April 2017 Archives

Surviving grief

Ella is helping.

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Ella at Mugdock park

I used to wake up effectively mummified: two dogs on top of the duvet, on either side of my legs, penning me in. With Taji and now Habibi gone, that’s not going to happen any more.

Ella realised something was Wrong yesterday morning, and she spent some time in places she normally wouldn’t - under my desk, or at the back of the office where there’s normally no room. She slept beside the bed when I took a nap that evening, even though (I’m guessing) she would have preferred to be outside in the garden. Did she think that Habibi had been guarding us, and now that Habibi was gone that that was now her job?

It’s possible. Ella is unusually emotionally-sensitive for a dog: whenever I shout at the computer, I can expect her to be there within seconds, concerned that I’m upset. So I hug her, because I want her to be happy, and it turns out that hugging a big happy walking carpet is good for you as well, so we’re both better-off.

There’s a thing some people do as part of US Thanksgiving, I understand: where you go round the table and each person says “I’m thankful for thing, because reason”. Well, losing Habibi was heart-breaking, but the saving grace was that we still had Ella. So we bundled her up into the car and took her on a good long walk around Mugdock Country Park, and for a while we all had a great time.

We couldn’t have done that with Habibi, because she was ill and didn’t want to go far. And chances are that Ella wouldn’t have got to sniff and play with a number of the dogs we met even if Habibi had been in perfect health, because she’d have barked her head off and we’d have moved on quickly.

And when Berkeley was alive and I’d yell at the computer, he thought I was angry at him and would run away.

Now, simple is not better. Part of loving someone is accepting the baggage that comes with them; and you do this because it’s their baggage. And it’s going to be very strange tonight when Cleodhna takes Ella to Jessie’s and the house has no animals in it for, quite possibly, the first time ever since we moved in.

Still: that Ella is, objectively, a superb and wonderful dog, makes things a little better.

Habibi Neferet Nightshade


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Habibi wagging her tail

Some time in June 2007, a small brown dog was abandoned in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. She spent almost a week cowering under a bridge before Patsy, a sometime friend of ours who can’t help rescuing dogs, managed to coax her out. Patsy nursed her back to health, but then needed to leave Glasgow for a few days, and asked us if we could dog-sit her for a few days?

That was in the afternoon. By the evening we were thinking of names.

(We thought she was part-Basenji, so decided to call her something Egyptian, only to discover that after Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Neferet, all other female pharoah names are unpronounceable. So “Beloved” in arabic it was. Then we realised that a Natasha Atlas song we were listening to at the time Mondegreened as “Habibi leash”. Whoops.)

Habibi had a beautiful coat, like a tortoiseshell cat’s but subtler, each hair a slightly different colour from its neighbour; and with a fun little white bit on her bib that would change shape when you frobbed it. But most importantly, she was delightful. Our cat Helen had a switch-on purr; well, Habibi had an insta-wag. You’d just have to walk into the room and say her name and that thing with its little twist on the end would spring into action. Often, when you were cuddling her at the foot of the bed, she’d get so excited by tummy rubs that she’d have to jump off the bed and run around. One day she asked to go outside, and when I got up to go downstairs with her, she jumped up and made an excited sound like a skeksis opening a screen door.

She was also smart. Most dogs get so excited about going outside that they start running around while you’re trying to put their harnesses on, which of course means you can’t put the damn harness on them because the damn dog won’t stay still, so they don’t get to go outside after all. Habibi did all of that, of course, but once you’d put her harness around her neck she’d lift her paw up to make it easier for you to put the rest on. (When we were in France, she would also lift her paw up to make it easier for you to carry her up the stairs; stairs that she could go down perfectly well but refused to go up. We tried putting beeswax on her paws; that didn’t help.)

We don’t know how old she was; we thought she was about 1 or 2 when we found her, but then she got sclerosis in her eyes, which normally happens to older dogs. No matter; she got grey in her muzzle, and she progressed from barking just at the postman and black dogs to barking at pretty much everything, but she stayed the same wonderful little brown mutt.

She started having off days, not wanting to go out on walks, towards the end of last year - nothing you could reliably put down to anything in particular. She had insurance, so we did blood tests and scans, but nothing came of them until our vet noticed a bulge in her abdomen. At that point things proceeded quite quickly: she had her 1kg (!) spleen removed, and the diagnosis came back. Hemangiosarcoma, the same cancer that killed Laszlo.

You can’t do anything about that, and she didn’t like being prodded by strangers in vet surgeries, so we settled in to pamper her outrageously while we still could. She had a bad moment last Sunday, so we arranged for our vets to come over today and put her out of her misery. It’s strange to set a date for your dog to die, especially when she appeared to be doing a bit better today; but we didn’t want her to be in any more pain. Think of it not as a death sentence, but a death promise.

Goodbye Habibi. Pretty girl! Clever girl! I miss you already. This doesn’t get any easier.

Habibi at Mugdock park

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