Resting not Wagging

Saying goodbye to my rescue dog Cassie

18 November 2013

It is dark and raining this Autumn day, closing in like a cold shroud. Though only lunchtime, I sit in lamp light.

On the floor in front of me is Cassie, her fluffy white coat with black spotted skin beneath, bright against the rug. She sleeps deeply, her paws resting beneath her as she breathes, softly tumbling downwards into her doggie dreams. Her tail resting, not wagging. Her body completely still, but for her breath.

She has been at my side for the past three years, after adopting her when I moved back from New Zealand. She helped me navigate the uncertain path of my reintegration here. I finally feel I have fully arrived, which makes it ever more poignant that Cassie is ready to leave.

This morning, a friend came to my house, and on seeing Cassie became the fifth person in an uneasy line since early October, to say: “Isn’t it time you let her go? She doesn’t seem very comfortable”. They speak gently, tentatively, gauging my response. They say she seems confused, uncertain, tired and weary. Wanting release. They anthropomorphise her.

I was shocked when three days ago, while predicting that Cassie would live another 12-18 months, the fourth friend to brave the subject said “but she is already at the oldest end of the breeds from which she is crossed”. 16 years, the maximum life expectancy of both a Spaniel and a Westie. “Plus she is blind, diabetic, has a heart murmur, you must prepare yourself”, she said. “It is her time”.

I know she is right, that they are all right. I have felt Cassie saying a long goodbye to me over many weeks, as the summer waned and the Autumn set in, blasting orange leaves across the garden in torrents. We would sit in the garden, soaking in the last of the sun before it became winter-weak, Cassie asleep in the leaves at my feet.

I’d got used to her bad days and uncomfortable nights, in which she pants and paces and can find no rest. I have normalised them, making them “just how she is”. But today I finally know. An arbitrary knowing, after so many weeks of denying, wondering and waiting.

By coincidence – is there such a thing? – I am having dinner with her vet tonight, a friend of mine.
We had planned it many weeks ago. I will tell her that I am ready to say goodbye. I have decided what Cassie can not tell me, and what I feel I have no right to say on her behalf: It is her time.

My heart will break with her release and I will kick the leaves and wish I could find her buried gently beneath them, ready to resurrect like Spring. The Cassie I remember, running and wagging and jumping. A fluffy white flash who always looked more like a pedigree puppy than an old rescue dog. Someone once asked “how big will she be when she is fully grown”. I laughed and felt so proud that my old dog would outlast them all.

I look back at her resting on the floor. Her breath is a quiet meter. A rhythmic beat until the moment when she breathes out her life, and my love of her, for a final time.

We get in the car and I drive to our favourite spot up on Minchinhampton common. Cassie does not react to me opening the car door. She is too tired to walk with me, so she stays sleeping in her dog bed on the back seat of the car, the sun gently dancing through the windows. I walk a fast-paced stomping walk, that grinds my tears into the earth.

As I head back, I picture her asleep in my car. Longing for the seconds to pass so I can touch her soft fur. Soothe her with my voice.

The next week I walk here again, after she is gone. I walk back to my car, exactly like that moment. How do I know that she is not there waiting for me like before? Just for that moment, I allow myself to believe that she is.

***

Liberty & Humanity

This is a painting I did of Cassie – while it was a work in progress. Complete picture shown left.

See my other paintings here.