The Life and Times of Sandy
I may as well tell you right at the beginning that Sandy is dead. She never did have much luck. All she ever wanted was someone to love, but she spent her youth in a compound with a pack of "hunting dogs" - an experience which pretty much wrecked her trust in human beings.
But at the age of five, miserable, gun-shy and condemned to be shot, she was rescued by the hunter's soft-hearted brother. He took her home and put her by the stove where she perked up slightly. Her new owner was pleased. Of course, he wasn't a man to walk a dog and he certainly wasn't going to spend money on dog food, but he wasn't cruel and he was fond of Sandy.
He fed her rice, pasta and left-overs: as much as she wanted. Grateful for every bite, she ate her dinners all up like a good girl and rode around in her master's van, happily sleeping on the seat while he was at work.
Over the next six years, her coat grew thicker and thicker, she got fatter and fatter, her teeth went soft and yellow and she was constantly thirsty, but she knew which side her bread was buttered and although she snapped at strangers, she never dreamed of biting the hand that fed her.
Sometimes she slipped off on her own to do the bins and to feast on cooked bones, bits of cake, and rotten apples. She also learned how to snuffle in at open back doors. There, the pickings were even better: fresh bread, cat food, chalderns' snacks, shopping in carrier bags... she ate the lot.
People used to shout at her from time to time, but at least they didn't hit her and when she'd finished the bins, she'd go home for a nice bowl of rice and a long sleep on the floor which was so hard that her elbows went bald.
Sometimes grass seeds got tangled in the fur between her toes and bit by bit, worked their way further up the hair until they pushed into her skin, where they caused abscesses.
No-one noticed. Her coat was so long and she was so fat that no-one was at all surprised that she limped. In any case, being mostly spaniel, she'd always had an ungainly shuffle rather than the elegant gait of, say, an Afghan hound.
No-one noticed the lumps growing either. One in her belly, and another on her shoulder. By this time, her coat was so long that underneath the silky top layer, there was large mats of dead fur that were so tangled that they pulled at her skin.
At which point, she became homeless. A family crisis resulted in her owner moving into a flat where dogs weren't allowed. She was 11 years old; fat, lame, and smelly. Obviously no-one would want her. Her master parked her with a reluctant friend for two weeks, shifted her to another friend, shifted her again and again, begging everyone he knew to take her just for a week or two, always hoping that someone, somewhere, would take her permanently.
Which is how she ended up with us. Patient grooming followed, and trips to the vet, operations (removal of the cancerous growth in her belly and the harmless but huge, bleeding and infected cyst on her shoulder), worming, de-flea-ing, abscess-treating, tooth-cleaning, daily short walks and gentle exercise, and the endless the attempts to persuade her that she was safe, loved and home at last.
She didn't believe us. Not in her heart. She followed us about and she gradually learned to accept grooming but she was always inclined to snap. We all got bitten one way or another and I never managed to stop her shuffling off out on her own. She'd just been looking after herself for so long that she couldn't give it up. She was addicted to hoovering round other people's dustbins.
But after three months people started saying "that's a nice little spaniel," and they were amazed to learn her age. She was prettily groomed, friendly, fit, active, and raring to go.
Until Ficelle attacked her. It was a totally unexpected, unprovoked and unpreventable assault. My neighbour's Great Dane simply flipped out and mauled my dog.
We separated them instantly and I took Sandy to the vet who gave her a general anaesthetic, 30 stitches and a course of antibiotics - and we thought we'd been lucky. But two days later, Sandy wasn't responding and blood tests showed that her kidneys were packing up. A second anaesthetic so soon after the last one had been to much for her system to handle. Unknown to us, she must have had kidney disease for some time.
The fight was on. Drugs, repeated phone calls and visits to the vet, round the clock nursing, endless spooning-feeding, more drugs and more blood tests.
It didn't work. Three days later she was unable to walk, almost unconscious and leaking urine which was the colour of gravy. We'd lost the battle.
But in the days and nights of sitting beside her, talking to her, giving her injections and pills, combing her, mopping up her infected stitches, syringing water down her throat, I had finally relaxed. She would lay her head on my knee and sigh contentedly, she never snapped, never flinched, never struggled.
And the last time we went to the vet, when I picked her up in my arms, she snuggled up and in the back of the car she was smiling at me and she tried to wag.
In the surgery, I kissed her and stroked her head but she was too ill to respond and she knew nothing about what followed. I stayed with her but strangely enough I didn't cry when she died. She was old, her kidneys had packed up, there would have been nothing left for her but suffering and pain. But there was something else. In a way, it was a happy ending.
You see, in the last days of her life she had finally got absolutely everything she'd ever wanted. Someone to trust. Her life was complete.
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