It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post and a lot has happened over the last few months. I don’t really know where to start.. Basically, a couple of very significant things happened that led to them being probably the worst couple of months of my life. I don’t really want to talk about the other things yet, maybe not ever, but today I want to talk about Derek.
In May 2008, when I was 15, after about 14 years of begging my mom for a dog, Derek wandered into our garden.
A few months previously, my mom decided to give in and allow me to get a dog after I completed my Junior Cert exam that June so I had already been keeping an eye on our local animal welfare website in case the perfect dog appeared. (She says that she only agreed to get a dog to shut me up because the year before Derek arrived I literally begged her for a dog every single day).
I remember thinking afterward, that it seemed like it was meant to be that we found Derek because of something weird that happened a week or two before he arrived. My mom came home from grocery shopping with a packet of dog food for small dogs that she had gotten free in some offer or promotion.
I remember saying to her that it was funny since we were planning on getting a dog soon, except that we were going to get a big dog so we probably wouldn’t use the small dog food. That was the only time ever that we had gotten free dog food as a promotion which was actually really weird because my mom wasn’t buying anything pet related at the time and as I said, a week or two later Derek (a small Jack Russell Terrier) appeared in the garden after straying on the roads and hungrily ate up the small dog food when we gave it to him.
The first night Derek was with us, my dad made a make-shift kennel out of a barrel, some styrofoam and an old jumper or two to keep him warm. I remember looking out the window the next morning and seeing him curled up in a ball beside the kennel in the lashing rain. We took him to the Vet for a check up within a few days as he continued to hang around but we also wanted to check if he was microchipped or had an owner. The vet said he was in fairly good health and was approximately 2 years old. I remember how long the moment or two felt when the vet was checking if he had a microchip or not and I was silently hoping that he didn’t have an owner so we could keep him. Turns out he wasn’t microchipped.
We never found his original owners which was probably a good thing because the more we got to know him the more it seemed that he had probably been beaten in his last home. He was extremely scared and would cower down or run away if anyone yelled or raised their voice. He was also terrified of the car and would cry the whole journey until we got home (which my mom thinks might be because he was driven somewhere far away in a car and abandoned but it might not have been that at all).
He had never been taken on a walk before we got him. The first time I put a lead on him, he wouldn’t move and we had to guide him every few feet with treats but soon going for a walk was his favourite thing in the world. He never really liked toys either. I remember buying him toys every “birthday” (anniversary of when we got him) and Christmas for the first couple of years but eventually gave up because he never played with anything for more than a day, and that was if he really liked it.
He was really independent and although he did like attention and belly rubs, after about five or ten minutes of you coming out to play with him, he would wander off down the garden sniffing everything, expecting you to just sit there and watch him for the next 30 minutes because he liked the company and if you went back inside, he would be straight up to the back door looking for you again. But he was always there when you needed him after a bad day, even if there was down the end of the garden after a minute or two of licking your tears away.
He was really stubborn and although a lot of the time he knew you were giving out or telling not to do something, he would do it anyway. I remember a few times sprinting down the street after him screaming his name after he had accidentally gotten out of his collar or lead. Sometimes I’d catch up with him after a kilometre or two and sometimes I wouldn’t, but he would always come home a few hours later. He wasn’t just a dog to me. He was a best friend.
Fast forward 9 years later. Derek had never really been sick in the whole time we had him. Then one day he was thrown down and wasn’t himself which was weird because he was a really high energy dog. After a day or two, he got better and we thought nothing of it. Then in March this year, my parents went away on holiday and the morning they left he wasn’t himself and he wouldn’t eat anything. We wondered what was wrong and if it was because he missed them but I went to the pet shop anyway and got him some tablets to calm his stomach and after a day or two he got better.
One month later, he got sick again. He had a lot of weird symptoms. I can’t remember what it started with when we decided to take him to the vet but as time went on some of his symptoms included that he was finding harder to get up and down steps or jump up onto chairs like he used to, he was going into trances and staring at walls, he started walking one or two steps backwards before he would go forwards, he stopped eating his dog food and we had to hand feed him chicken just to get him to eat. He also had a few instances of getting aggressive and snapping at us which he had never done before. There were other things but I can’t remember them.
The vet first gave him antibiotics. They didn’t work. He then had an X-ray which showed he had an enlarged heart so the vet prescribed tablets for that. They didn’t make him better. Then he started struggling more to get around and go up and down steps. The vet thought he might have something wrong with his spine so we had to give him more tablets. The vet wasn’t sure what it was at this point, whether it was his spine or maybe he had a brain tumour. He said it would cost a fortune to get an MRI to find out and even if we did know, we would still be going ahead with the same plan. If it was his spine, we would keep doing what we were doing and if it was a brain tumour there was nothing we could do anyway.
Derek was on the tablets for both his spine and heart for about a week or two. Some days he was slightly better. Some days he was worse. One morning my mom woke me up and said: ” Derek is walking funny this morning”. As he walked, it appeared like he was dragging his legs behind him, like he was drunk or something. He couldn’t go up or down the step into the house. He could barely get to his water or get anywhere to use the bathroom if he wanted and he was eating hardly anything. We were pretty sure what was going to happen next but we called the vet anyway. He said that he was pretty sure it was a tumour now and that the kindest thing would be to put him to sleep.
I was off that day. I drove in and collected my sister early from school so she could say goodbye. We spent a few hours with him and then I went with him, my dad and my sister to the vet. I think I forgot to mention earlier how much he hated the vet. This was the vet who had given him sore injections before, and near the end of his illness, he started snapping at the vet when he was sedating him for the x-ray or examining him. The vet sedated him first and left the room while we stayed with Derek. He came back in a few times and left again because Derek was not giving in to being sedated. The vet said most dogs would be lying down relaxed right now but this fella is a scrapper.
Derek continued to stand even though his legs were shaking. Eventually, we got him to lie down. Then the vet brought in another vet to hold him while he put him to sleep. Derek was calm and let them shave his paw where they were going to put the needle. I wish the next part happened differently. I wish it was like in Marley and Me when Marley just gently falls asleep..but it wasn’t. When they put in the injection, Derek screamed and tried to fight them off and then he was just gone. We were all in the room because we didn’t want to leave him on his own. After that, we brought him home and buried him.
I don’t think I realised how close I was with him or how much he really meant to me until he was gone. He was really tough and he fought until the end, and I feel horrible that I was part of the decision to end his life when he didn’t want to go but he had no quality of life left and he was only going to get worse. I hope he is somewhere where he has no more pain now. After that, things got really bad for a while but it’s has been over two months and I’m starting to feel better. I stopped writing blog posts and making videos while he was sick and afterwards but I think I might be ready to get back into it.
I’m sorry that I left for a while but I couldn’t continue on at the time. I’m back now.