It was my birthday on Monday. I’m now back in even numbers. They’re still even numbers past 20, but still, even numbers. Yet although chronologically I’m back in the evens, turning older always leaves me feeling a bit odd.
I actually had a really nice day. Complete with unexpected makeover, spending an obscene amount of money I don’t have on products I only vaguely know how to use and a lush dinner out, it was a good one as far as birthdays go. It was a good day to remember all the great things about life.
Yet by the end of the week I’m seeing the other side of the celebration of birth. The fear of decline. This isn’t as gloomy as it sounds, so stick with me. It’s a vent about how quickly things can change.
Last night, my dog got really sick. Unexpectedly and suddenly, she didn’t seem able to use her legs; her balance was terrible and then she started throwing up all over the floor. All over the carpet, pretty much anywhere she could. I didn’t give a shit about the sick though, I was terrified to see her like that.
I’ve had my dog Ellie since she was 3. I got her from a rescue centre, the Dogs’ Trust, and to this day I know it was the best money I’d ever spent. I didn’t notice her immediately, she’s not your typical ‘cute’ looking pooch. But then I did…she was barking at us, trying to get my attention, and to be truthful I was apprehensive. She’s an English Bull Terrier cross-breed, and I was worried that she might be a bit aggressive. Stupidly, I knew nothing of dog breeds really then, other the words ‘bull terrier’ were sometimes enough to raise eyebrows, rightly or wrongly.
Ignoring all that, we asked to see her and take her for a walk in the field next to the kennels. My God, I’ve never known such a happy creature. She was absolutely ecstatic to be with us – bouncing around like an actual puppy. Then I read about her a bit more in her notes and she pretty much was a puppy – just turned three and had been at the Dogs Trust for a while. I have no idea what had happened to her in her old life, other than I think she had come to them from Evesham.
She was so affectionate and genuinely happy to be with us that I was besotted with her straightaway, and annoyed with myself for prejudging her because of the name of her breed. I killed my inner dog racist from that moment on. Didn’t even realise I had one, but I did.
I got to bring her home for a visit a few days later. She had no idea what to do with the stairs, I don’t think she’d ever seen any before. But it’s safe to say she was really happy to be in a house rather than a kennel, and I felt terrible taking her back there and leaving that afternoon. It was short-lived though, as I went back to collect her for good a couple of days later. And she’s been by my side pretty much every day since.
The first time I walked her on the beach was hilarious. She had no clue what the sea was, and fell into a massive pool of seawater on the sand. She was fine of course, but from then on she bloody loved running through the tide like a greyhound. Up and back, up and back – I’d literally never seen a dog run that fast. I don’t know what kind of cross breed she is, but I’d wager its some kind of speed hound…or Labrador maybe (cos she moults like nothing else).
Ellie is more than a dog to me, she’s my best friend and companion. She keeps me company on nights I’ve been home alone and makes me feel safer. She is annoyingly fucking stubborn and likes her own way. She’s really intelligent – I’ve seen her sneak into places and unlock closed containers to try and pull things out to play with or eat. She’s also a bit gross at times, rolling in stuff and sniffing around the cat’s litter box. Grim.
But more than anything else, she’s a constant. She’s been with me through three different house moves, a new baby, God knows how many new people coming in and out of her life, but me and her have remained the same. She’s now 12; we’ve been together a long time.
So last night freaked the fucking shit out of me. I don’t deal well with illness, and even less so with a rapid onset of something being wrong. She ended up at the emergency vets, who basically said that it could be one of a few things causing her to struggle, and that she’ll need an MRI scan later today to be sure of what’s wrong.
I’m scared, and I’m not afraid to say that. I dare anyone to say ‘she’s just a dog’ to me. I fucking dare them. Because when a living being has been by your side for over a decade, and then out of nowhere you see something hit them unexpectedly, it shakes you to your core. For clarity, Ellie’s had her fair share of bumps and knocks – one year she got so spooked by a firework (fucking things), that she lurched off her lead, ran for home and got knocked over by a car. She survived that without any major damage. She also had an operation to remove a strange growth, and has had other internal examinations under anaesthetic. She’s a tough cookie.
And yet, to see anyone or anything you love knocked for six by life’s tendency to launch into decline is frightening. I’m hopeful that today will give us reassurance and a plan to help her get back to her old self, but there’s no denying that she’s much older than I sometimes realise.
This just means we’ve got to really make the most of the things that are precious to us in life – its easy to become complacent about them. Ellie loves life, she always has. She’s 100% committed to enjoying every experience she has with us – I admire that massively. Life is something we need to sometimes stop and appreciate, as it’s only when you have a brush with decline that you realise what you really have.