We had to put down our dog two weeks ago.
Pickles was just about to turn 13. About two years ago, she started getting little lumps on her body, one of which started aggressively growing in size earlier this year. Because of her age, our vet discouraged surgery and I really didn’t want to put her under the knife as we had previously had a traumatic surgical disaster with our last dog, a Spitz called Kiara.
My daughter Raena, who was then in primary school, picked Pickles from a pack of canines and felines sheltered at Paws Animal Welfare Society in 2005. Now 24, she remembers the episode vividly – unlike her mother who can’t remember what she ate for breakfast – and often reminisces about how she instinctively knew Pickles was the one for her. She also claims the feeling was mutual.
At the time, Raena was a mischievous tween with unruly hair who spent her free time talking to stray animals in the alley. My son Ryan was a nine-year-old boy whose world revolved around football.
Pickles, the latest addition to the family, was this mottled black, brown and white mutt who barked and brought joy to our little house in Subang Jaya. All three young ones grew up together.
And so it was with a heavy heart that I sent that WhatsApp message to Raena, who is now working abroad, to let her know that Pickles was on her last legs.
We had come to the decision that we had to euthanise the dog, as her condition was deteriorating rapidly. She was having sleepless and restless nights, she would lick herself relentlessly, her breathing was laboured, and she was starting to lose interest in food.
I knew things were bad when Pickles started having difficulty sitting and lying down, and her gait turned awkward. The final straw was when her hind legs started bloating up.
Raena had left home almost three years ago, and since she left, it was mostly Ryan who had to care for Pickles and take charge of feeding and cleaning duties. I would do what I could, but with my full-time job taking up most of my time, many of the chores were left to Ryan.
While Raena tends to lavish attention on her pets (we amassed two more fur-buds along the way – Rainy, a 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel, and Bobby, a six-year-old ginger tomcat), Ryan and I are much less demonstrative of our affections.
But Pickles had certainly been there for all of us at various points in our lives, and most probably knows each one of our secrets better than anyone else, being the non-judgemental listener she naturally was.
Raena returned on a Friday and we spent the weekend together with Pickles, attending to her wishes. Raena brought home goodies and we fed Pickles with a range of things she enjoyed eating from pizza to ice-cream.
She seemed to have a renewed spirit seeing her old friend again and had a twinkle in her eyes. We each spent our alone time with her over the weekend, bidding her farewell in our own ways.
On Monday morning, the three of us drove Pickles to the vet and we stood by her as she closed her eyes for the last time, and slipped away. There were many tears.
Over the last two weeks, lots of guilty feelings have crept into my thoughts. Maybe we should have waited a while longer. Maybe she may have wanted to go through the surgery. Maybe I should have spent more time taking her for walks.
Every night when I come home, I no longer have Pickles to greet me happily at the door, and I do miss her. I am encouraged, however, by the outpouring of love and support we received from our friends and family.
Everyone seems to have had at some point or other lost a pet and empathises fully with our feelings, and some have made wonderful suggestions on how to honour her memory, including making a contribution to an animal shelter in Pickles’s name, or planting a flowering tree so we can scatter her ashes under.
Raena had asked for her dog to be cremated, so she could carry some of her ashes with her always. We have placed the rest of her ashes on our piano, with a picture of Pickles as a puppy. I was able to say a prayer for Pickles before we took her to the vet. And Ryan stoically asks me if I am okay every day.
We each mourn her passing in our own way. And though we grieve for her, I am ever so grateful for the joy and bond that will always exist in my family because of our dearest Pickles.