And then there was one...
As reported on my Facebook page earlier, I'm very sorry to report that one of my father's dogs, Ben, had to be put down earlier today. His quality of life had become so poor that this was the only kind thing to do.
I remember when my parents acquired him in 1999. Actually, it was entirely my fault. I was visiting... an extended stay like I used to do while Mum was still alive. That day I was driving her into Newcastle to do some shopping while Dad pottered in the garden, accompanied by his faithful Labrador, Sam. On a corner just as you drive into Newcastle there was a bicycle shop called 'Wiki-wiki Wheels'. The title was completely lost on me until I visited Hawaii a couple of years later. But outside the shop was a young black Labrador mix, running up to every car that halted at the stop sign. Mum loved animals to the point of obsession. I remember the fear in her voice when she said, "Oh, Lord! That dog's going to be hit by a car!"
I told her if he was still there when we looped back around after the shopping we'd stop and help if needed. But she was so upset at the thought of him being hurt we looped round the one-way system immediately, abandoning all thought of shopping. I pulled the car into the tiny parking lot outside Wiki-wiki Wheels, and the dog ran right up to us. Mum got out and petted him while I went into the shop to see if anyone knew anything about the stray.
The shopkeeper told me, "The wee dog's been there all mornin' doin' that. Somebody's just thrown him out of a car, so they have."
I dutifully reported this to Mum, who exclaimed, "We'll have to take him home. We can call the Dog Pound and see if anyone's lost him." She threw her arms around the dog's neck and he wagged a tentative tail as he bestowed a thankful lick on her face.
Oh dear, I thought. Dad is not going to like this. I went back into the shop and told the shopkeeper we were taking the dog with us, and left my parents' phone number should anyone come looking for him.
I opened the back door of the car, found one of Sam's doggie treats in a bag in the passenger side door, and held it out to the anxious dog. I made a wheedling sound and he took it from me, gobbling it up as though he hadn't eaten for a week. I patted the back seat and he jumped in. I slammed the door shut, feeling like I was committing a kidnapping crime, and Mum and I got into our respective seats in the front.
We drove back to Dundrum, where Dad greeted us in surprise in the front garden. Sam ran right up to the car, tail almost windmilling in his excitement. I got out and opened the back door of the car to let the stray newcomer out. Sam and he greeted each other like long lost brothers, with lots of snuffling and sniffing. Mum explained to Dad what had happened, and he, as generous and loving to animals as much as my mother, agreed that we couldn't have left the dog there to be the victim of a hit and run.
As the dogs got acquainted I went into the house, looked up the Dog Pound in the Yellow Pages, and dialed the number. I explained that I'd found a stray, and the man who had answered asked me for my address so he could come and collect him. I hesitated. "It's very stressful for a dog in the Pound and he's been through enough," I said. "Could he not just stay here and you contact us if anyone reports him lost?"
The man explained it was standard procedure, even though he agreed that it sounded like the stray had been dumped in the parking lot in Newcastle. "So, what's your address?" he asked again.
I made a decision based entirely on emotion, ignoring my logical side. "Em, look, let me get back to you on that," I stammered, and hung up the phone. I rather shocked myself, doing that. My parents' number was blocked so he couldn't dial *69 and see who had called. I always felt a little guilty about it, but not enough to do anything about it
So, that was that. "I think his name is Ben," I told my parents, plucking the name out of nowhere.
Within a day it was as though Ben had always been with us. Although for a long time he remained anxious about being left behind anywhere, eventually he settled. He and Sam were inseparable. Never a fight between them in the 13 years thereafter. He lived a joyous doggie life of twice-daily rambles on the shores and forest of Murlough, the local wildlife refuge. He ate good meals, got plenty of treats, and lots of love and care.
You couldn't really ask for more if you were a dog, could you? And he always was sort of my dog, even though I only saw him once a year. Sam and my Dad will miss him. And so will I.