Smudge came to live with us in June 2006. The boys and I had finally moved into our own little house after taking over a year to sell my old marital home, with the promise of “getting a dog when we’ve moved” ringing in our ears.
So finally, I was persuaded to find a local breeder for Cocker Spaniels. I had grown up with a Golden Retriever but I wanted something smaller that the boys could help to look after and handle straight away.
We went to visit and picked her out of the pack of pups, choosing her because she had a heart shaped black patch on her back. The boys were allowed to choose a name, with some guidance, (“You can’t call a dog that”) but in the end they convinced me that Smudge was not a cat or rabbit name and would suit her perfectly.
She was so tiny when we first brought her home. I had a computer desk in the lounge which didn’t have a chair at it as there was no room. I used to kneel at the desk and she would come and curl up on the back of my legs, so I’d have to call for help from the boys before I could get up again.
She was never particularly well trained, despite us taking her to classes, but she would sit and [mostly] come when she was called. She didn’t really settle in our first house, I think she could smell dogs that had lived there previously. When we moved 18 months later she was a different dog and made the playroom sofa her own domain. The boys would walk her before school and the come home at lunchtime to spend time with her. I walked her for hours at the weekend and when my second marriage broke down we walked a lot of miles together in solitude.
When I met MrS it wasn’t very long before they were introduced to each other. Fortunately for MrS they got on like a house on fire and when I moved to London it was a no brainer that she would come too.
MrS’s children had mixed feelings about having a dog. Velvet the cat had long reigned over the house (and I mean long, she was 15 when Smudge and I moved in). Poor Velvet, Smudge just crashed around wanting to play with her, but a few smacks on the nose sorted out the pecking order and from then on they existed in (un)easy harmony. As both animal’s eyesight was beginning to deteriorate there was a lot of comedy crashing and often one would jump onto a chair only to land on the other.
It only took a short while before none of them could remember a time before she came. It wasn’t easy as Smudge’s separation anxiety came back with a vengeance. We took her into our room at night for a while but she woke us up so often, in the end we compromised with a palatial utility dog-room in which she was ok again for a while. She was always happiest in a full house so when the children were home from Uni she was like a pig in muck, and we always took her to Norfolk with us.
When Velvet died in 2016, Smudge clearly missed her, and then once all the children went back to Uni, we once again had to take her into our bedroom at night.
We knew she was losing her vision (Cocker’s are predisposed to cataracts) and then she started to go deaf. She was still so fit though and when we were around, she was perfectly happy.
Late last year though, she started to deteriorate and we started working with our vet to get help calming her and hopefully letting us get some sleep.
It was then I found out about Canine Cognitive Dysfunction*. Basically, Doggie Dementia. Whilst not entirely the same as human dementia it might as well be.
Smudge's near blindness had masked the first symptoms, but once I started exploring it, it became more evident that this was probably what she was suffering from.
We tried various different drugs, most of which she was given due to the side effects that might help, rather than anything specific. Even the Diazepam simply made her worse.
She started barking more, which initially we put down to the foxes which frequent our garden, but eventually, when we came home from work we could hear her barking before we were even in the door. Sometimes we would find her stuck in the corner between the sofas, or she would just stand staring at the wall. She tried to come in the wrong side of the door and she stopped wanting to sit with us on the sofa, yet anytime we moved she would follow us. We would be out on a walk and she would refuse point blank to go any further, often refusing to go back too! The dog walker had the same trouble and she began taking a buggy with her on walks so that if Smudge stopped she would push her in the buggy, which she enjoyed apparently!
Eventually she started to lose learned behaviours, messing regularly on the floor and for the final week we had no sleep at all (I had to persuade MrS into the spare room for him to get some sleep at least).
We knew we had to face facts, that her quality of life was no longer good, however much love we showered her with, and however physically healthy she appeared to be, she was often distressed even by short periods of separation.
It’s a strange thing, making that decision. Whilst I’m strongly in favour of voluntary euthanasia in adult humans, making a decision to end the life of another living being is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The vet was fully supportive of our decision and at no point put us under any pressure either way. I mentioned the fact that my dad has dementia, which had informed my decision to a certain extent, and he told us that so did his mum and he felt it certainly wasn’t irrelevant in comparing the two.
I cannot thank the vet and nurse enough for everything they did and said. It’s only a small practice with one consulting room but at no point did they rush us or make us feel pressured. We chose to stay with Smudge and I held her until the end and they let us stay with her for as long as we wanted afterwards.
I’ve often heard people saying that having a pet is a great learning experience for children, it teaches them to care and take responsibility for something, and it teaches them unconditional love. It reteaches that to adults too.
Having a dog isn’t for everyone, and however much you want a dog, having one in the wrong circumstances is selfish. But if you ever have the chance to even look after one for a short time, they will enrich your life for more than the time you spend with them.
Sleep tight little Smudge, we will never forget you.
*If you think your canine friend may be showing signs of Cognitive Dysfunction there is a lot you can do for them if you catch it early enough. There is some info out there if you google it. This is a good example.