Dom Joly: Death in the afternoon
PUBLISHED: 09:49 14 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:49 14 March 2017
Oscar lived with us for ten happy years: a Cotswold dog to the core
If I’m honest, Oscar was a mistake. A friend came to stay and told us about a litter of puppies that had been born in an acquaintance’s house.
“You should go and see them. They are so cute,” said the friend.
So we did, and returned home with Oscar, a little black flat-coat retriever.
It had never been the plan to veer away from black Labradors but who has ever been to see a litter of puppies and not returned home with one?
Wasn’t it Boswell who said “He who turns away from puppies is dead on the inside?” Actually, I think that I just made it up but I’m sure Boswell would have said that if he were to visit a litter.
Oscar joined our doggy clan. He was the sweetest and gentlest of dogs but, if I’m honest, not as intelligent as our wonderful Labradors. I was even initially a touch dismissive of him by comparison. He often had the air of a dog with a hyper short memory span. He would wander into the garden and then look totally bewildered as though he had forgotten where he was and run back inside to safety. God, he was a kind dog, though – so gentle with the kids and the only person to develop something approaching a relationship with Roo, the one-eyed gangsta cat for whom friends are a sign of weakness.
On long walks the two Labradors would roar off ahead, sniffing strange dogs’ bottoms, annoying ramblers and harassing pheasants – basically the things that dogs should be doing. Oscar was a quieter soul. He would trot along right beside me, always happy to get an encouraging word or a stroke. He was, in Spinal Tap terms, “the luke-warm water” between the fire and ice of my Alpha Dogs.
Oscar lived with us for ten happy years: a Cotswold dog to the core. Then, just before New Year I noticed that something was wrong. He would lag behind on walks – his long, elegant nose no longer sniffed the air for olfactory stories. Even the temptation of the local deer bouncing past us didn’t even raise a hairy eyebrow. The deer looked concerned and a touch miffed.
He took to his bed before briefly recovering. For one last time he was old, tail wagging, affectionate, loyal Oscar. Then he slumped again and found it hard to get up. I think we all knew. It was almost a year to the day since we lost our eldest dog, Huxley. I picked him up and placed him gently in the back of the Land Rover. The kids came out and kissed him goodbye. He raised his aristocratic head and licked them both weakly on the face. They were crying. We drove into Cheltenham, to the vets. We were silent in the car.
When we got there Oscar stood up and walked into the vets. We had a tiny speck of hope but he slumped again in reception. The vet was wonderful. She had a look at him and agreed that he didn’t look well. We placed him on the table and she gave him a scan. It was what we expected – he had a huge tumour inside him. She told us that she could attempt to operate but it would be very uncomfortable for him and that he would most likely not make it anyway. And so the decision had to be made. Did we want to “put him to sleep?”
The most hideously innocuous of questions that nobody should be made to answer. We nodded assent. Stacey stayed with him. I have to admit that I couldn’t and left the room. I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong thing to do but I couldn’t handle it. Stacey cuddled his head as the needle went in and whispered that he should “go find Huxley.” People who don’t have pets will never understand the loss. Some don’t take it seriously. Some are wonderfully kind online, some less so. Whatever, Oscar was an integral part of our family and now he is gone and we are bereft. Run free you kind, gentle dog, run free.
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