If dogs have but one fault, it would be their unjust life span

There’s no right way to cry on the phone when you have to make ‘the call’ to the vet

Barry O’Rourke with  Gypsy, his 17-year-old border collie who was ‘a source of constant love and joy’.

Barry O’Rourke with Gypsy, his 17-year-old border collie who was ‘a source of constant love and joy’.

 

There’s no right way to cry over the phone. But the veterinary nurse who I talk to assures me that my reaction is quite reasonable, given the circumstances.

Still, I could not wrap my head around the fact what was actually happening. A phone call I never wanted to make, but knew I had to. And so began the tightening in my chest as I realise in that moment a dear friend of mine is going to be put to sleep.

Gypsy in her elderly years
Gypsy in her elderly years

Gypsy was our 17-year-old border collie. For as long as I can remember, she was a source of constant love and joy.

I still remember the day myself and my parents found her snuggled inside a basket in the pet shop. She was the last of her litter. I was 11 and remember feeling amazed at how snugly she fit into the palm of my hand, like a tiny ball of curiosity and innocence. Entrusted into our care, we brought that tiny puppy back into a home which soon became hers. Immediately falling in love with her, my parents thought she would make the perfect fit for our family.

Magnificent companion

And they were right. She was a magnificent companion and friend and the pinnacle of good health, never causing one moment’s bother in all of those years. As time passed and we all grew up, she grew up alongside us. Every one of our family photo albums features photographs of her. No matter the celebration, she was always somewhere to be found in the background or taking centre stage.

To people who have never owned a dog, these descriptions may strike you as being odd. “It’s only a dog,” is the usual blanket statement. But for all intents and purposes, yes Gypsy was the family pet, but more importantly she was a family member in her own right.

Like all family dogs, Gypsy made you feel great about yourself. Every morning she greeted me as if it were the best thing to happen to her. Like I was a celebrity, she was in a state of total jubilation and surprise just by seeing my sleepy self.

Gypsy in her younger years
Gypsy in her younger years

Dogs do wonders for the human ego. They love us unconditionally, and ignore all our flaws and faults. They only see the best possible version of us. It makes the decision to keep a dog, to choose to look after this creature and care for them and provide them with everything they need in life, an obvious choice for me.

They reward your kindness tenfold. Equal parts our friends and our therapists; the title of “man’s best friend” is in my view well deserved. But if dogs have but one fault, it would be their life span. They have an incredibly unjust length of time on this Earth relative to their good nature.

Spending more of my life with her than without, I never gave much thought to Gypsy going anywhere. I don’t think many dog owners do. It’s a topic we blissfully ignore for as long as we can. While I know 17 years is a magnificent age for any dog to reach, something in me quite childishly always wanted more.

Only now when I look back through those same family albums, do I begin to understand how it all happens. How the passage of time affect our furry friends that bit quicker than us. How a soft grey sheet of fur slowly covers them like a blanket, until they look delicate and vulnerable.

As Gypsy grew older, the walks became shorter. Playing fetch happened every second day. She spent longer in the mornings asleep, and went to bed earlier. She still, somehow, found the energy to chase the lawn mower relentlessly around the garden. But it became clearer towards the end that she was indeed an elderly dog.

‘Gypsy was a magnificent companion and friend and the pinnacle of good health, never causing one moment’s bother in all of those years.’
‘Gypsy was a magnificent companion and friend and the pinnacle of good health, never causing one moment’s bother in all of those years.’

And yet, you still don’t want to accept these terms and conditions. Perhaps that is why the phone call made to the vets knocked the wind out of me that night. Why the grief I now feel is confusing. On some level, it is both shocking and expected.

Drifted off

My aunt and uncle paid a visit recently and were saddened by the news. And then began a night full of conversations, with each of us swapping fond memories of all the dogs each family had throughout the years. We talked as if they had just left yesterday. How dogs who had passed some 20 years ago, were still somewhere in our memory, and who obviously had left a huge impression, a paw print on our hearts.

While her general health remained strong, there was only so much a body can do before, as the vet said, it “becomes time”. With a short injection, Gypsy drifted off that night and left me with many fond memories to digest. The vet said she was a “fine age”, and that this act was a mercy many owners do not think of giving their pets.

But with that realisation, I am now left with many new life lessons to understand.

Right now, Gypsy appears in several photo frames dotted around the house. Her photos make the prestigious fridge more times than me or my siblings. We even have her face printed on coffee mugs. We wanted to be reminded of her at all times, even when she was still with us.

She is everywhere at home, and yet still, nowhere to be found.

There is a collar in the drawer, a lead by the gate never to be tugged at again. Several toys dotted across the garden.

Dogs make us feel so many things while they’re in our care, and so many still, when they’re gone from it.

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