Saturday, 21 January 2012


Zara Thustrasia

When I was much younger than I am now (a child in fact), I subscribed
to the notion of 'best' friends. There's an irony in the concept of course,
because a best friend isn't someone who is necessarily 'better' than other
friends, but is instead merely one whom we like more than the rest. Over
the years, I'm sure I've been a better friend to some people than those
they'd regard as their 'best' pal, but I'm never going to be eligible for the
position. (Not that I'd want or even try to be.)

What a poseur
So, I long ago abandoned
the notion of best friends - as
far as people go. However,
anyone who has ever had a
dog will know that the only
species on the planet fit to
qualify for such an accolade
is the canine one. Dogs are
always genuinely glad to see
us, never bear a grudge for
however many times we've
scolded them over some
doggy-misdemeanour, and
their chief delight in life is
to lie at our feet or by our
side and simply bask in the
pleasure of our company.

My dog passed on to the great 'Kennel Club in the sky' over thirteen
years ago. ZARA was her name; a black and gold German Shepherd of
the most placid temperament imaginable. She lived for twelve years, seven
months, and I can still remember the sound of her, near the end of her days,
trying to drag herself up the stairs to my room simply to be with me.
(Whenever I heard her, I'd go down the stairs and carry her up.)

She had cauda equina, a condition which 'fused' the nerves in her spine
together, sometimes making it difficult for her to walk. I had noticed it was
getting worse and mentioned it to the vet when Zara was getting her yearly
booster jags. "Och, she'll be fine for years yet!", he'd said. A mere seven
days or so later, she could hardly walk at all, so I took her back and the
first thing he said on sight of her was: "That dog should be put to sleep!" I
reminded him that only a week before, he was saying she was in fine form.
"A lot can change in a week!", he muttered. X-rays revealed that she had
also developed some internal tumours, for which nothing could be done.

I explained that, as long as she wasn't in any pain, putting her to sleep
wasn't an option I was prepared to consider at that time. He gave her a
course of tablets, but said that they would only be of short-term benefit. A
fortnight later, for the first time, she had difficulty breathing. It was the night
of November 25th, 1998 and I had hoped that Zara might see another
Christmas at the very least. I fetched the Christmas tree down from the
attic and put it up in the livingroom, switching on the tree lights so that
she could watch them twinkling in the gloom.

Zara as a pup
When morning came, I called
the vet and then carried Zara
up to my room, placing her on
my bed to make her as com-
fortable as possible. When the
vet arrived, Zara lifted her head
to look at him - then looked at
me, licked my hand, and laid
down her head with a sigh -
almost of relief. After examin-
ing her, the vet confirmed it
would be better to put her to
sleep. Still clinging to some
forlorn hope, I said that if there
were any alternative options
 regardless of expense, I'd
prefer to explore them first.

He shook his head sadly. "No, it's time", he said.

I had to sign for the lethal injection, which the vet then went out to his car
to fetch. When he came back, he said: "Her circulatory system is 'down',
so I'm going to have to inject straight into her heart. It isn't going to be
pleasant - you might want to leave the room." I was holding Zara's paw and
stroking her head and was determined to be with her to the end. It was the
least I could do - she had always been there for me. "No, I'll stay", I replied.

The vet administered the injection and stood back and watched. After a
while, he said: "I'm sorry, this has never happened before - she won't die."
Consumed with guilt, I protested that if she could resist a lethal injection,
then perhaps something could have been done for her after all. "No, she's
got a strong heart, but she needs more than that to survive", he replied.
Finally, he had no choice but to fetch another lethal injection to administer.
Zara eventually breathed her last, to the sounds of 'Walking In The Air'
from a wind-up Snowman doing its slow, circular dance close by.

I then had to help the vet put Zara in a bag and carry her out to his
car. I had arranged with him to have her privately cremated in a place
called 'Elysium Fields', but it couldn't be done 'til after the weekend. On
the appointed day, a friend, who was a minister, ran me through, and Zara
was laid out on display before me. She looked like she was sleeping, but
she was frozen solid. I stroked her fur for one last time, before my friend
said a few words and read a poem over her, and she was then taken off
to be 'attended' to.

Having fun in the back garden
I hadn't realised that
the process takes about
two hours, so we sat in
a town cafe until it was
time to collect Zara's
ashes. I was struck by
how warm they were
and for how long they
remained so - as if, in
some strange way, life
itself still lingered. It
was four years before I
finally scattered them
in the back garden,
where her spirit probably runs around snapping at wasps to this day.

In fact, I probably shouldn't divulge this, but on the day I scattered
her ashes, I first looped her lead through the handle of the bag they
were in, and took her for one last walk around the places she had known
and loved when she was alive. I don't know if anyone noticed me taking a
carrier bag on a lead for a stroll - I'd no doubt have got a few strange looks
if they had, but it was something that I felt compelled to do. If you've
ever had a dog, you'll understand. If not, you'll think I'm completely
bonkers. (Not that I was dragging the bag behind me, mind you -
it was by my side.)

 Two best friends - in one last walk together. What could be more fitting?



May 3rd, 1986 - November 26th, 1998


 "Well! I've seen men go to courageous death
In the air, on sea, on land!
But only a dog would spend his breath
In a kiss for his murderer's hand.

And if there's no heaven for love like that,
For such four-legged fealty - well!
If I have any choice, I tell you flat,
I'll take my chance in hell."

From "Rags" - by Edmund Vance Cooke. 


Martin said...

I went through something very similar, also 13 years ago. Our 12 year old Springer/Collie cross reached the end of the road. I was numb after the event. At 04.30 the next morning I woke with a start, tears streaming down my face. I've never had that reaction to the loss of a human friend or relative. Strange, eh?

Dougie said...

We had three dogs when I was a kid. I just realised yesterday it's twenty years ago since our last dog died.
They say Morecambe has the most dog owners in the UK but Elgin must give it a run for its money.
Do you know this verse by Byron?

"... the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master's own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonour'd falls, unnoticed all his worth--
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth."

Kid said...

Martin, not in the slightest - not to anyone who has ever owned a dog.

Yes, Dougie - long been one of my favourites. Lord Byron's Epitaph to a Dog. Boatswain, wasn't it? Apparently, a friend of his (John Hobhouse) wrote the first two introductory verses.)

tongalad said...

A very touching day, I know because I was the "friend" & I was privileged to be with you to help you bid a fond farewell.

Kid said...

And it was an honour to have you there, 'tongalad'.

Nick Caputo said...


A very touching experience. The ability of a dog to give unconditional love is a true gift to so many. I don't have one of my own at the moment, but my brothers dog Sam is a "best friend". He is absolutely thrilled when I go over to visit, knowing that I will take him to the park for a walk. He staress at me and nudges me and I can't say no. I also love cats, who don't show affection in the same way, but have their own way of showing warmth.

Kid said...

A neighbour's black cat, 'Lucky' (now sadly deceased), used to come in and live with me for weeks on end. It would sleep next to Zara and groom her from time to time. I must put up some photos of the two of them when I find them.

Also, when I took Zara for a walk around the neighbourhood, Lucky would follow us all the way 'round and back again. She was a great cat.

Yves Ker Ambrun said...

Sorry for your loss, Kid.
Dogs are truly the best humans.
It's been four years now but I still mourn like crazy my last dog. It's very weird and totally unhealthy, as well, to live without a dog, like I'm forced to do now.(But not for very long)
You'll never have better protectors in this life.

Kid said...

Thanks for dropping by and for the kind words, Yves. What breed of dog do you prefer?