It has been an exceptionally awful week for me. My dog Belle lost her battle with cancer and Cushings Disease. We had to have her euthanized on Saturday. It had been a long time coming, but somehow even knowing what we were building up to didn’t made it any easier.
Belle was a staffy that had been with my family for nearly eight years. We don’t know her exact age because she was a rescued dog. My parents had found her in the Australian desert, walking down the middle of a highway, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town. She had no microchip and while the police checked (no vets to ask in the remote outback!) they didn’t have any record of anyone looking for a dog in the next town. She had been dumped, or fallen off the back of someone’s truck.
She quickly adopted my father as a favourite and was never quite the same after he died. She was inseparable from my cattle dog, but was very close to all of the other animals.
One of the symptoms of Cushings Disease is an insatiable appetite. I don’t know how she did it, but she managed to train all nine of my parrots to give her food. I was constantly telling her off for getting the birds to throw their vegetables at her. They’d wait until my back was turned and then be sneakily passing food through their cage bars to her.
She came running when they called her and answered every alarm call that they made. They were hers and she guarded them from any intruding cats or wild birds. She’d find a sunny spot and sleep in the middle of the aviaries.
The last night with her was heartbreaking. She used to sleep in a dog bed on the floor of my bedroom. She woke me up in the early hours of the morning groaning in pain. My cat and cattle dog were desperately trying to wake me, in order to get me to help her. I grabbed her next dose of painkillers and gave it to her hours earlier than planned. 30 minutes later she was still lying with her head in my lap groaning, so I reached for the painkillers again.
I did the maths in my head and (grateful that vet science was my field of study) upped her dosage to the absolute maximum safe dose. It worked. In another 15 minutes she was asleep and her breathing had normalised. My cat and dog were looking at me and Fid (my Blue and Gold macaw) was making baby noises. He’d heard the commotion and was regurgitating at me as if feeding me would stop me crying. I found myself cleaning up a lot of bright green bird vomit in the morning. Seems someone ate too much broccoli the day before!
Nothing was going to stop me crying though. I knew that it was Belle’s last night because I knew that when I spoke to her vet in the morning and explained what dose I’d had to administer, the vet would tell me that there was nowhere else for me to go with her medication. I could be pretty sure that the inoperable tumour in her bladder was now obstructing. There were also signs of a stomach ulcer. All that was left was uncontrollable pain. There was no real choice.
I can’t stop replaying her last moments in my head. She was in my arms when the vet gave her the injection. Belle turned her head to look me right in the eyes in those last few seconds. I could see my own tear-stained face reflected back at me. She licked a tear off my cheek and then a second later was gone.
The house seems so empty without her. It’s a cliche, but I feel like a part of me is missing. My eclectus Pepi, won’t stop calling her. He has been whistling and screaming her name for days now. My elderly galah keeps yelling his loudest alarm call, which is completely freaking out my cattle dog Moono, (who in turn won’t leave my side). Moono won’t even let me go to the bathroom unescorted.
Meanwhile, I found my cat trying to cross the main road, when I was going to the local shops. He never goes far from the house and this was quite a walk. I think he was looking for Belle. It was a close thing – he was nearly hit by a car. I grabbed him and drove him home. I’ve locked him in and he’s taken refuge in Belle’s bed, sleeping snuggled up to her coat. He only comes out when he decides to switch to sleeping in Belle’s dog crate. The new cat meanwhile, keeps pacing the corridors meowing. Even he seems to be aware of Belle’s absence.
The weirdest time is when I try to feed the dogs. I keep accidentally getting out too many bowls. I hadn’t realised I did it, but apparently I always said each dog’s name as I put their bowl down (so they could identify which one was theirs). I did it in the same order each night. Belle was always first, so now I skip her name. My Eclectus has obviously learned this routine and has picked up on the difference. He has now started saying her name over and over in a really slow and deliberate way when he sees me start to feed the dogs. It’s as if he’s trying to correct my mistake. The exaggerated way that he says her name conveys quite clearly that he thinks I’m stupid and that I’m unable to realise that I’m doing the routine wrong.
I hadn’t realised just how much of an impact her loss was going to have on the entire household. My dog has filled my bed with squeaky toys (what he does when I’m sick), which seems to be his way of cheering me up. I can’t even roll over in bed without squeaking! The lorikeets have all stepped up their squeaky noises as a result.
They’re all looking for her. I wish the birds would stop calling her. I can literally still hear her bark, because they’re all doing it on repeat. I just don’t know how to get them to understand that she is not coming back and I don’t really know how to help them through it. Judging from the number of dog food bowls that I keep getting out; it’s probably going to be a while before I even fully appreciate that she’s gone myself.
I can’t believe I’m saying this but I even miss her snoring. Nothing feels right and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take before it does again. The only thing that helps is knowing she’s not in pain anymore. I’m going to miss her.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.