It’s a dogs leg…


.. which isapproximately100{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} better than a dogs’ life. Right about now, two weeks ago, we called Murf for his walk and he wouldn’t come. As Carol and I continued to layer up against a wintry evening, we assumed the warmth of the fire and pull of the rug were understandable reasons not to receive waggy tailed dog.

Investigation proved otherwise. However much we cajoled him, he wouldn’t get up. That rapidly became couldn’t as yelping and obvious discomfort replaced anything close to walking. Or standing; our dog had gone from normal mad charging exuberance to static pain in less than 30 minutes. He was still wagging his tail and trying to please, but not trying to get up. Murf is 4 years old and for 3 and a half of those has been an integral part of our family life. Now he was obviously broken and we’d no idea why, or – more importantly – what to do next.

A call to the vet suggested we needed to find a way to transport a 35kg labrador 7 miles to Ledbury. A call next door delivered a worried babysitter to console two extremely upset children. They weren’t alone. Pet owners everywhere know exactly how four legged friends weave themselves into the tapestry of your life – threads which pull you together and the absence of which leads to everyone falling apart.

We took a rug and carefully wrapped the confused mutt in a manner which just about allowed two of us to carry him to the car. Reversing the procedure at the vet’s saw the dog slump to the floor with a lack of life and motion totally alien to every other day of his life. The duty vet, while positive and pleasant, could only suggestdiagnosis’swith scaryconsequenceslike paralysis and serious nerve damage. Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to get fixed that night, and we had to leave him – still lying on the floor – with a look of some hurt, possibly due to the pain, possibly due to pack abandonment.

Heartbroken is a terribly over-used word. And it’s just a dog for Christ’s sake, yes? A pet you know you’ll outlive so grief is at best postponed. And yet the last time I felt this helpless andwretchedwas watching Abi, as a very scared three year old, being wheeled down to an operating theatre to cut into her eye. That ended thankfully well, but the jury was well out on this one.

Carol and I agreed on a positive spin for the kids, but not much else was said. Kids, being kids of course ask direct questions like ‘will Murf die?’ and parents, being parents, lie because they don’t like the sound of the truth. We had a couple of calls from the Vet talking ofanaestheticsand x-rays and possible cracked bones but no promises and certainly no improvement.

That’ll be a night’s sleep none of us will be getting back. Both of us were endlessly restless and when sleep did come, it was filled with unhappy dreams. I’d already sacked off work in case there was talk of saying goodbye and the trauma that’d cause us all, but was still up for ages before a breathless call from the same hard-working overnighter at the surgeryexclaimingwe had a entirely different dog on our hands. The second between her starting thatconversationand me hitting the accept call dial was filled with foreboding that seemed to last for hours.

‘When can you collect him” / ‘how does now work?’ was how it ended ,which started a couple of hours where Murf was ecstatically re-united with the rest of the pack, senior vets pointed out cracked bones and cautioned that there may be further damage. Strict advice over exercise and activity was soberly noted, and an eye watering bill signed without so much as a pause.

He certainly wasn’t totally fixed. Limping around and looking miserable for a couple of days. Since we’d had to reduce his food to 3/4 rations, this may have had a contributing effect. There’s nothing as mournful as a hungry labrador. Especially one that wants to run but isn’t getting off the lead for the next month. Still better than the outcomes we’d all been dreading.

He looks pretty much better now, but we’re not risking anything to get us back to the position of a non moving dog. And the Vet’s honest enough to say they really don’t know if the bone crack was the only cause. For the first few days back, we all held our breath every time he went from supine to upright, and for me it’s still a worry.

He’s a family dog. For all of us he’s our dog. For me, he’s mine, a good listener on long walks exploring new trails, always delighted to see me and never judgemental. Bit stinky and a terrible thief but that’s a fair return on his good points. What you don’t realise is the structure dogs put on your life – when I walked downstairs the morning after the night before with no dog to greet me, it felt as if a huge hole has opened up to swallow a chunk of good stuff I’d never really appreciated.

I’m sure some will scoff at such an emotional outpouring over a mere canine. My response would be they’re missing out on the waggy glue that such a pet brings to a family. And sure we’ll all outlive the labrador, but not for many, many years. 6,7,8 or even 9 years Murf’ll still be around – a bit greyer, a lot slower, probably a bit stuff and doddery. Still I’m not likely to be much better.

It’s a dog’s life alright. I’m glad he’ll be in ours for those extra years. Especially now I know what we’d be missing.

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