(WARNING – This hurt me to write. I apologise if it upsets anyone, but I felt the need to tell the story)
Ten years ago, when our youngest son was four years old, we were struggling to reach him and communicate effectively. His speech was minimal and the words he did say, were often unintelligible, except to me and his Dad.
Back then he hadn’t been diagnosed, though we strongly suspected autism was the case. I was researching autism, trying to find other parents like me, struggling to reach their child and I came across two families, that had brought a dog into their home to try and make a break-through. We’d always had dogs in the house, but hadn’t for a while, after the death of our previous dog, Lucy, a golden labrador.
So we decided the time was right for another. And bought a fluffy white bundle that looked like a baby polar bear.
Her name was Daisy and she was a golden retriever.
Goldens are renowned for their gentle spirit, intelligence and capacity for patience and love and we knew that she’d need it. Jack could be furious and physical, lashing out in frustration at not being able to convey his feelings.
Until Daisy and Jack met.
Daisy settled into our home well. Making friends with everybody, including the rather unimpressed cats and our other children, tolerant of all the loud noises and the constant hands that wanted to pat her and stroke her. Jack often lay down on the floor, using her body as a pillow and she would follow him and the others around, making sure they were always in sight, always around.
Jack’s verbal abilities and temper became better. He helped us take Daisy for walks and they would play and run in the surf together and when Jack got tired (which wasn’t easy!) Daisy would continue to play in the water and chase seagulls and sticks and whatever you threw for her.
She became our family dog and entered our hearts so easily with her big, brown eyes and soft, white fur and the way she’d somehow manage to make you pet her, whilst you were watching television or a movie. The way she’d nuzzle her nose under your hand, so that you’d stroke her or give her a belly rub.
She loved physical contact.
She loved us.
You could see it, clearly in her eyes. In the wag of her tail. In the way she’d sit at the window whenever you left the house and stay there until you came back again. The greeting when you came through the door.
She had some funny quirks. She liked rolling in smelly stuff. She liked to dive into dirt just after you’d given her a bath. She liked to rub herself into the grass so hard, she’d give herself a grass bindi – a little green stain in the centre of her forehead. And after breakfast, lunch and dinner, with her belly full, she would roll onto her back and squirm about, as if she were getting a spinal massage, whilst groaning and moaning in joy.
She never barked. She never chewed something she shouldn’t. She often looked guilty for something the other animals had done, as if she were willing to take the blame, but she was always so happy for those cuddles and kisses to let her know that you weren’t mad.
And then, a week ago today, April 20th, I found her lying in the garden. I thought she was sunbathing. The weather was hot, but it was still early morning, so not too bad. But there was something about the way she was lying, that made my inner red flags go up.
As I got closer, I saw her breathing was off and so I immediately checked her gums and they were white. Not the healthy pink they should be and I knew she was either in shock from something, or was suffering internal blood loss. I called the vets and they asked me to rush her in.
The vet, Hannah, could feel a mass in her abdomen, but as they’re a small practice, they didn’t have an ultrasound machine and needed to send her to Portsmouth to get it done at their emergency surgery.
But she wasn’t strong enough for travel. They offered to put her on a drip and get some fluids into her and painkillers in case she was hurting anywhere. She couldn’t stand because her blood pressure had tanked.
They did a chest X-ray, but it only showed that her heart was enlarged. Now stabilised, they asked us if we wanted to see her before they took her to Portsmouth and we all went in and surrounded her with love and affection. Stroking her. Telling her that we loved her. That she had to fight, whatever it was. And then it was time to go.
We sat at home. Jumping every time the phone rang and believe you me the world and his wife suddenly wanted to talk. Random calls. Marketing calls. We tried to be polite, but were probably curt to get them off the phone.
Then the cardiologist rang. Daisy had fluid around her heart and it wasn’t beating properly. The mass in her abdomen was a build up of fluid that her system couldn’t shift. The fluid around her heart could be one of two things. Either a simple infection, in which they could operate to remove the pericardial sac and fluid and she’d be fine, OR, it could be a cancer, in which case, she wouldn’t survive.
We had to give her the chance to live, so we pinned our hopes on it being an infection and gave them permission to operate. The next hour was terrible as we waited. Our children were upset, no-one could eat, our stomachs felt painful and twisted. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Keep busy? We couldn’t concentrate on anything, except replaying everything that had happened.
And then the phone rang. The cardiologist had found a massive tumour running through her heart. There was no way she would survive. Did she have our permission to put her to sleep?
Hearts broken, we said yes. We’d wanted a last goodbye. To be there, when it happened, but it would have been too cruel to have woken her, in pain, just so that we could be there. So she was put to sleep.
Our world stopped. We all fell to pieces. There’s a big, Daisy shaped hole in our home. No dog lying in the doorway that we have to step over every time. No dog waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs when we come down in the morning. No-one lifting our hand with a big, wet nose, for a cuddle.
The sight of her dog bowls in the kitchen had me in floods of tears. Finding her lead in the car, broke me again. Hearing my children sob in their rooms tore me asunder.
This is all so raw. So painful. But I know that we will, in time, be able to talk about her with a smile and bring up happier memories. We will be able to look at photographs of her and feel a good feeling.
She had a good life. She was the happiest dog I know.
RIP Daisy. We will always miss you and will forever have a piece of our hearts.