It smells strange here. The air is sharp and bright tasting. I think it comes from the big water. I’ve seen waters before that I thought were big, but the water here, his water, is different. It’s alive here, it chases me. I can hear the sand and the shells rushing around beneath its drag, and it fetches sticks and weed and rope and strange animals and leaves them in the ridges on the sand for us. It doesn’t taste good but I like the way my body feels a different kind of tired after playing with it. Sometimes if I wake up quickly, I’ll keep the memories of when I used to run around in the park. I can’t run like that any more but he still takes me out every day. If I’m too sore, we just sit in the sharp grass and he talks to me and strokes my fur and we watch the strange-talking birds and smell the bright air. Sometimes I bring things home that I find on the sand that the big water has given us and he will put them on the shelves in the home for us to keep.
This hasn’t always been my home, but I’m glad I found his world. Maybe we found each other. I can hear the big water from the cottage when we sit outside. I don’t know why there aren’t many of the cars that run around out here. Maybe he shooed them all away. There are no stairs here which is easier for me now that I’m slow, and he tamed a fire to live in the house that keeps us warm. I like the smell of the fire, too. He feeds it with trees; I watch him chopping them up. I think the trees are wild here. They used to live in the park or in the streets but I don’t think they could go where they wanted. Here, they seem to be anywhere they like. There aren’t many other dogs here to use them, though. I know there are lots of dogs in the world. I’ve met lots of dogs. The last place I lived in had hundreds of other dogs. But most of the smells here are very old. I am his only dog and I am honoured. He’s a good boy. I have three meals a day, he never forgets. And he brings me toys and treats and always lets me sleep indoors. He always speaks to me kindly and plays with me and never forgets about me or shouts at me. He lets me sleep in his room and I have more beds all over the cottage. He makes me eat little sour tasting biscuits every morning, but I think they must help me because he always tells me I’m good and gives me chicken afterwards.
I’ve been here such a long time that it’s hard to remember how things were before. This place must have been waiting for me forever. I can remember other people who have looked after me, other homes I’ve lived in and kennels I’ve stayed at. They all seem very far away now. I’m glad. I like to wake up in my bed and smell the bright air and feel him stroking my ears.
Today some people came to see me. Friends of his, I think. They all brought presents and treats and let me unwrap them until I got too tired. We took my new toys to the big water and when I couldn’t run anymore they sat with me in the sharp grass and brought food out of their bags. They let me share it all! Things I’m not usually allowed to have. They gave me ham sandwiches and bacon and even chocolate cake and we all cuddled and ate until we were full. When we got home, I took another nap while my friends were talking, then woke up as they left. I was very tired but he said it was time for a car ride. He brought my toys and his bag smelled of more food. He had to help me into the car but I always love a car trip. I love him. He’s a good boy.
* * *
“It’s nice to see you again, Mr Henderson.” She smiles at me with the warm, sympathetic eyes of someone who’s job it is to welcome people to this kind of appointment. I tell her that yes, it’s that time of year again, and she types and clicks her mouse a few times to confirm my arrival before coming out from behind the desk to snuggle my boy. His tail wags and her hands cup his grayed muzzle as she fusses him. She asks him if he’s been good, if he’s had a nice time by the sea. I hope he has. He’s a good boy.
Rather than waiting in the reception area, she takes us straight through to the Family Room. An air freshener tries to cover up the smell of blood and disinfectant and shit. He doesn’t seem to mind, though. I don’t know how many times he’s been to a vet’s in his life – the rescue centre rarely get much of a backstory on their rescues – but if he does have any worries, he’s too tired to acknowledge them now. There’s a thick blanket next to a water bowl on the floor and he claims these as his own. There’s a couch for me, but I join him on the floor. I let him catch his breath from the long walk in here from the car park, then open the bag I’ve brought with me. There’s a knock on the door and it’s the receptionist with a mug of tea for me. She’s in the middle of telling me that the vet won’t be long when he wags his tail at her and I invite her over to share our mini scotch eggs. She does. There isn’t a person that he hasn’t loved in the whole three weeks that I’ve been providing his end-of-life care. How anyone can throw out a dog like this is beyond me. But I say that about all of them, every time I’ve done this, every year. We’re soon alone again and he’s licking my hand and I’m sipping my tea and there’s another knock on the door.
“Hello, David.” Those eyes again, from a different face. If she asks me if I’m doing okay, I’ll break. “Do you need any more time with him?”
I tell her no, I’m ready, and she joins us both on the floor, fussing him while I’m signing the forms. She’s contractually obliged to discuss the procedure with me and I don’t want him to have to listen to this. I know the drill by now. Every year I say that this is too hard to go through and that this one will be my last, but every year the kennels are full again of broken old dogs that no one wants. I’ll have the one that’s been there the longest, or looks to have the shortest time left. I don’t need to go abroad on my holidays. I just want to sit in my late grandmother’s old cottage by the sea and give an old dog a happy few weeks.
I hold his head while she clips the fur on his foreleg short and uses a long needle to get access to his vein. He only whimpers a little. She dresses him, and he sniffs at the little green bandage with cartoon bones on and I feel like I’m betraying him. The vet asks if I’m ready and I can’t speak, I just nod.
His head gets heavier in my arms. He’s a good boy.