From Buckfast to Bordeaux Column 7

C’est la vie d’un chien

Going to spend a year in another country was probably one of the biggest decisions I have ever made. In doing so, I had to arrange care for my two dogs; Bandi a sixteen-year-old collie cross and Doug, a year old mongrel. Luckily, my parents took them without much convincing.

Leaving a sixteen-year-old dog came with worries that were too horrible to admit at the time such as ‘please don’t die while I’m away!’ I even spoke to a counsellor about it, who basically told me that worrying about it wouldn’t change anything.

Before my plans to go abroad were in place I had faced the question of Bandi being in her senior years in a different way. When asked about Bandi’s age or health I responded with ‘aye, but she’s immortal.’ I said this so often I believed it.

Bandi was so special to me because I had been obsessed with getting a dog when I was wee. I have no idea where Bandi was when I was relentlessly pining for a puppy. I know that she spent a bit of time living on the streets, which is why her name was derived from the word ‘abandoned’. I didn’t get her until she was about eleven years old and had moved out of my parent’s house where, before they were retired, dogs were prohibited. Bandi and I became best mates.

When I returned home for the February holidays I was faced with the nightmare I had been dreading.

Bandi was sick.

My mum had told me in e-mails that she was off her food. ‘She’s fussy’, I thought to myself as she often turned her nose up at food in the hope of receiving some roast chicken or mashed tatties instead. My mum had also said that she had been turning round and going home on walks. ‘So independent!’ I thought. The time was bound to come that she could no longer manage the big walks Doug demanded.

I took all these warnings with a pinch of salt.

When I arrived home Doug bounded down the stairs. No Bandi to greet me. I checked upstairs. No Bandi peering down at me from the top. I went into the living room where she lay curled up in her bed. No reaction. She hadn’t eaten in three days and I spent the next three cooking for her; roast chicken, mashed tatties, scrambled eggs, Ardennes spread, the works. Anything I could think of that might tempt her.

My fourth day at home I spent at the vet.

My mum had warned me that the vet would not suggest euthanasia because it had to come from me, I would have to say those words… if that was the decision I wanted to make. I wasn’t convinced. ‘There was no way it was Bandi’s time to go,’ I thought to myself with a pang of denial.

I lifted her from her bed into the car. I lifted her from the car into the vet. I sat her on the seat next to me and held her there while her paws slid out from under her in the waiting room. I carried her onto the table and as I moved away from her just a little she slumped down onto the table in front of me. As I have said, Bandi and me were best mates, I wanted nothing more for her to actually be immortal but when I looked down at her… In a garbled mix between speech and sobs I uttered the only solution to the decision that I never wanted to make.

‘Can you put Bandi to sleep for me?’

We were only mates for five and a half years, which is a tiny amount of time compared to those who grew up with a dog in their family home, but as soon as I moved out it was Bandi and me. We went to the pub, she got barred from The Ark, she stayed at Turnberry hotel, we went to parties, she ate my 21st birthday cake while I nipped out to get her a can of dog food. She was my best mate.

During a year abroad you are supposed to learn life lessons and I definitely learned some harsh ones this week: Worrying doesn’t change anything. Despite how much you’d like it… your best mate is probably not immortal.

By Claire Alexander (columnist 11/12)