The French have a word for it, it seems. They call our shortlived wolfhounds “heartbreak hounds”.
I mentioned before that we recently found out that my family’s Irish wolfhound, Liath, had an inoperable tumor in her innards. Well, her liver has been failing, she’s been less and less able to eat and drink enough to keep her alive, and my parents have had to give her pain pills at more frequent intervals. She’s barely eaten or drunk anything the last few days, and last night my mother was reduced to giving her ice to keep Liath’s tongue from sticking to her mouth and gums. She could barely walk this morning.
So my parents called the veterinarian, and made an appointment to have her put to sleep, after my dad came home from his retirement job.
Liath has always been a very affectionate dog, because she was rescued from a puppy farm. She birthed and had taken from her two litters of puppies before she turned two, and she grew up in a locked pen, expecting nothing to be above her but a blank ceiling. She was very happy to come to my parents, very happy to eat anything given to her, very happy to follow people around the house or play with them outside. It was out in the yard that the squirrels taught her about “up”. She never caught them, but she taught the squirrels and chipmunks to build their nests in another yard.
She loved my parents’ cuckoo clock, and quickly decided it was her job to remind everyone of the daily schedule. She loved to ride in the car, as long as she was sure she would come home again, and going on walks was the big excitement of her day.
So on the last day of her life, in the daily excitement of having my dad come home, Liath got up and ran to meet him. When they went to take her to the vet, she managed to jump into the car.
This is what breaks your heart — did you give up too soon, or could you have spared them a night of pain by going earlier?
And this is why dogs are a little mysterious — how in the world did she even manage to get up again, after being so sick so long?
I’d also like to apologize for my bad temper the last few weeks. I was mostly in good spirits when I could visit my parents’ house, but anticipatory grief hit me very hard the rest of the time. I know I’ve been a pill. Please forgive me. A dog is not a human, no — but a dog is still something very precious.
As the Smith of Culann complained, once upon a time:
My life is a wilderness, and my household like a desert,
with the loss of my hound!
He guarded my life and my honour,
a valued servant, my hound, taken from me.