27 August, 2009

Jack - the whippet who learned how to be a dog at last...

I found this story when I was last in London, and I bought the paper, London Evening Standard, home with me so as I could scan it and share it with you all...

It is a piece originally written by Brian Sewell about his little puppy, a Whippet, named Jack who had been so horridly ill-treated as a pup. Whilst this is a sad story, a very sad story, I also found it to be a lovely story where this puppy became a dog...

Jack - the whippet who learned how to be a dog at last

Brian Sewell 07.08.09

Jack, my little whippet bitch, is dead — words that embody an overwhelming weight of grief.

She was with me only for a short quinquennium, yet the gap she leaves is as large as any left by Mop and Nusch, Hecate and Schubert, Titian and a dozen others. She was a foundling: taken to the Mayhew Animal Home in a state of starvation so close to death that they thought she'd not survive, more than a month passed before she was released, still skeletal, still transparent, into my care.

An unresponsive fearful little creature into whose mind I could not penetrate, I named her Jack, thinking its short sharp clarity useful as a command for what should be a running dog. In affectionate fondling moments (of which there were many) I whispered “little one”, and to that too she eventually responded.

She was, I think, so damaged by experience that she had forgotten how to be a dog and did not run. Lord knows what cruelties she had endured in her first five years or so, and I am certain that she had never been part of any domestic society, human or canine. She did not respond to my other dogs. She was not house-trained. She could not master the mechanics of climbing stairs. She slept where she stood and would not spring onto my bed. She would not play with man or beast or toy. She did nothing that makes a companion of a dog.

Slowly, over the whole of the first year, she responded to the normalities of man-and-dog relationship — the hint of interest in my returning home, an increasing willingness to be touched and stroked, joining in the anticipation of a walk, dinner or a treat — and then, one day, I found her curled up on my bed, resting her head on the comfortable rump of Winck, who had always been motherly towards her.

It was the beginning of great change. She found her voice, a funny little smoker's bark, and joined the clamour at the door last thing at night when I let them into the garden to empty their bladders and see off marauding foxes. She responded to the bell and visitors. She discovered the delights of chocolate and nuts (neither of them good for dogs), of cheese and yoghurt, her demand for bananas quite insatiable. To my great pleasure she learned to break all the rules of etiquette, and nothing pleased me more than her standing with trembling forepaws on the table, shaking it, insistently demanding some titbit from my plate.

With those same paws she learned to pull the duvet from my shoulders in the middle of a winter's night, and it was then for me to learn that in bed no dog is more selfish than a whippet stretched full length with all four legs rigid in their push against my chest or back. When my bed was made she took to rolling on it, mad as a maenad, an ecstatic, stretching, wriggling wildness informing spine and limb, the back arching, head and neck thrashing from side to side, and then she'd haul the cover back and make a bird's nest of my pillows.

But still she did not run. Her chosen place was close at heel, and if occasionally she followed Nusch to the edge of the undergrowth, she was never out of sight and, overcome by caution, she'd suddenly scamper back. When Nusch and Winck raced for sticks or balls, Jack just stood still.

And then, one day in her third summer with me, she joined in, not racing them but asking for a stick of her own. I threw it and she ran — and ran, and ran — in ever-lengthening bounds and widening circles until out of breath. It was as though in discovering her ancient heritage and purpose as a running dog, some instinctive joy had been released and the game became our ritual.

But I feared for her fragility: when she stood against the light I could see the intricate structure of her frail and slender bones as clearly as in one of Leonardo's engineering studies, and I constantly imagined the calamity of collision with another dog. And then, last autumn, I had to fear no longer, for she simply would not run.

I became disconcertingly aware that Jack was slowing down, sleeping much more and needing to empty her bladder in the night. Her vet diagnosed problems with her heart and kidneys and opined that she had only months to go. In spite of pills administered in scrambled egg, her slow decline accelerated and evidence of cancer too became apparent.

I knew that soon the cancer would cause pain, knew what would have to be done to end it, but, remembering Nusch's scream as the needle went into her vein, I wanted to put Jack down myself and asked for lethal tablets. These do not exist, and if they do, they are not to be had by ordinary mortals.

I cannot understand why no lethal sedative is available to the loving master of a dying dog. I can think of no greater gesture of affection for any animal than to see that it has a comfortable death at the hands of those in whom it placed its trust.

I loved Jack, my little one. I wanted her to live with her small pleasures to the last moment free of pain, and then to let sleep in my arms gently turn to death. I wanted her death to be serene, without the alarm and commotion of strangers in the room, but it was not quite to be. Death came to her on my lap and in my arms, and free of pain I'm sure, but Jack was aware of strangers and disturbance, and our parting was not just for us, alone.

So the next time you see your puppy, your cat or your pets, look after them and treat them well... After all, they are Mans Best Friend!

Source: London Evening Standard Pg 12 7th August 2009 ------

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