As we pull into the vet’s car park, Jewel is doing a canine happy dance in the back of the car. This is her favourite place. She does this little routine every month when I bring her up to see the groomer and for all her visits to the vet, which have fortunately been mostly of the routine, yearly nature. I am a little sad when I come here; sometimes, I see the ghosts of the two furry companions I had to bid farewell in these rooms. For Jewel, though, coming here is joyous. She leaps out, but I don’t miss the slight stumble and recovery as she hits the concrete.
Inside, she prances up to the vet nurse. Belle greets her with an ear rub and a treat.
“Hello Miss Jewel, you gorgeous girl! How are you?” Jewel responds with conversational moans and whines and swipes her tail back and forth, a furry windshield wiper. Belle invites her onto the scale, and Jewel happily obliges, sitting neatly long enough for us to register that she’s ten percent lighter than she was at her last visit.
“She’s leaned off,” I admit, “but I’m surprised it’s that much. She spends most of her days dozing on the couch.”
At that moment, Kath emerges from the consult room and calls us in. Jewel adores Kath and frolics and play bows so much she resembles a drunken sailor. Kath laughs as she follows us into the room.
“Ah, she’s a beautiful thing. Such a happy character. Now, what are we doing today?”
“The usual yearly checkup and vaccines. I’d like her to have that yearly heartworm injection I’ve heard about too. At the moment I’m using a combination product, but I only need heartworm prevention.” My voice softens. “She doesn’t go out much anymore, so she’s got no chance of picking up fleas from anywhere unless she has a stint at the boarding kennels. I’d rather avoid putting chemicals on her every month if I can.”
“Makes sense,” says Kath. She’s watching Jewel pace around and inhale invisible smells through her incredible nose. “I’ll go over her spine and hips too,” adds Kath. “Watching her move, she seems a little ginger back there. How old is she?”
“Twelve this year.” Where have all the years gone?
“That’s a great age, especially for a big dog. And her condition is fantastic, aside from being a little slim. But at twelve, it’d surprise me if she didn’t have some arthritis back there. It’s extremely common in big dogs. I’ll check her neural processing too.”
I watch as she vaccinates my old friend with a touch so gentle Jewel doesn’t make a whimper. Kath gets Jewel standing on all fours and slowly works her way down the bony spine, pressing gently with her thumbs on either side. At first, there’s no response. But as Kath gets closer to the hips, Jewel whines and her back end starts to dip. My heart dips too. Kath stretches out Jewel’s hind legs carefully, one at a time. Even I can see they don’t go as far back as they should. Kath’s lips are pursed. My breath has frozen in my throat.
Kath looks up at me.
“There’s definitely arthritis in the hips and a bit in her lower spine too. It’s not unusual, as I said; it’s a sign she’s ageing.” Kath looks back down at Jewel. “Like everything, eventually they just wear out,” she adds quietly. I look at Kath and wonder whether she’s thinking of all the worn-out ones she’s helped on that kindest, most difficult final journey. “There’s a course of injections I’d like to give her,” continues Kath. “They’ll help with the pain and mobility. Walks are probably best kept shorter now though.” I don’t tell her how walks evaporated last year, when Jewel couldn’t walk up our hill anymore without stopping half-a-dozen times to recover. I agree to the course of injections, and Kath steps out to arrange the first one. I bend down and press my face into Jewel’s furry side, breathing her in. I remember the day I brought her home, an eight-week-old puppy with floppy ears and paws the size of dinner plates. Now, both ears stand up, but her muzzle is peppered with grey, and she doesn’t always hear me call her name, even when she’s close by.
When the injection is done and Jewel has been showered with treats and praise by Kath and Belle, we head back to the car. Jewel misjudges the jump as she hops in. My heart is in my mouth, but I manage to catch her before she falls. I rub her ears and make sure she’s settled before I close the door. Evening has descended when I pull into our drive and help Jewel inside, finding myself focused on her hind legs, watching for signs of infirmity. I fill her bowl higher than usual and sit watching her delicately eating, one biscuit at a time; but I don’t make anything for myself. My appetite is gone.
When she’s done, I take her outside for a pre-bedtime toilet break. I hover until she’s ready to come in. She follows me down the hall, clicking as her claws hit the floorboards. In my room, Jewel settles herself on her dog bed as I shrug into my pajamas. Not anymore, I decide. I kneel down beside her and pat my own bed with one hand. Ever willing, she hauls herself up, and I gently lift her back half onto the mattress. I slide under the covers and face her as she leans her warmth against me.
Somehow, I throw my arm over her bulk and bury my face in the back of her faithful, loving head. She moans contentedly and closes her eyes.
We both sleep soundly through the night.