When we brought our newborn home from the hospital over 8 years ago, there he was at the gate, waiting for us with a big smile on his face. His little stubby tail wagged furiously as we lowered our son down so he could sniff him, become used to the smell that was to signal the new world order. Then we whisked our baby inside and shut the door, into our closed off world of first time parenting, largely oblivious to the loyal creature that lay down on the doormat, ever vigilant: watching, protecting, loving.
In the blur of those first weeks and months of ensuring our baby son was well looked after, Memphis – who in so many ways had been like our first son – endured the minimum. Minimum attention, minimum affection. Yet he always reciprocated tenfold. He didn’t make us feel guilty for how little time we had for him, or how little affection we could spare: he took what he could get.
As our son grew older, routines were established, and Memphis was acknowledged with pats and walks more frequently. No longer our number 1, there was no jealousy, no anger or aggression, just an acceptance of “what is”.
Then it happened all over again as he slipped further down the rung with the birth of our second son. Again he existed for a time on scraps of kindness, fleeting pats and “good boy”s. Time we did spend together helped to restore our inner calm: he always gave back so much more than he was given.
Our boys have loved growing up with Memphis. They have played ball games together (“Mum, Memphis has taken the ball again”), spent endless hours squealing and laughing on the trampoline as he barks at them from below; even swum in the ocean together.
Now, Memphis is in the Winter of his life. Large polyps have grown in his ears and dulled his hearing. A form of congestive heart failure has taken away the playful leaping and inexplicable joy of chasing a ball. He can be grumpy, and stubborn. He is a grumpy, stubborn old man. But he is also so loving, so loyal, so devoted.
Last Wednesday evening we arrived home to find him heaving, belching up great mouthfuls of foamy, frothy gunk. His stomach was bloated, tight as a drum. A panicked rush to the emergency vet and we were confronted with two options: operate, or euthanize. Euthanize? My brain couldn’t even make sense of the gravity of the word let alone contemplate it. Was she really offering that as an option? Willingly end the life of our best friend? This amazing, dedicated member of our family? Operate it was.
“But his heart” they said.
“Odds stacked against him”, they warned.
“Order to resuscitate?” they asked.
As a family we lovingly patted and stroked our beautiful boy, whispering to him our gratitude for his years of faithful service as he drifted off into the pain free world of anaesthesia. I was comforted by the tears streaming down the face of the vet nurse, her face mirroring all of ours. She knows he’s loved, I thought. Yes, she will look after him.
Hours of anxious pacing and nervous waiting followed, all the while the vet worked feverishly to untwist a stomach that had bloated and flipped over on itself, and then remove a spleen with a nasty looking lump smack bang in its middle.
Our strong, fearless boy, who has not had a normal heart rhythm for nine months, maintained a heartbeat and good blood pressure throughout.
Our rockstar dog made it through.
Memphis was home by Friday night and is slowly recovering, sporting a weird haircut and a raw looking line of stitches the entire length of his abdomen. He is happy, if a little bewildered by the non-stop attention and affection he is receiving. We are happy just to have him home where he belongs.
I don’t know how many more days I will wake up to his smiling face. How many more times I will feel the lean of his body against my leg as I hang out the washing. How many more nights I can lull my children to sleep, secure in the knowledge their faithful protector is just outside, and all is well with the world. How many more times I will look into his big brown eyes and see only unconditional love.
For now, I will take what I can get.
**Just a few short months after I wrote this, Memphis’ heart could no longer take the strain and we had no choice but to end his pain. He died 5 years ago today, and we have missed him every day since.