This Doggone Life

© Julie Boyd

Those people who claim that we should not attribute human emotions to animals must be cat people. Dog people know that their four-legged mates are often far more empathetic than many humans.

I almost lost my canine companion, or ‘significant other’ as my daughter refers to him, this week.

Jorge came into my life as a small ball of back and white fluff, courtesy of a mate of mine who had seen how quickly I’d attached to her own small ball of white fluff, Trev. At the time another friend, Polly, and I had been taking bets on who was going to die first- her from the tumour that was engulfing her abdomen, or me from a heart which had already failed a couple of times.

Polly beat me to it and Jorge filled part of the very large gap that gets left when one of your closest mates departs to the great hereafter. He would take up position on my chest until both of us were able to get up and walk again.

Together we began our sojurn as seachangers on the north coast of NSW- before it fell prey to spivs, shonks and con artists.

Our pristine estuary has provided numerous opportunities for waterborne expeditions- Jorge perched on the front of the kayak respectfully watching curlews, egrets, jabiru and even a koala before they were scared off by the construction trucks.

Our stunning stretch of beach can be tricky to those who don’t know it. We did have a couple of instances of being hit by rogue waves which carried Jorge out into surf requiring rescue efforts. He much preferred to paddle in the shallows, digging for crabs and then racing them to the water, or just enjoying pats from smiling locals- the tourists often too busy racing along trying to get fit, or learning how to surf. He earned his keep finding rubbish during our Monday cleanups after the day-trippers had left. Sometimes we came across dolphins dancing, or whales spectacularly belly-whacking the water as if to say ‘this is our territory’. We were also constantly surrounded by death- a headless turtle, half a shark, or bluebottles lying in wait. Or tourists who think they can beat nature- only to find they had to be extricated by local surfers if the lifesavers were off-duty.

But paradise also has its perils. From Jorge helping me to heal, to this week when his tiny body failed because of a massive tumour that was crushing his insides, the wheel has turned full circle.

The week before Polly died, those of us caring for her would have to follow her around as her bowel and bladder leaked as she wandered around her house. I would have given anything for Jorge to be leaking rather than totally blocked. As her body finally shut down a last minute change of heart, and an override of her living will, saw her end her days in a hospice. As his little body shut down the option was clear ‘I don’t want him to suffer any more- but can we try one last possibility’. Both of them had ‘unusual’ tumours and specialists could not offer any more to her- nor could university researchers offer any solutions for him. Euthanasia was not an option for her. It was for him. A last minute decision to attempt a new procedure by the vet had him walk out of the surgery wagging his tail. Two days later he is back digging more crabs- not cured- but much more comfortable and happy to sit and people- watch on the beach now.

I don’t know if he has an extra week, or a month or a year. I was given six months and have had eight years. I do know that we both have tumours floating around our bodies right now. And if they get worse, I’d like to think that we can both make decisions about when it is time- and not leave those decisions in the hands of professionals who are acting according to their oath, and not in our best interests at all. Jorge is back lying beside me right now. As a thank you, or another warning to me. Only time will tell.