Nev was more than just a canine companion – he was a kind and caring soul, my trustworthy guide dog for a time and a buddy to my young son, Michael. When a new man-guide appeared on the scene, Nev accepted Harry lovingly into our pack. In Nev’s retirement years, we returned the favour in looking after him – and now we sadly farewell the sweet fellow who brought so much love and joy to our lives.
9th July: His final days
Harry and I often look forward to these getaways to our bush block, Nev on board panting his approval in leaving behind the hectic energy of a busy city and trading it for the simple life we have come to treasure here at Highlands. This trip, however, will be treasured for a very different reason, as we share with Nev, his final earth-bound days. He has lived a good innings, almost fourteen years in fact, giving us the smug impression that he would just be around forever. My son, Mike once told me that he couldn’t imagine his life without buddy-Nev – as he was only three when Nev first came into our lives to be my devoted guide dog. Now at sixteen, Mike has come on this trip with us to give Nev all the love and comfort we can in preparation to farewell our sweet, elderly Labrador.
Somehow, life always seems more manageable in the light of a new day: especially here in the quiet serenity of the bush where the birds have begun to twitter and the rain is tapping lightly on the tin roof. Nev is curled up snug and warm under a red blanket on his bed by the log fire, which makes it easy to blot out the memory of a very uncomfortable night. We have nurtured him through many sleepless nights in the past few weeks, listening out for his tip-tapping toes as he tries to settle either by our bed or by Mike’s. He carries with him, several lumps on his chest that are not cancerous, but nevertheless, difficult to ignore.
The brisk, clean smells of Highlands have always delighted our gentle friend. From the moment of arrival, he would jump out of the car, sniff the ground, mark his bush territory and prance around with his nose high in the air, grinning and wagging his tail. Yesterday, after we manoeuvred him carefully like an old man from his seat, he was not prancing but the feeble few flicks of his tail showed us he was still glad to have come, the crisp scent of eucalyptus clearing his nose as he sniffed the air and waddled up the path to the cabin.
I have cried on an off during the trip here, dreading the decision that I know has to be made now. We have prolonged it for as long as we could – but the past few months we have noticed a slow decline in Nev’s ability to settle at night. He keeps his head low and seems to drift in and out of awareness. His nights are active with restless wanderings through the house, his days spent asleep by the fireplace in our lounge room.
Two nights ago we were awakened to a new truth, when he accidentally knocked over a lamp, breaking the glass bulb that splintered shards of glass near our bed in the dead of night. This shook me into a new reality. When his back legs gave way six months ago, we felt that he was ready to go to the big kennel in the sky, so we put on a special farewell party in the park, to celebrate his noble life with his friends, both human and canine. Then he bucked up again, proving he was not ready to leave us – not just yet.
Nev has soldiered on for a further twenty one weeks, granting his family and friends this extra time to love and spoil him, to delight in his company and laugh at his endearing ways. Some people may find this hard to believe, but in the past few days, Harry and I have both felt Nev communicate his request. He laid his head on Harry’s lap and told him...he lay quietly by the fire with his head in my hands and told me too... he is ready to go, he gives us both his consent to do what we must do to help him be at peace. But still I search my heart for justifications to end his life.
Another difficult night passes, lying next to my whimpering dog on the floor by the fire to ease his pain through the long night. It is all I can do to comfort him and give him all the lasting hugs I can. I rub my hands over his warm back, and know how much I will miss fondling his velvety-soft ears in this way. Doing so reminds me of the first time we met in the training centre when I sat next to my new four-legged companion on the floor, massaging his muscular back, discovering these soft triangular ears that were my comforting teddy bear on those challenging days when I had to learn to trust his guiding eyes. He is like a big huggable teddy, golden brown, with deep soulful eyes that have served as my eyes for a time when he was my active guide dog.
Today however, in the cold and wet of the Highlands, there is a sad mist around the cabin. Tears shower overhead from the clouds and I feel the angels crying with us and we try to come to terms with his loss – even as he sits here by my side in front of the log fire. He is warm, he is relatively comfortable in this moment, he is very loved – and in three hours time, he will no longer be on this earth but a part of it, under the sunlit apple tree in our orchard.
Dear Mike and Harry find a resting place for him and dig the grave while I plan his farewell ritual. I have a candle to light, flowers from the garden and a garden cherub to lay by his resting place. Harry and I feel guilt at moments when he seems peaceful by the fire, as if we are executioners planning to end his life. Honest Mike gives us a reality check with his words of wisdom – he’s not happy any more, he seems to be in pain, he doesn’t ‘talk’ like he used to. It is true – we are the selfish ones hoping to hold on to our dear companion for as long as we can...we could even change our minds this very day – holding the balance of life and death in our hands places a heavy weight in our hearts.
We say another goodbye and prepare him for the forty minute car ride to the vet in Yea. He sits on the floor by my feet, his head in my lap with eyes wide and questioning...what are we doing? We play soft music and keep our minds on loving him. But he knows.....his deep brown eyes stare back at me as if channelling all his love that must last for the rest of my life. Those brown eyes that watched over me, those brown eyes that guided me out of harms way, those soulful brown eyes are now saying goodbye, I’m sorry I must leave you...
The vet is the kindest of men we could have asked for in this heart-wrenching moment. He reassures us we are giving Nev a dignified end. ”Before long he would get a lot worse and be upset within himself.” The procedure is remarkably simple. We let Nev sit comfortably where he is on the floor and gather around him, our hands caressing his golden fur, offering our overtures of love for this final moment. The vet gently inserts a needle into a vein in Nev’s left paw and, within only a minute, we witness our beloved dog close his eyes, gently rest his head upon his outstretched paws and pass away with a final calm breath. The vet says with genuine compassion, “He was ready to go.”
Now we are back in the cabin, experiencing a surreal moment of time for we have placed our dear Nev back on his bed by the fire, under his red blanket, half expecting him to wake from his sleeping position and wag his tail again. I cannot put his still warm body into the cold ground until tomorrow, in the light of a new day, when we will lay him in his final resting place under the apple tree. But for one last night, we play a ‘memorial’ game of canasta looking over at our curled up comfy friend in the glow of the fire, enjoying the presence of this remarkable soul who graced us with thirteen years of his loving life.
To our dearest Nev: May you find many a tasty bone in the Great Kennel in the Sky – for you have certainly earned them all! Rejoice with us in the coming seasons of spring time when we will see the lush harvest of yellow apples and remember you, our sweet soul, loving the garden as you always did, looking out over your domain as the full sunshine warms your golden coat, a grin from ear to velvety ear, knowing this would one day be your final resting place.
Your extended family will never forget you – sweet dreams and be at peace. Thou hast been a kind and faithful friend. Love you, Nevvie, xxx
“When we truly love, it is never lost
– it is only after death, that the depth of the bond is truly felt
and our loved one becomes more a part of us than was possible in life.”
- Oriental Proverb
To read two stories in this blog based on the life of Nev, go to:
His Guiding Eyes 24 - November 2011
Smelling the Trees - 4 December 2011
Inspired by noble Nev, Mike and I visit Guide Dogs Victoria to see the litter of pups who are going to puppy raisers next week. We have made a commitment to sponsor this litter of puppies with many others, in honour of our dear Nev – and will see them grow from strength to strength in the coming twelve months. One day, the little pup I hold in my arms, will be someone’s dearest companion and guiding eyes, they are truly man’s best friend!
© Maribel Steel 2012