The Late Great Pat, Part 3.

Righto, so as you’d already know if you’ve read the first two parts of this story, we’re now up to the really sad part. The part where I’m sitting in a vet’s waiting room anticipating the worst possible outcome.

I remember the whole thing so vividly – sitting there waiting while families with young puppies and kittens flowed in and out of the Vet’s office and I’m sitting there looking at them thinking, “you poor fuckers are gonna be crushed by your love for that animal one day!”

The Vet was terrific at her job. She calmly explained to me what the process would be, and asked me if I wanted some time alone with Pat before she did what needed to be done. I said yes please, and when she left the room I gave Pat a big cuddle, got in really close to his face and told him that he had always been the best dog I could have ever hoped for.

“Even when you were a naughty little shit, I still loved you, and I always will.”

I thanked him over and over again for coming into my life and just kept telling him what a good dog he was. I don’t know if he understood any of it, and I don’t know why I wasn’t crying yet. Maybe I was trying to stay strong for Pat.

The Vet came back into the room. This was it. She told me that I could keep hold of him while the process took place, which I did. Pat was panting directly into my ear as I held him tightly in my arms and told him once again what a good dog he was as the green dream was administered. Within ten seconds his panting started to slow down, and then it stopped. The vet stayed silent and I hugged Pat for a little longer before I quite literally had to let him go. I rested his body down on the bench, and it already felt like Pat wasn’t in the room any more – that thing I just let go of wasn’t my dog – at all – it was just his body. Even in the midst of this traumatic moment in my life, I couldn’t help but notice how strange it was to no longer feel Pat’s presence in the room despite his body being right there in front of me. I undid his collar and the Vet led me out of the room. I turned around and took one last long look back at Pat’s body laying lifeless on that silver bench before I went out to reception, where, I am pleased to say, unlike other vet visits I was not expected to pay the bill right away. That would have been a tiny bit harsh, no?

Morning Pages: Tuesday April 9th 2013. 9.02am

Sad. So very very sad. I had Pat put to sleep last night. Dunno if I’m capable of writing this story in order or with any real narrative, so I’ll probably just write in circles for a while while I try to let it hit me what’s just happened. So… I mentioned yesterday that his leg looked lumpy but he seemed happy. What I didn’t mention is that he didn’t go for a walk on Sunday with the other dogs and that he generally was looking lethargic and still not bearing weight on that leg. I also noticed yesterday morning when I lifted him up onto the bed for a cuddle that he was getting really thin… (Half a kilo weight loss in a week, which is a lot for a dog of 10kg) anyway, I’m probably just trying to justify this whole thing to myself and get past the awful feeling that I let him go too early, the reality being that the rest of his days would have been very painful. I did the absolutely humane thing. Shit man, it hurts though.

It’s all a bit strange that I didn’t cry when it actually happened or when I was telling the housemates, but I had a good howl later with Paulie, and I really just numbed myself with beer and tried to NOT feel it. But oh boy do I feel it this morning. That’s the trouble with numbing agents.

Ok, workout time, and then I have to somehow get to work and make it through my on air shift today. Being on the radio is probably the exact distraction that I need right now, but I’m fucking shattered. Crying now while I write this, so that’s probably enough for today. RIP Pat. You were fucking awesome.

One of the things that working on the radio teaches you is how turn on the happy radio guy persona regardless of how you’re really feeling. I had to dig deep to get through those next few days at work without dissolving into a wailing mess on the wireless, but the feeling of having a head full of un-cried tears persisted. Actually, it intensified to the point where I decided I needed to take control of the situation and make myself cry.

The first thing that worked was when I put headphones on and listened to a Coldplay song. (…told you I was in a bad way.) Fix You is the only song that ever made me cry the first time I heard it. At the time of it’s release in 2005 a friend’s mother was in the final stages of cancer, so the lyric Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace was what got me, and in light of the Pat situation it got me all over again. They really should put a sticker on Coldplay albums that says “may assist with processing the grief of your dog dying”.

Even after I picked up Pat’s ashes a few weeks later, all nicely presented in a beautiful wooden box with a name plaque on it, that gnawing feeling that I still had tears inside me that needed to be cried out persisted. I was so certain that I needed to have a big cry that I made the slightly insane decision to watch the Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson movie, Marley and Me, on my own. Paul offered to watch it with me, but I felt that this was something I needed to do by myself.

Like pretty much every movie ever made that focuses on a dog as a main character, the dog dies in the end (sorry if I just spoiled it for you, but having said that how the fuck did you think it would end?!) and I knew going into watching it that it was going to tear me to pieces, which it did, not just the end bit where Owen Wilson is comforting Marley before he is put down (using, I couldn’t help but notice, strikingly similar words to those I had used with Pat) but the entire damn film. Even the cutsie bits where Marley was a naughty little puppy. I cried and cried and cried.. and it worked. From that point on I slowly started to feel better, but the cold hard truth is that I will never completely 100% recover from it. The love that you feel for a companion animal is so pure and strong and unbreakable (unlike so many human relationships, let’s face it!) that it stays with you forever, and that’s a good thing.

I don’t know what form Pat has taken on now but I do know that I never again need to see the Rainbow Bridge poem. An army of well meaning people sent me that poem via social media after I lost Pat. It basically states that your animals will be waiting for you at the rainbow bridge when you die, and then you’ll cross the rainbow bridge together and go to heaven and blah blah fucking blah. Admittedly, it was a comforting thought the first time I read it, but by the time it had been posted on my facebook wall for the fifty-third time, it started to really shit me. Shirl knew this, and in the months after Pat’s death Shirl would constantly drop rainbow bridge references into our conversations just to wind me up, which it always did.

It’s now six years since Pat’s passing, and not long ago I found out on Facebook – where I seem to learn a lot of this kind of news these days – that Shirl passed away suddenly. He’s been very much on my mind as I’ve been writing this. Shirl was one of those people who was very central to my life, but just for a while. After I moved out of Oakleigh we stayed in touch with the occasional phone call and by virtue of being Facebook friends, but I never got to see him in person again, and that makes me feel sad and guilty. As much as I adored him and totally got his camp and sarcastic sense of humour I never felt any real urgency to spend more time with Shirl. I guess I stupidly thought that Shirl would always just be there, and that sooner or later we would hang out again and have some more laughs remembering some of our stupid little running jokes, like how after Pat’s hearing went we would call him by yelling “Hey, deaf cunt!” (Admittedly, that is not a nice way to talk to your dog, but Pat couldn’t hear us so it didn’t matter, or at least that’s what Shirl and I told ourselves as we fell apart laughing.)

Shirl was one of a kind, and as I told him last time I was on the phone to him, I am forever grateful for the way he and the other housemates in Oakleigh took me in and looked after Pat in the late stages of his life. I would like to think that Shirl and Pat are running around together somewhere now, but not on the rainbow bridge. Seriously – fuck the rainbow bridge.

My guardianship of Pat accounts for a major chunk of my life – including all of my thirties – and I would like to think that I gave him a good life. He deserved it. His ashes sit in their wooden box on a shelf above my desk at home. I’m not sure how long I will hold onto them. I’ve been toying with the idea of taking them with me next time I go to Perth to scatter them at one of Pat’s favourite places, the Whitfords dog beach. I used to love the look on Pat’s face as he ran up and down that beach greeting every other dog he saw, wagging his tail so hard that the entire back end of his little body would swish from side to side.

Pat The Dog brought me immeasurable joy. Yes, he was a full-on high maintenance psycho sometimes, but so am I.

The Late Great Pat. Part 2.

Guardianship of a Jack Russell Terrier puppy is, to put it mildly, an adventure. I taught Pat a few tricks, the first and handiest of which was when I took him out walking. I trained him so that whenever I said stop he stopped right where he was and waited for me to tell him to go again – this one took some work, but it was totally worth it. At this point I would love nothing more than to rattle off a laundry list of Pat’s other tricks, but to be honest that was about it. Yeah, he’d sit, if he felt like it, but only for a nanosecond. It’s a Jack Russell thing.

One trick that Pat learned very quickly which I was never responsible for teaching him was how to escape from just about any confined space. He earned the nickname Houdini in his fist few weeks of living with me, although in all honesty he was effectively living with half of our street. I’d be on my way home from work at get a text message from the nice old lady who lived across the street saying I Have Pat. He’s here playing with my dogs. Come on over and grab him when you’re ready. No Hurry. They’re having a blast. Pat had, once again, managed to dig under the fence and bolt over the (thankfully not very busy) road to play with the puppy across the street. When Pat became fixated on something, it was useless trying to stop him. In that sense he reminded me of me.
It wasn’t until he was about 3 years old that Pat started to slow down even the tiniest little bit, and even after the age of ten he was still fundamentally puppy-like. He was a hyperactive handful, but his huge personality make him more than worth any extra attention he required. I know every pet owner says this about their beloved companion animal, but… seriously… Pat was adorable. Strangers fell in love with him constantly coz he was just so damn cute. He was fun, and he was as funny as fuck. He made me laugh out loud every day with his big dog personality trapped in a little dog body.

Like any living creature once you get to know them, Pat had his quirks. There was his morbid fear of thunderstorms, the joy that emanated from his entire being whenever he ran, the fact that I hardly ever let him off the lead in public because he would completely ignore me when I called him if there happened to be another dog within a 1km radius, his refusal to let go of a tennis ball once it was in his mouth that made playing fetch with him impossible, and when I lived with Pat in Perth there was his truly odd habit of licking the back fence.

I tried to stop him from indulging in this odd behaviour but his obsessive-compulsive streak won out and I eventually gave up. (You try stopping a JRT from doing something it has decided it wants to do!) What made this ritual even more odd is that not once did the fence licking take place when it was just Pat and I at home. This was a spectacle that Pat decided to save for whenever I had guests. Upon arrival Pat would greet them enthusiastically and then immediately run to the back of the yard and start licking the fence. On more than one occasion I had a guest motion towards Pat as he licked the fence for ten minutes at a time and ask “Um… is he OK?” To which I would reply “Yeah, it’s just a thing he does when people come over… I have no idea why”. Ask anyone who has ever owned a Jack Russell Terrier; they’re a handful, but they’re so worth it.

One of the many things I loved about having Pat in my life was that he was completely steadfast. Jobs and relationships and all that stuff came and went, but Pat was the one consistent thing in my life through all of it. I lived alone for the majority of the time I had Pat, but my kinship with him assured that I never for one second felt even the slightest bit lonely. Quite honestly, if anything I would sometimes find myself shunning human company so that I could be alone with Pat. There are certain circumstances, I think, where dogs are much better company than humans. I used to rely on the fact that I could come home after a shitty day at work and Pat would have no idea about any of it. He was just deliriously pleased to see me. In those moments when I needed to be reminded to live in the moment and forget about all the external bullshit life was hurling at me, Pat was my teacher.

Pet ownership is wonderful, especially when it’s your very own pet as opposed to claiming partial ownership of a family pet. I think that having Pat in my life made me a more compassionate person, and Pat returned the love I gave him tenfold. Without hesitation I would recommend anyone to get a companion animal but before you do you need to deal with the harsh reality that you will probably outlive your pet, and that when you have to eventually say goodbye it will absolutely level you.

The first sign that Pat was on the way out was when we were out walking one day. We got to a street corner and I said “STOP” in a firm loud voice, just like I always had, but this time Pat just kept on walking, right towards the cars tearing down the road in front of us. I pulled on his lead to pull him up, not really thinking much of it, and kept walking. At the next major intersection, it happened again. He didn’t stop when I said stop, and this time I got annoyed with him and pulled on his lead a little more harshly. The third time it happened I said his name – still no reaction – so I yelled his name. That finally did the trick. Pat stopped in his tracks and looked up at me as if to say “Hi, how can I help you?” That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that Pat was going deaf.

I only had Pat in my life for another 18 months or so after that, and over that time the signs of ageing became gradually more obvious. His eyes became glassy from cataracts, he slept a lot more than usual, and there was this lump that showed up in one of his hind legs that just refused to go away. I’d had various lumps and bumps cut off him – mainly on his stomach – over the course of Pat’s life, but this one was much more sinister looking and a hell of a lot more persistent. And by persistent, I mean cancerous.

The lump grew to the size of a golf ball and affected his mobility to the point where he could no longer get up on the bed unaided. His last ever attempt was a valiant effort, and I know I probably shouldn’t have fallen apart laughing as Pat became just barely airborne, came up short, and somersaulted across the floor, but I dare you to witness the same thing and not piss yourself too.

In the middle of all of this I met my partner, Paul. He was living in Balwyn, about twenty five minutes drive from Oakleigh where I was living in a share house with Pat. The owners of that share house, Sean and Anthony, had two Jack Russell terriers called Hamish and Jasmine and in addition to myself and Pat they housed a constantly rotating roster of other tenants to fill up all of their available bedrooms. It was a charmingly chaotic house full of love, laughter and dogs, and I appreciated living there with Pat.

During the first couple of months of mine and Paul’s relationship I spent most nights over at his place, leaving Pat to be cared for by my housemates, in particular Sean, who took Pat for walks whenever I wasn’t there, and Anthony (who I nicknamed Shirl because of his big Shirley Bassey eyes) who was completely besotted by Pat, a feeling that I could tell was completely mutual. Shirl also completely got that I had just met my person, so he actively encouraged me to go and spend time with Paul while he and my other housemates stayed home and looked after the ailing Pat. It was a strange time. On one hand I was experiencing the initial rush of an amazing new relationship and on the other hand I felt tremendous guilt for not being at home with my poor old dog. On the nights I did stay in Oakleigh I would pick Pat up, put him on my bed, and keep him close so he could sniff me – one of his last working senses.

There were several other signs that Pat’s time was almost up. He’d lost interest in his two favourite things: going for walks and playing with other dogs. He also isolated himself in the front room of the house more and more where he slept all day and night, highly unusual behaviour for such an exceptionally social and gregarious animal. By now Pat’s hearing was so shot that he couldn’t even hear the commotion of the other dogs being fed in the next room, so on the nights I was having sleepovers in Balwyn Shirl would take Pat’s food into the front room and put it down right in front of him. Shirl was lovely like that.

Pat had just turned 14, and for the first time in his life he no longer had that puppy-like energy, yet he remained as affectionate as ever. He was clearly in a lot of pain with that lump in his leg, to the point where he would let out these little whining sounds whenever he tried to move. On what turned out to be the last Saturday night of Pat’s life I sat quietly with him at 2am while he shifted around trying – and failing – to get comfortable. Paulie was staying over in Oakleigh that night, and he was asleep in my bed. All the other housemates were sleeping too, so it was just Pat and I, in the dark, hanging out. I patted him gently, consciously treasuring what I knew would be some of our last one-on-one time together. Pat seemed a lot more mellow than I was about the whole thing, but I could tell the whole ordeal was wearing him out. As I stroked his fur I got in close and whispered to him.

“You just let me know when it’s time, OK Pat?”.

He looked at me in a way I interpreted as, “Whenever you’re ready, I’m ready.”

Shirl called my mobile on the following Monday afternoon in and referred to me by the nickname he had assigned to me the day I moved into his house.

“Poppet…?” I could tell by the tone of his voice that the news wasn’t great.

“Hi Shirl”

“Poppet, I think you might wanna come home and take Pat to the vet after you finish work. I think it’s time…”

I took Shirl’s advice and booked an appointment with the vet for 6.30pm that night. I had a lump in my throat for the entire train ride to Oakleigh after work and to my temporary delight Pat was waiting at the front door to greet me, his little white and brown tail wagging as per usual. I wondered for a second if he had somehow made a miracle recovery but then when I saw how unsteady he was on his paws I scooped him up and put him in Shirl’s car for that vet visit I had been dreading so much.

Next week, the 3rd and final part of the Pat The Dog story, in which I discover that Coldplay songs and Marley And Me can be pretty damn useful in the right circumstances. Thanks for reading all the way down to here. Feel free to leave a comment below or on Twitter @gavindmiller



The Late Great Pat. Part 1.

My Grandmother’s name was Patricia, or Pat for short. She was fun and feisty with a wicked throaty laugh that I can still hear clearly when I close my eyes and think of her. She had a lot of great qualities, none that stood out more than her bravery.

At the dawn of the 60’s, more than a decade before I showed up on the planet, she did what not many housewives at the time would ever dream of doing; she decided that she’d had enough of the physical and emotional abuse she was suffering at the hands of my alcoholic Grandfather, and she left him. Women simply did not do that at the time. It was unheard of.

Nana Pat had an adventurous spirit and she was always up for a fresh challenge. She didn’t get her drivers license until she was well into her 40’s, and the first time she drove to work she accidentally left the handbrake on and was passed by a kid on a push bike. She was never a very confident driver, which resulted in her keeping the glovebox of her poo-brown coloured Cortina permanently stocked with Kool Mints. She told me they were to calm her nerves when she drove, but she never balked at letting my sister and I eat some of her stash whenever we were in the car with her. That’s my memory of being in the car with Grandma in the early 80’s: My sister and I eating Kool Mints and being silent at Grandma’s request – “so that I can concentrate on my driving!” – as she rolled down the driver’s side window and chain-smoked.

She was warm and generous and well traveled. Not to mention hilarious. We had matching senses of humour, and I adored her.

In what would turn out to be my last ever conversation with her in 1998 we were chatting about this and that and I mentioned I was thinking of getting a dog, which she told me she thought was a fabulous idea. I then took a deep breath and told her what I was planning on naming the dog; Pat. Not, I emphasized, that I was naming the dog after her. It was more because I had figured out that Pat was a cool name for a dog, as in “Pat the dog” – she laughed that throaty half-a-pack-of-holiday-cigs laugh that I loved so much, said she was fine with me calling the dog Pat, and we said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone. A couple of weeks later, thanks I suppose in no small part to the aforementioned Holiday cigarettes, Nana Pat had a heart attack and died. I still miss her.

About six months later I was visiting my parents in Bathurst over the Australia Day weekend. This was no normal run of the mill visit. At the time I was living in Sydney, about three hours drive away, and I was planning on returning back to Sydney with a new and permanent traveling companion. Mum and Dad had already added a Jack Russell Terrier to their family, a jaw droppingly cute little dude called Jock, and Jock had, over the course of my previous couple of trips home, changed my opinion about getting a small dog.

I always considered lap dogs to be yappy high-strung annoying little fucks and until I befriended Jock I had no idea that Jack Russels are different. Simply put: Nobody has told this particular breed that they are a small dog. They seriously have no idea, and their personalities are full sized. Jock was highly intelligent, super interactive, and would bowl up to a Great Dane in a park as if they were the exact same size. After spending that time with Jock I knew without doubt that a Jack Russell was in my future.

So now here I was with my Dad on the way to the same breeder they got Jock from to go and meet her new litter of puppies. I can’t begin to describe what a beautiful experience it is to choose your puppy, or rather, to let your puppy choose you, because according to my own experience as well as that of just about everyone I have ever spoken to who has done it, that’s what happens – the dog chooses you.

The breeder (such a course word, now that i think about it – you straight readers do know that’s what we homos call you, right? Breeders!) took us into a pen with about half a dozen puppies running around. I stepped in, played with a couple, and started to feel overwhelmed. I wanted all of them! How could i possibly choose just one? I pointed to a pup in the corner who looked a little different to the others. His fur was neither short nor long, it was what I later learned to be described as broken coat. The breeder explained to me that this particular pup would never be a show dog because he is a broken coat, and that instantly made me like that pup more. I went and picked him up and he kind of melted into me immediately, and when i put him down to play with one of the other pups he stayed where he was, spun around, plonked himself down on my feet and looked up at me as if to say, “Pick me!

I spent a couple of more minutes seeing if i connected with the other pups more than the one on my feet, but that little broken coated fella had already won me over. That face! I picked him up, turned to Dad and said, “His name has to be Pat, in honor of your mum, right?” Dad nodded, and possibly welled up a tiny bit, and I officially took custody of Pat the dog.

He spent our first night together at mum and dad’s place running around with his brother Jock – and then sleeping. He slept a lot to start with. As I put a snoozing Pat in a cardboard box and wrapped him in old blankets for the car trip back to Sydney, I casually mentioned to Mum and Dad as I pulled out of their driveway that Pat seemed like a mellow dog. Mum and Dad both burst out laughing.

“Good luck with that, son” said my Dad as they waved me off.

I drove back to Bexley North and brought Pat inside to check out his new home for the first time. He was a little timid to start with, but then he found his confidence and started darting around the place, practically bouncing off the walls. No wonder Mum and Dad laughed so hard over my comment about Pat being a mellow dog. I spent the rest of that day playing with Pat while he was awake and staring at him while he slept, smitten, utterly in love with that adorable little face.

I also felt the harsh jolt of newly acquired responsibility when I suddenly realised that up until that point in my young adult life I’d had two cats that both decided to run away – that’s a whole other blog – and the only other living things I had ever been put in charge of were goldfish or houseplants that I had managed to murder without exception. I needed to do better this time, and I think I did, but there were still plenty of what I now know were mistakes made along the way, starting with the sleeping arrangements on the first night I had him at home.

When it was time for bed I put Pat out in the Laundry in his little doggy bed, said goodnight and closed the door. Pat, not surprisingly, was not having a bar of it. The sound of your puppy crying, especially the first time you hear it, is just heartbreaking. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for this moment at all, and I caved within half an hour. The crying stopped instantly as I invited Pat inside. He proceeded to splay himself out on the bed and sleep in a position where somehow that tiny little body seemed to take up two thirds of the mattress, a habit that remained for his entire life. On one hand, next time I get a puppy I don’t want to repeat the mistake of the first night. I need to stay strong, ignore the crying, and keep the dog outside – train it – remind it that I’m the human… all that. But on the other hand I doubt I’d be strong enough to pull that off, and i did enjoy the feeling of waking up to the thump thump thump of his little tail, and opening my eyes to see that little face bearing down on me. We were already forever bonded.

I’ll continue the story of Pat the dog next week. In the meantime feel free to leave a comment below or on Twitter @gavindmiller