Just over a year and a half ago my family and I had to make the difficult decision to have our elderly dog put to sleep.
He had been with us since he was a few weeks old. At the time he was a huge puppy and his siblings were the same. There was a big concern about how big he would actually get but fortunately he seemed to just fill out rather than grow taller. He was a gorgeous cross between a lab and a boxer. When he was younger he looked more like a boxer but as he grew older he looked more like a lab.
My sister and I grew up with him. He waited for us at the window each day at the time he knew we'd be home from school and he greeted us with warmth and love.
Throughout his life he was selectively deaf. He made us laugh with the way he would ignore us if we were telling him off but when we said 'biscuits', 'walk', 'cheese' or anything else he liked he heard first time.
In his last few years he went completely deaf though. In certain ways, this was a blessing. It meant he couldn't hear things like fireworks. In Edinburgh there are many occasions that fireworks are used. New Year, Guy Fawkes and during the Tattoo are just a few occasions.
He also went nearly 100% blind in his last year or so. He coped amazingly well with this. He was a dog that was phased by nothing. My theory on that was that he knew he was with such a loving family that all his needs would be cared for, he'd never struggle.
In his latter months it was obvious that he was struggling to walk. Vets suggested many things like massaging his legs and that actually worked. He got a full massage daily before his main walk and he benefited from it. He'd always had bother with his back legs but in those months it got worse. It led to him falling over when he walked, having to be carried up and down stairs and lifted into the car.
In his last week he had had what seemed like a series of mini-strokes. He would be non-responsive for a few moments and would lose all muscle control so essentially just flopped on the floor however he landed.
We decided one Sunday afternoon while we were all sitting in the garden at my parents. Our dog was sitting among us. He was probably the most alert that day that he had been for a long time but as a family we decided that on the Monday morning we'd contact the vet.
Over the course of the weekend he'd begun to bark without reason. Almost like a dementia setting in. He just barked randomly which was something he'd never done before.
We contacted the vet on the Monday morning and she said, because of the situation she would come to the house. We were all there when she arrived with her assistant a couple of hours later. She had said on the phone she would assess our dog when she arrived and might not necessarily put him down.
On the Sunday I had said that I would probably leave the room if she was going to put him down but on the Monday I realised that no matter what, I would stay in the room.
The vet, who had known him since he was a pup and had seen him fairly often, took one look at him and knew he wasn't right. In fact he had an episode of unresponsiveness right in front of her. Her exact words were, "he's just not Reb". Reb was his name.
She talked us through the process and then she and her assistant gave us time alone with him. When she returned she asked us whether we wanted to leave the room or stay. My sister left the room.
The whole process was quick and he died among us very peacefully.
It was an exceptionally hard day. After giving us time with his body, my sister rejoined us, the vet and her assistant took his body away. It was immediately evident there was a gap in the house. No dog.
As the days went on we received his ashes and we began to get used to life without Reb but we would always miss him. A friend of my Dads had painted a picture of him years before and it still hangs in their sitting room. He was our first family dog.
In the days and weeks afterwards we all said we'd never get another dog, maybe a budgie or fish or something but never a dog.
However, of course, in time we got Glenn.
We wouldn't be without him.
What has prompted me to write this is that my friend has told me her dog, a beautiful female Rottweiler, is very ill and will visit the vet tomorrow. Despite the reputation that Rottweilers have, this one is a gentle beast who loved nothing more than lying across your lap. She liked to get up beside you on the sofa and show you her new toy and generally she loved you. I'll be sad if she has to be put down but at the same time I'd like her not to suffer.
It's always a difficult decision to put down a beloved pet but in the long run it's better for them.
My thoughts are with my friend tomorrow when she visits the vet and also with anyone who ever had to make the hard decision to get a pet put down to end their suffering.