a small walk every day, and we have a wonderful cuddle every evening, watching the telly. When she tires on her walk and I pick her up to carry her, I get a lick on the nose as a thank you. She knows enough about what's going on to be grateful to me for helping her out - how amazing is that?
So, happy birthday Gem! Now that you've made it this far, who knows how long you will carry on. I think we should aim for the big two-oh. You've amazed everyone with your determination and strength. To celebrate, here is a picture - my favourite, I think - of Gem in her prime. I was taking a picture of a sunflower in my garden, a lifetime ago when my husband was still alive and the world was normal, and didn't spot that Gem was careering across the grass in the background.