I’m still in a bit of shock so I’m not sure how to write this. My dog, my beloved Joschka, my pooch-pie, my best friend and 8-year old ‘baby’ ridgeback has died. This morning, at 6.25am. I still can’t believe it happened so fast.
Yesterday evening she was a bit sick. Or rather: she ate her supper and instead of our usual walk I thought I’d do some gardening while we cooled off before our daily walk. I was watering the plants and she came towards me and I played as if to wet her with the hose. I know she hates water so it was a bit of a cruel thing to do but that’s fairly normal playing between dog-owner and dog. But perhaps not after a meal.
So about 15 minutes later I noticed that she had regurgitated her food. I figured that perhaps she was a little agitated and I was a bit worried but not overly. More distressing were the heaving motions she was doing five minutes later as if she wanted to expel every last morsel of food from her stomach.
After that she had some drool coming out of her mouth and I worried that she might have tick-bite fever. I checked the whites of her eyes but they were fine. Her nose was a bit dry but still no major cause for alarm.
She was clearly in no mood for a walk and made to lie down on her outside bed. So I decided to go to the gym for a 30-min session and to check on her when I got home.
When I came back she was lying in a bush near the gate and looking in some little distress. I comforted her and apologised for scaring her earlier and tried to get her to eat a little egg mixed with milk and biscuit. She didn’t even look at it. So I started fixing my supper and spoke to her soothingly and tried to gauge what might be wrong. I checked her body for any signs of illness and noticed that her stomach was a bit hard. I didn’t know what this could mean since it was nothing I was familiar with. Had she eaten a stick? Impossible.
I thought of calling my parents but thought I should try and deal with this on my own. I also checked the internet for stomach complaints for dogs but there was nothing that seemed to fit. If she had some kind of gastrointestinal disorder then the sites recommended no food or water for 24 hours and then to introduce bland foods (such as rice and chicken) for the next day or so.
Perhaps she would feel better in the morning, I thought, also remembering how expensive it is to pay emergency rates for plumbers and doctors and vets. “What a fool!” I think now. Of course I should have called. But to me her symptoms didn’t spell emergency. She had a bit too much drool and she didn’t want to sleep in her bed. A few times in the night she simpered in pain. I was worried and went to sit with her for a while, holding my hand on her chest and trying to tell her that she would be OK.
Early in the morning there was a scrabbling at my door and I let in a distressed dog whose eyes were dilated and who was breathing uneasily. She went to sit in the corner of the room almost under my chair with the clothes on it. Now I was worried. I looked up the number for the emergency vet and called it. No response. I was still working out what to do about work. Should I go, excuse myself and come back, bringing the numbers of my patients to call and cancel? What to do?
When I got back to the bedroom from putting in my contact lenses and cleaning up her drool, she was on the bed and was now really in distress. In fact she looked unconscious and I panicked when I couldn’t see any breathing. I held my hand in front of her nose and couldn’t feel any air coming out. Her eyes were looking glassy and her tongue was lolling out of the side of her mouth. At that moment I felt such shock that it was probably a belated awareness that my dog was actually dying right there in front of me.
… Sorry, I’ll spare you the rest. Basically, I called my dad and together we rushed her to the vet but it was already too late. The vet explained that ridgebacks often get what’s called “twisted gut” and he showed me a picture in a little book. If you catch it in time then they can do what he calls “heroic surgery” but even still there’s no guarantee that she would have lived.
The vet said he would keep her and arrange for the cremation.
I went to work and made the necessary arrangements. Back to my parents. Then my sister and dad and I went to say goodbye properly at the vet’s and I sat with her body for a while. They had her in a big red bag around the back with a black tie-thing along with the other pets that hadn’t made it that day. But when I arrived they laid her head on a blanket and made her look a lot more dignified. I’ll get the ashes in a few days and then I can take them to Betty’s Bay where she can join the other faithful departed: Dougal, Taki, Jessie and the cats.
Since then I’ve been crying a lot and feeling really, really wretched. I know I failed her by not calling the emergency vet last night. I also know that everyone I’ve spoken to is being very supportive and telling me not beat myself up about this.
We had a good six years and I loved her very much. Of course she was highly strung and difficult at times and she’d had a difficult early life before I got her at the age of two. But she was also my gorgeous dog and she was full of life and, although a bit arthritic towards the end and possibly even a little depressed and lonely, she lived a good life and gave me so many good memories. Running in circles on the beach. Nuzzling her head against mine. Climbing on to my bed in the middle of a thunderstorm. Thanking me religiously after every meal. Looking so pleased to see me when I got home every day.
The last few years were not so easy. We moved around a lot — from Joburg to Newlands to Somerset-West to Edgemead and back to Newlands and now Claremont. But she was settling into our new home.
When I saw her lying under the tree at the vet’s I told her I was sorry for failing her and thanked her for the love that she’d given me.
Here are some pics. Oh man, I still can’t believe she’s not here anymore.