Ozzy went out like a pharaoh, surrounded by the people who loved him and all of his worldly possessions, on the green settee that I bought for him in the living room of the house that I bought for him. The vet, Felix, who came to give him his last dose of anaesthetic and send him off to valhalla was a kind, calming young man, whom I had never met before but who immediately put me at my ease. He said that Ozzy looked regal and gave him an affectionate scratch behind the ears before finding a good vein in his back leg. This was at about 13.30 on the 19th of September, a Tuesday.
The hour before his death, I had taken off his bandanna to cool him down for a second, and as I went to put it back on him, he shook his head. Dearest said “It’s like he’s giving it back to us”, and I wrapped it around my wrist and didn’t take it off until I folded it up on top of the box containing Ozzy’s ashes a week and a half later.
That morning, he sprang down the stairs as if there was nothing wrong with him, pissed extravagantly on the kitchen floor after eating an entire tinned Christmas dinner, then sat on the settee alternating between eating peanut butter and gravybones, and being fussed., I held up a tub of peanut butter in one hand, and on open hand in the other – He chose the stroking and fuss, over the food, every time. He went out into the garden, slowly, shakily, and on the way back in as he leaned on me as he always did, I took a yellow pen and marked two levels on my leg – The height of his back and the height of his head as he reached up for a scratch behind the ears.
On Monday, our neighbour, Ray, visited, and gave me a bag of alpaca wool to spin. “I think you’re going to have a sad day some time soon” he said. I asked him if he wanted to come in and see Ozzy. He had tears in his eyes when he excused himself to go home instead, and I heard him talking sadly to Dave, his own greyhound, through the wall.
On the Sunday evening before, I phoned Saskia, out usual vet, and in tears I said that I thought she as right, and that it was time.
On the Saturday, we took him in to the vet to see if we could increase his tramadol, since he seemed to be more in-pain than not. She said that there was nowhere else to go, and that it might be time to think about letting him leave us. On the way out to the vet, we met Ray and Dave, and Ozzy and Dave had a good respectful sniff of each other, two old friends who’d grown old together. Dave ambled on up the road behind Ray.
A few days before that, I walked Ozzy to the end of the road to see a friend off back to his own house. Ozzy had wheezed and panted the whole way, his lungs nowhere near enough. We met an old red setter (fifteen!) and I took some photos of the two of them together. In the blurry ones, Ozzy looks young – Tail up and wagging, trotting fast enough to blur.
We had got into a good routine, over the month. We dragged the mattress down off the bed, so that he didn’t have to jump up to sleep between us. We’d wake up twice in the night to give him tramadol and metacam, and I’d get up early to bring him downstairs in the morning to help him up onto his settee, where we’d taken the cushions off to make it lower and to make a nest on the floor for Dearest to sit in, so that we could both be closer to him. We bought takeaway every few days, and gave him prawn crackers. We gave him his own kilo-tub of peanut butter, and tramadol four (then six, then eight) times a day, and paracetamol, and metacam, and he was never, ever alone. Having a terminally ill dog is a lot like having a new puppy. You never let them out of your sight, you praise them for every tiny miraculous thing that they do, you can’t stop looking at them or touching them, marvelling in how soft their fur is, or how beautiful their eyes, or how their silly little crooked teeth stick out and how they lick your hands and gently chew on you for attention and pat you with their paws and how you know just how short and precious the hours together like this are. You spend hours memorising every last meaningless detail – How their breathing sounds when they’re dreaming, how they shake when they come in from the garden, how they always drink or eat with the same rhythm (slurp slurp slurp slurp pause, slurp slurp slurp pause), how their nails are all different colours and split in different ways, every mole on their bald patches, every long hair or salt-and-pepper streak in their coat.
You wake up in the cold and pull the blanket over them too, feeling the fast thump of their heart and the rasp of their breath and the slow half-asleep twitch of claws and muscle as they wake up and relax immediately, knowing they’re safe and just happy to be there with you too.
We put a hammock in the back of the car, and took him down to Dearest’s Mum’s house, where he’d lived for a year. We slept in a pile on a mattress in the room overlooking the garden, and Ozzy spent the days in his usual sunbeam on the chaise longue next to Dearest’s Mum. He trotted around the garden, sniffing everything, following the trails left by foxes and hedgehogs. We went up to my Mam’s house, where the three of us slept crunched up into a tiny sofa bed, also in the room overlooking the garden. He ate nothing but roasted chicken breast and bacon and peanut butter on toast.
A few days after he was diagnosed, I got him to stand in the kitchen near his bowls, and step in a plate of ink to make footprints. He wandered off with inky feet, leaving four of them printed into the floor near the fridge, more perfect than any that we got on paper. Of course, I varnished them into the floor.
It was a good last month. But now it’s done, and there is a horrible hole in my life. I still automatically look down on my way through the kitchen, to check that I don’t trip on him. I still look to the settee on the way into the living room. I still find myself mentally adding “…And Dog” when I greet Dearest when I return home.I still sleep curled up, feeling that if I stretch out I might kick him. Worst yet is waking in the night, and reaching out with a foot to stroke him, and feeling nobody there.
The night after Ozzy died, I sent a text to a tattooist friend, to ask him if he could tattoo one of Ozzy’s pawprints on me as a memorial – The pawprint at the height that Ozzy stood, with splatter reaching up my leg to the height of his head. He had a slot on the Thursday, so I took it. I kept redrawing the ink marks on my leg until it was engraved. It looks really good – As I said at the time, this is the only time, ever, that it’s flattering to tell a tattooist that it looks like a tattoo my dog would have done.
I’ve said for many years that Ozzy is the only reason I’m not dead – that having had him in my house gave me a reason to get up, to feed myself, to keep the house at least free from infestation, and to pay attention to the world around me. I’ve always said that having that golden greyhound in my house kept the black dog at bay. Well, now he’s not in my house, but he’s in my head, and that means I have to keep myself safe, because even though I’m not the only person who remembers him, I’ve got the most complete record of his life, stored away in my head. And I’ve got to keep that safe, as a memorial to him. However much of me gets ruined over the years by depression, some part of my being is golden, forever, and that’s worth sticking around to preserve.
Osric Sparks, King of Northumbria. 4th July 2005 – 19th September, 2017.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise.
I never knew but one; And here he lies.