It always happens the same way. I’ll be in the park and someone will notice my bulldog and smile. I can’t blame them, as Iggy has the face of an angel, albeit one who has face-planted too many times upon landing. I describe Ig as half bat, half bear – all pointy ears, broken piano key overbite and koala-cuddly chassis – a face only a mother could love and damn, I do.
“He’s just gorgeous,” they will say, leaning in for a happily received pat. It’s then I brace myself for what’s to follow. And lately, it always does. “How old is he?” they ask. “He’s ten,” I answer reticently. ”
Oh, so he hasn’t got much longer then. That’s sad.”
Now, I’ll tell you what’s really sad, and that is people pointing out the blatantly obvious when a bit more tact could be applied. I know Ig will die one day – it is my worst nightmare – but I don’t need to be reminded of the fact, not now or ever. It’s a bit like reminding someone on their wedding day that one in three marriages end in divorce. Because every time I walk away from such an encounter, it is as though someone has kicked me in the heart. I feel winded, wounded and full of woe.
Because loving an old dog is facing the reality their best days are behind them and that I will one day have to say goodbye to my best friend, my barrel-chested boy who I regard as the great love of my life.
Sometimes people are a little more empathetic but that doesn’t necessarily help. Upon telling them Ig’s age, they will tear up and begin to tell me their own story, about how they had to put down their beloved dog or endure seeing their animal in pain through crippling illness. One woman recently showed me a locket around her neck that contains her dog’s ashes. She says it is the most precious item she owns and that it is in her will that she must be buried wearing it. Of course, I ended up in tears at her recalling her pain.
I tell you the dog park is an emotional rollercoaster these days.
But I have been lucky. My boy has always been heathy and happy and I figured he would always stay that way, that somehow my endless love could keep him thriving. Then, three weeks ago happened.
It had started as a normal day, waking up to Ig gently snoring inches away on our shared pillow. As always, I took great pleasure in savouring a few minutes of cuddles as he woke up too, before getting out of bed, walking around to his side, then gently lifting him to the ground. Ig used to be able to jump down himself, but over the past year he has lost his confidence. It was a minor sign he is ageing, one I quickly dismissed as nothing serious.