"Come back later", the Vet's voice was grim yet kind, suggesting it was to collect a body, not a pet after a procedure.
I stood back and gave the gentleman some space, and tried to keep Ruby quiet. I couldn't imagine what pain he was going through (although the darker recesses of my mind have sometimes tortured me with thoughts of losing my beloved four-legged friends), and I didn't want her to upset him further. He was doing some paperwork with the receptionist and I just sat, keeping a tight reign on Ruby's lead. She sat, rigid and to attention. Very unlike her. Perhaps she felt the sadness and tension in the atmosphere, as well. He was about to walk out the door when he spotted Ruby. He bent down to pat her. A tall, mountain of a man and a tiny puppy. She snapped out of her stillness and waggled her entire body in delight squeaking like a guinea pig, awash with the joy of having a stranger's hands pat her.
"You can pick her up, if you'd like. She loves meeting people." I said, quietly, not wanting to intrude on 'a moment'. He wrapped his giant hands around her little body and lifted her to his chest. She wriggled against him, throwing her head back with in the ecstasy of unconditional love for strangers that only animals have truly mastered. She sat in his hand, licking his neck with puppy ferociousness and he closed his eyes and hugged her to him.
"The old and the new." he said with sadness. I wanted to squeeze his hand, hug him, anything. But I stood there, a knot tightening in my stomach.
"Thank you." he said turning for the door. I nodded, incapable of forcing my voice passed the lump in my throat. He left. I sat down, deflating into a slump on the chair. The receptionist dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and said, "I was okay until he picked Ruby up." she sniffed.
"Was his dog old?" I asked, blinking back tears of my own.
"No, she was only 7. A Jack-Russell, like Ruby."
She had gotten a rare disease, which is like an auto-immune disease. Its rare that a dog will make it through it, and if they do, they require 24 hour nursing for approximately three months, because they become completely paralysed. They have to be turned regularly, carried to go to the toilet, fed and watered with a tube down their throat. Sadly, he was not in a position to be able to do this for his dog so had to make the heart-breaking decision to let her go. I mean, who would be able to do that? Be there 24/7 for their dog for three months? Most of us have work and family commitments that would make such a thing very difficult, if not impossible.
I looked at the receptionist, our watery eyes locked in the bond of witnessing a stranger's pain. "Its scary, you know. You do all the shots, give them the tablets and potions for worms, ticks, fleas, kennel cough. You feed them healthy food, look after their teeth, exercise them, socialise them, keep them safe and warm at night. You bathe them, groom them, love them. And it still might not be enough." I said.
It was then she told me they had had, one other case. A cocker spaniel. A very lucky one whose owner didn't work and was able to dedicate herself to the 24hour care of her dog. What an amazing woman. She turned her dog over every hour, to avoid pressure sores. She became so adept at looking after her dog, that she recognised what whimpers meant (hungry, sad, needing the toilet). And I couldn't stop marvelling at this woman. Her dog now healthy and running around. At the same time I felt sorrow for the big, kind man who did not have the 24 hours a day required to keep his dog alive.
And it got me thinking. There are so many stories out there of cruelty to animals and how humans (or something resembling humans) neglect them until they're rescued by decent, caring, giving people. Its rare that you hear of those special people, who are lucky enough to be able to take the time out of life, and give it to animals whose time is borrowed or up.
So I wanted to write this post as a 'tribute' of sorts - to the wonderful people of this world, of whom we rarely hear, who love and serve animals. The loving owners, who give all their time to their pets and the ones who make the heart-breaking decision to have their dog or cat put to sleep, when every part of their soul is screaming for them NOT to. But they know, that if they didn't suffering would be involved, but it wouldn't only be theirs. To the people who work every day of their lives, despite the sad circumstances and great emotional cost, to protect and help our precious animals.
As the vet said, when I eventually got in there with Ruby, and she stood on the table in front of him, looking up at him adoringly, trustingly, all wriggles and squeaks once more.
"Its like a roller-coaster. One minute, you have to deal with that," he said, indicating the door. "And then you have this." He looked at Ruby who had that mischievous look on her face as she lowered herself and prepared to pounce at his tie.
So, you see? Its not all bad! There are good, amazing people out there. And they should be mentioned and talked about more.