If there is such a thing a a ‘cat person’ versus a ‘dog person’, as opposed to an animal lover, then I would have previously described myself as the former. I have had many cats in my life, and love their independence, which means they look more upset when you come home to disturb their peace and quiet, then when you go out. It had been some years, however, between any kind of pet, because living in rented accommodation invariably finds you with a clause in the small print that bans them. Moody was the dog that broke the pet-less cycle.
I had never met him before he came to live with us. He was owned by a friend’s sister. The woman, in her fifties, had lived alone for quite a while and had long given up on finding ‘the one’. Instead, she had found Moody. He was in a pound, having been thrown out of wherever he had been born. His coat had been matted and filthy and he was in much need of some TLC. He got this in spades for six years from her. She cleaned him up and had him checked by the vet. His gammy back leg looked awful when he walked on it, as it twisted underneath him and better when he picked up speed because he lifted it off the ground altogether and ran on three limbs. It did not appear to cause him any pain and he hopped about quite happily. His milky eye seemed to work despite the disfigurement and it was this that gave rise to his name, Moody – after the one-eyed Professor Moody in the Harry Potter books.
He was a poodle with grey and white markings and a singular temperament. Moody did not like other dogs at all, but was unfailingly polite in rejecting their overtures. His tail, which had the only long fur on his body, would lever up and twitch nervously, and he would stand while being sniffed, chin up, uncomfortable but allowing the other dog to do his thing before he ran off, the ritual unreciprocated. He came to be with us because of love. One weekend, when she had least expected it, his owner met the man of her dreams – the only problem was that he worked in a hospital in a harsh remote outback town, full of feral dogs. She wanted to make the leap and try life with a partner – and as a nurse she would find it easy to transfer work to a place not even the locals wanted to live in, but she could not put Moody through that – he would have found the heat unbearable and the conditions too stressful.
So Moody came to us, with his basket and his favorite toys and enough food for a month. The owner explained she was going to go up for six weeks, to see how it was and then see if she could work out a way for Moody to join her. We were in rented accommodation but Moody was a non-shedding dog, so it was just a matter of moving him to my parents on rent inspection day and hiding his toys.
He was stressed when she left but gradually settled in – my husband sent me a text about two afternoons in, ‘Jeez, he loves chicken!’ as he hand fed him some fresh and still warm out of the oven. As a person who has always got out of bed ten minutes before leaving the house, I had to make a significant adjustment to my mornings to allow for walking him before work and that took a bit of effort, but it was only going to be for six weeks so that was OK.
We gradually got to know eachother and established a routine. Walking before I went to work, then at home with my husband before he went to work in the afternoon and with me after I came home for the evening shift, which would include his second walk. We found a place he preferred his basket to be, in between the kitchen and the living room, so he could watch me as I moved back and forth between the areas. We found foods that he liked and places he preferred to be scratched. I taught him to shake hands. It was only going to be for six weeks, so he got a lot of attention.
Moody did not bark much, but he talked all the time. I have searched around for a verb to describe the noise he made, but can’t find one. It was like a perpetual question he was asking. It was not a whine, but three musical notes, ‘Eh Uh Errrrr?’ Like the last three notes of the Close Encouters of the Third Kind chime. He asked us this question over and over again – and to this day, I have not idea what it was.
He was fastidious in his habits. If you were not ready to go to bed on time, then he would politely take his leave and move to the bedroom. Of course, we let him sleep on the bed, because it was only going to be for six weeks – we even taught him to jump up by way of the couch as the bed was too high to get up on from ground level with three legs. As he grew more settled in, we developed new routines. I would go shopping on Saturdays and buy him a small toy and when I got home would put all the shopping bags on the kitchen floors. He would stick his nose into each one before he found the toy, and run off with it happily, ripping it off its cardboard backing to liberate it.
Then, at six weeks the phone call I was dreading, but it was not the one I had expected. Moody’s owner was staying in the outback but she really could not see how Moody would cope. It was unbearably hot – he hated the heat – and the local dogs were wild and aggressive, she did not know what to do.
And that is how Moody came to be with us for the last six years of his life. Looking back, there were a number of things I would have done differently now. For one, he came to us ‘intact’ and when he later developed cancer, the vet suggested that had he been castrated, he would have been less likely to have developed the disease. We had been told that his bent leg had a pin in it, but an X-Ray we had done a few years down the track revealed no such thing and perhaps we could have got the leg fixed. I had just assumed that because his previous owner had been a nurse, she would have exhausted medical possibilities. By the time we found out, he had a number of health issues and it did not seem fair to put him through the operation. I would also have not tried to encourage him to be friendlier to other dogs. He was never agressive, but one day a large dog decided he did not like the cut of Moody’s jib, and grabbed him in his mouth. Never has my world turned upside down so quickly. There was no warning, this immense hound just barrelled in and decided to take a piece of my poodle.
The owner grabbed his dog, who would not let go. There were four of us wrestling the situation – the owner had the dog in a lock hold, which was good as it prevented it from shaking Moody – something that often ends up killing smaller dogs because the skin rips under the fur, but there is no obvious wound. I had the dog’s jaw and was trying to prize it apart with my bare hands. Moody was lying silently and quite still – except for one defensive move, which was to bit the only thing near his mouth – my hand. Somehow, after what seemed like an eternity we got the other dog off and I ran with my bleeding pet to the car and to the vets, who were amazing. Within ten minutes of the attack, Moody had painkillers and antibiotics and it was only later that I got to a emergency medical centre to get my badly bitten hand sorted out.
That was the last time I ever walked my dogs wearing sandals. I always wear boots now.
He was not a swimmer, but loved the river. Sometimes on a Sunday I would take my husband to an early golf game and then walk Moods in the cool orange light. There was one section of the river that was pretty calm – where a boat jetty and the lie of the land created a tiny secluded beach. He would run up and down the water’s edge, tapping fat jellyfish who had washed up on the shoreline. His tail aloft, would fly in the breeze like a tiny Tibetan prayer flag.
As he grew a little older, we decided to get another dog to keep him company and this is when Lucy entered our lives. By now we owned our own home, which was just as well as Lucy shed a lot. The liars at the rescue centre said she was probably shedding more than usual because she was stressed being in kennels, but it has not slowed down yet. Moody dealt with this interloper as he dealt with all dogs, politely, but not really wishing to get engaged, even when she would lie on the floor and wriggle on her back over to him. He would tilt his head gently away.
We knew he had cancer because he suffered a number of awful bleeding tumors on his bum – we had them removed once but the vet said he had so many other complications that he might not survive another operation, so gave him steroids to impeded their growth. I don’t know if having him sterilised would have give him more time or not, because in the end that was not what spelled his doom. He had been getting slower and weaker and seeking out quiet dark places to sleep – like cupboards, sleeping more and more. I thought it was the cancer progressing and took him to the vet. His sugar count was off the scale. He had advanced diabetes and had developed ketoacidosis. The vet advised us to let him go, but I did not want to give up on him.
People say that you always know when the time has come to take your pet to that one vet visit you don’t want to make, but that was not the case with me. I held on for another week. He was not in pain, just very, very sick and nauseous with little to no hope of recovery. The vet was keeping him in surgery, trying to stabilize his sugar levels, but after an initial improvement, he stopped responding. He grew ever more weaker over a couple of days and refused food. He lost half his body weight in three days. I took a fleecy jumper in for him and spent ages trying to persuade him to eat some chicken. But Moody was too sick and it was a hard lesson to learn that there are some things you can not fix. Eventually, I felt I was just being selfish and after discussing it with my husband, we made the decision to put him to sleep. I asked the vet if I could bring him in his basket so he would be less stressed and she said, ‘Of course.’
I had taken the afternoon off work. I was no use there anyway as I was crying all the time and upsetting my work colleagues too, who could see the anguish I was in and picked up Moody from the vet. We took him to the park so he could feel the sun on his back one last time, then I sat with him as he lay sleeping in his basket.
The vet was very good, and he passed away quickly and peacefully, in his basket but it is still the worse thing I have had to do so far. I went home, lit a candle and drank two bottles of wine.
Lucy, thankfully was blissfully unaware of this drama, other than to realise some time later that she had inherited an enormous bucket of small toys – I never did stop buying him one on my weekly shop. What we were going to do about her being home alone was a problem that would have to wait for a while. We collected Moody’s ashes in an urn and I had every intention of scattering them down at the river on his ‘private beach’, but have not got around to it yet. I had six years of love from a dog who was never supposed to be part of my life but who brought me so much laughter and affection, that it can wait a while.