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As her beloved Butch dies, a goodbye to: The little rascal who’ll leave a very big hole in my life

I am full of sympathy for Helen Macdonald, who’s fought so hard to save the life of her beloved llama, Geronimo.

I understand the concerns of farmers who fear the devastation that TB can cause to their herds of cattle, but Geronimo is Helen’s pet and she has been right to demand investigations into the tests which appeared to show he had the terrible disease.

Maybe, as Geronimo’s vet has confirmed, his diagnosis was unsafe, as it had been found to be in a number of other similar animals.

I hope my understanding of Helen’s desperation and my support for her battle to save his life is rooted in good sense and belief in scientific enquiry, and hasn’t been coloured by the grief I have been suffering since last Thursday.

Jenni Murray shared the loss of her beloved chihuahua (pictured), after agreeing to euthanasia to prevent more misery and pain 

It was last December that I wrote about Butch, my 15-year-old chihuahua, who had suddenly become ill and was diagnosed with a heart murmur and painful arthritis. I was hopeful that ketamine, to treat his pain, and a barrage of tablets for his other symptoms, would save and prolong the life of the closest companion I’ve ever had.

He became slow but was valiant, willingly taking his tablets as long as they were wrapped in soft cheese, taking the stairs with my support, never wanting to be more than a foot away from my feet or curled up cosily on the sofa or in my bed. We could not have loved each other more.

Last Wednesday, his breathing became laboured, he refused to take his medication and lay listlessly in my arms.

I carried him down the stairs on Thursday morning. He staggered to the garden, came in, refused food — unheard of in a little chap who would eat anything at any time — ignored my offer of cheese and pills, and keeled over onto his side at my feet.

I made an emergency appointment with the vet who had cared for him so well and drove to the surgery.

Again, he fell over as we made our way to the door. I lifted him onto the vet’s table, my heart in my mouth. I knew what was coming.

She examined him tenderly and spoke the words I was dreading. She was sorry, but he was beyond saving. I agreed that euthanasia was the only way to prevent more pain and misery. She took him out of the consulting room and brought him back, in a blanket, with a cannula in his paw.

As I held him, he looked lovingly into my eyes, kissing my face while the lethal injection was delivered and he slowly, gently slid onto his side.

My abiding memory will be of his huge, beautiful eyes, still open after his death, gazing at me lifelessly. I like to think I saw a hint of grateful relief there.

I’m not sure how I managed to drive home through my tears, leaving him to be prepared for cremation. How would I be able to step through my front door knowing he would not be there to welcome me as he had done for so many years.

Jenni said her life was truly at rock bottom, when she played the cancer card to convince her husband that she needed a small dog. Pictured: Jenni with her beloved chihuahua

Jenni said her life was truly at rock bottom, when she played the cancer card to convince her husband that she needed a small dog. Pictured: Jenni with her beloved chihuahua

Of course, his younger sisters, Madge and Frida, were there, but they were not their usual cheery selves. They knew I had gone out that morning with Butch. So, where was he? They looked anxiously in the front garden. Why had he not come back with me?

Since then, we have all been grieving. Even Suu, the cat, has stayed indoors, seeming sad. The dogs have not wanted to eat. They’ve sniffed around the house, looking for him, remembering him, staying close to me. I have cried endlessly, waking in the morning with the dreadful sinking feeling a new day of sadness can bring.

I’m trying to remember all the wonderful things we did together. In 2011, I wrote a book about him called My Boy Butch.

On the cover I said: ‘This book is about the dog who changed my life. It’s about a chihuahua, the smallest of dogs with the biggest of hearts, who came into my life at its lowest ebb… he’s my hero, my protector and my best friend, small as he is.

My husband said ‘I think you love that dog more than me 

‘It’s not, as they say, the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog. He is, and I hope will be for a very long time to come, My Boy Butch.’

My life at the time I found him was truly at rock bottom. The beginning of 2007 was taken up with work, caring for my elderly parents who died within a few months of each other, empty nest syndrome as my sons left home and a diagnosis of breast cancer and chemotherapy.

My husband and I rattled around in a house far too large for just the two of us, full of anxiety about my health and what the future might bring. We’d had dogs in the past, but David had been reluctant to take on a puppy.

He’d hoped that late middle age would provide more freedom for travel without the encumbrance of pets. I wanted a dog.

Jenni (pictured) said unconditional love for an animal who’s never grumpy, sulky or uncommunicative is worth a lot

Jenni (pictured) said unconditional love for an animal who’s never grumpy, sulky or uncommunicative is worth a lot

I’m afraid I played the cancer card, saying how much I’d suffered and needed cheering up. I promised only a small dog who could travel easily from the Peak District to London and would be entirely my responsibility. I won.

I found a litter of lovely puppies on the web who had been bred in a private home near Manchester and we could meet the parents. I made an appointment to view when they were six weeks old. Four puppies were put down on the rug in front of us. I knew him immediately and he knew me. He scurried over to me and tried to scramble onto my lap. I held him close to my face. He licked my cheek.

It was what the French would call a ‘coup de foudre’ — a lightning strike — it was mutual love at first sight. Even David began to melt, holding the tiny creature in his hand and saying: ‘Yes, this is the one.’ Then, as a joke: ‘I think we should call him Butch.’

The not entirely inappropriate name stuck. He was strong and brave — once defending his new sister Frida from a fox. With me he could not have been more protective. He feared nothing, clearly believing he was a rottweiler whose job was to guard his boss. Nor could he have been gentler or kinder.

There were times when my husband said: ‘I think you love that dog more than you love me.’ Sometimes, I think he was right. Unconditional love for an animal who’s never grumpy, sulky or uncommunicative is worth a lot.

I had to wait six weeks for him to be mature enough to join us but, from the moment he came home, he was my dog. He followed me everywhere, shared my bed, sat on my lap at every opportunity, and, as I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis as a result of the chemotherapy and had my hips replaced, he was the one who persuaded me to get out of the house and moving again.

Jenni (pictured) said she will collect Butch's ashes from the vet and scatter them around the roses in the garden

Jenni (pictured) said she will collect Butch’s ashes from the vet and scatter them around the roses in the garden 

He coped with cars, trains, crowds and constantly attracting attention from admirers who told him how cute and handsome he was.

Now he’s gone. Today, I shall collect his ashes from the vet and scatter them around the roses in the garden he loved so much, together with the battered teddy he would ‘Fetch’ for hours on end. I’ll light a candle and read again the poem written by Rudyard Kipling which includes:

‘When the 14 years which nature permits

Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits

And the vet’s outspoken prescription

Runs to lethal chambers or loaded guns,

Then you will find — it’s your own affair

But you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.’

My heart is torn. RIP Butch — the love of my life.


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