Thank you for all the lovely, comforting comments on my Jumble-related post yesterday. Perhaps the one that helped the most was that which advised me not to be angry with him over his decline because he would pick that up and think he’d done something wrong. Made me weep, that did, because I had been cross with him and I can see now that his anxiety, and eagerness to please, was making the panicky breathing far worse.
So, last night, I told him that it was all right; that I wasn’t angry; that he was much loved and would be looked after and assured of my company and strokes for the rest of his life. And he, always sensitive to human moods, understood this and was relieved and told me that he would not be here for that much longer, but that he is still here now and that he loves his bone and his bed and the garden and little walkies and fox poo and knowing where I am.
You see, my anxiety, my fear and distress was making things worse. Jumble, like most dogs, has no problem reading human emotion; in fact, we humans are far denser at this than the animals we take on as loved pets. Jumbs was following me everywhere, and distress-panting, because my brief foray into supply teaching had made him think he’d been abandoned, and my tension and sadness had created an echo in him and a primal fear that his ‘mummy’ was going to reject him or not be able to look after him.
Last night was so much better: Tramadol-ed up, my furry child slept peacefully on the purple throw at the bottom of my bed until 7.30. I could not hear his stertorous breathing and panting – and, for one moment, feared he had died in the night. Then I heard little gentle breaths and thought, ‘He is still with me – but, if he had gone on to the next realm of adventure and bones and sniffing, it would have been a peaceful, loved-till-the-last-minute bowing out – and that is what I want for him…’
But, this morning, a bright and beautiful one thus far, I felt it necessary to sit down and think about why his panting breaths, his clear distress, caused such panic and, yes, anger at times, in the first place.
As so many things are, it turned out to be very simple: His breathing reminded me, viscerally, of two things: My own childhood asthma (severe enough for me to be hospitalised for a couple of weeks aged five) and the noises my father used to make prior to falling into a diabetic hypo-coma. Fear often breeds anger as a defence mechanism – and I could see that I had snapped at Jumble because the sounds he was making (not his fault, poor Jumbs) triggered frightening and unhappy memories from the past.
The fear became obvious then: That Jumble would, like the little Ali, become so short of breath that he would have to be rushed into hospital as an emergency (which I still remember) or that he would collapse on the bed, unconscious, and, as my dad did nearly ten years ago, die.
And, let us face it, ultimately one of the two could well be the way it ends for my dog, for any of us come to that (because my fear about his end almost certainly echoes my fear about my own); but, in the meantime, I am his Mummy figure. I am his carer, his watcher, his playmate (in a limited way). He depends upon me (as I do upon him) – and, if I can (as I did for my tiny baby son all those years ago) go into maternal, comforting, reassuring mode – almost as if, in old age, Jumbs had reverted to puppyhood – and use mummy skills rather than angry teacher ones, I think his remaining time will be happier and more secure, and I will be able to enjoy him in all the ways that he still has at his aged disposal.