When I was six years old - emerging from a bizarre period of religious obedience, into an equally incomprehensible adult world - my parents bought a puppy for my sister.
He was a chocolate labrador, and when we went to visit his litter, he was the one slumped in the corner, wagging his tail and looking like a slug. The poor little puppy had such a ravenous appetite that, a few weeks old, he still couldn’t stand on his feet. He was just curled up in a little brown ball of fat, with that perpetual pendulum ticking away. Tick tock.
This morning - some 14 years later - I took him to the vet. He could no longer walk, such was the pain in his legs. We suspected this was a recurrence of the arthritis that had troubled him during his later years, but his condition had deteriorated so rapidly over the course of the last two weeks that we had grown increasingly concerned. Last night, his yelps of pain were so intense that I had to go down to the kitchen three times just to soothe him into being silent.
Walking into the vet with my lumbering leviathan, I was reminded of the puppy who couldn’t stand. His sister had been bouncing around in their play area, just like the show-off cat preening on the registration counter. My old dog, however, could hardly move and flopped himself down on the polyvinyl flooring. But still, like a snake, he followed his nose over to the bags of food that were on display; snuffle, snuffle.
The arthritis was not just arthritis; it was an aggressive bone tumour and he had to be put down. They put down Christmas! They put down the Sunday roast! They put down the end of term, the cold of winter and the sun rising!
The fairy lights in the reception area were on a timed blinker. Red, yellow, green. Red, yellow, green. Red, yellow, green. Red, yellow- another Christmas has come around. Another December 25th is here, but he is not. Old dog, you’re better off.
He was a dog, who looked like a bear, sat like a lion, smelled like a pig, and ate like a hoover.
He had been there since I was 3 and a half feet tall. He was there before I knew the meaning of the word ‘pendulum’, and lived to see me use it on an almost daily basis. He was there in my kitchen, every day, defying the laws of probability by never smashing the glass cabinet with his propulsive, ever wagging, tail.
And I have a memory of him, which I’m not sure is even my own, walking through a door whilst my Mum panics about a ‘missing gateau’. And there he is, the eternal tail-wagging son-of-a-bitch, looking up with guilty, pleading eyes whilst his face is covered in unmistakable lumps of gateau. What honesty, from my Spartacus dog!
And that’s it. A permanent fixture for two thirds of my life has gone, leaving us all 35kg of love lighter.