If you are the intuitive type at all, you have the capacity to work out that I am a bit of an animal person. More than a bit. At present my mortgage bears scars from the vet. Large scars.
I tend to rush the animals to the vet more than I did the kids. Whoa there – let me clarify before you lynch me as a bad parent.
When the kids were little, and unable to verbalise what was wrong, they got rushed to the doctors at a similar rate. Once they could tell me what they were feeling, luckily most of the time, it could be fixed with little home care.
Animals can never tell you what the problem is. So I err on the side of caution, especially if the weekend is approaching. I don’t know about where you live, but in my town, out of hour vet visits can send you bankrupt.
One thing in my favour the last few years is one of the vet nurses happens to be the daughter’s best friend, and an adopted member of our family. This means I can run most queries past her first, and hopefully save myself a bill.
Generally the animals that share my life are healthy, but I have spent more than money at times when they weren’t.
Katie was a pure bred Maltese Terrier who came to live with us when she was only six weeks old. That should have warned me about the breeder, no puppy should be taken that early from their mother, but the breeder was insistent I pick her up.
Even at that young age she captivated our household, the children fighting over who got her for the night. At six weeks that wee girl was already an old soul.
A very gentle old soul. Within months it was obvious that something was wrong. Katie developed a belly like a pot-bellied pig. After a lot of tests she was diagnosed with a tumour on her adrenal gland. Cushing’s Disease.
The vet was astounded – this was something that usually struck when a dog was much older. So the detective in me started researching. That’s when the word started to appear – inbreeding.
Sure enough, it turned out the breeder had mated closely related dogs, and Katie was to suffer for it.
Everyday she had to take pills, and constant checks were made to make sure that she was okay. Her beautiful old soul never seemed to be bothered by any of it; my soul was hanging in ribbons watching her.
Over time most of her hair fell out, and with her belly she wasn’t pretty, but Katie was gorgeous to us. Everyday she would wander the street with me or my daughter, that tiny pink hairless Maltese walked deeper into my heart.
Her time with us was short, barely eighteen months old when the tumour began to take over. It was apparent that life was getting tough for her, she was beginning to have trouble getting around, and have trouble urinating. I knew that I had to let her go. She tripped one day, and broke one of her legs. She was still so tiny, it was impossible to mend it. It was impossible to mend her.
When the vet put her to sleep they didn’t have to shave her leg for the injection. She laid in my arms, snuggled deep against me, her brown eyes focussed on mine. As she drifted away I talked and talked. I told her how different she had made my existence, how much of me she was taking with her. How much of her was embedded into my life.
I didn’t cry for Katie, I cried for me. The pain of letting her go was crippling, and I curled up for days. It was a good thing that the kids were away at the time, for my grief at losing Katie was a selfish thing.
I was angry for the time we had not had. Because to someone, the money was more important than anything else. The breeder had mated her bitch with its father’s brother.
My only comfort was in convincing her that this could no longer take place. She had the dog neutered. No other pup would die early because of her – greed, ignorance, stupidity. Maybe all three.
Technically such a thing is not classed as animal cruelty. Still, there are no other words for it. What I don’t understand and never will – is what thought processes allows a person to cause suffering to any other living creature.
Some is unintentional. I was and still am angry at the breeder, in her case I know it was all about making money. That the cost was losing a beloved member of our family, she didn’t seem to understand the depth of it. It was just an animal after all.
When we have so much to gain from them, our capacity for cruelty is an incomprehensible thing. We all lose because of it. I’ve learnt a great deal from the animals that have shared their lives, and are still sharing, with me. The major lesson they taught me was about capacity. They possess it such large quantities.
We all have it, but as we grow up we tend to let it go. Unless we are lucky enough to be reminded of what capacity really is. It is power. Real power.
Power to be in this moment with complete involvement. To spend time chasing a stalk of grass in circles for the joy of catching it.
That was the lesson I learnt from Katie. She taught me about the capacity to just be, wherever I am, whatever I am doing. That beautiful, hairless, pot-bellied old soul left more than a few pictures behind.