Marnie: the gentlest of dogs

Animal Chatter

by Iris Winston

The day that Marnie was not at the door to greet me was the day I knew that she was near the end of her life.

Marnie was most content when she and Iris were together.

My beautiful Irish setter hadn’t been able to let me know that she was glad to see me. It was so different from the way it had always been when she had danced around me as soon as I came in, smiling with bright eyes and her tail wagging furiously. She always said as clearly as she could that she was delighted that I was back.

On this day, she lay still on her bed, barely raising her head when I went to her. She did give me a couple of gentle wags, but clearly felt too ill to move much. Neither was she interested in eating, though I tried offering tidbits of all her favourite foods, even items that were not particularly good for her health. At this point, it was more important that she should eat something—anything. She did take a few bites of boiled chicken and a little melting ice cream to oblige me directly after a day of intensive veterinary treatment, but turned her head away fairly soon.

An insulin-dependent diabetic for most of the last three years, she was always compliant in accepting the injections I had to give her twice a day and equally good when my neighbour and friend pricked her lip to check her blood glucose. (I could cope with doing the injections but couldn’t bring myself to draw blood and hurt her, so I was very grateful for the help.)

But now it seemed Marnie and I were near the end of our journey together. The diabetes had been manageable through a few health crises along the way, but a bladder infection had set off a series of reactions, resulting in ketoacidosis (a life-threatening condition that causes diabetics to break down fat too fast and makes their blood acidic.)

The last words Marnie heard were “Good dog.”

My vet tried everything. Antibiotics could treat the infection. Hospitalization and fast-acting insulin could help her to feel better temporarily, but her weight loss was painfully obvious and her sunken eyes said she didn’t have the energy or will to go on much longer.

I have always been thankful that euthanasia makes it possible to give the animals we love a peaceful end and, as I sat with her through her last weekend at home, my head said it was time to let her go. It was my heart that couldn’t bear to say goodbye to the gentlest and most affectionate of companions.

She was six months old when we met. She had been unacceptable as a show dog because of irregularity in the fur formation on the top of her head (a permanent mini-Mohawk look) and unwanted as a hunting dog because of her gender and her gentleness. The moment our eyes met when I first saw her, we connected. She ran over to me. From thereon, she stayed by my side, at her most content when we were together, regardless of our destination.

She was attentive at dog obedience in the early days and calm when we went shopping together. (Sales clerks in my favourite stores regularly greeted her by name as we entered.) She enjoyed going for walks with my cats and my neighbour’s dog. She was even willing to share any food or treats with them, always standing back and letting them go first. If one of the cats wanted to lie in her bed, she simply found another comfortable spot (usually the chair nearest my computer when I was writing).

As the end of her last weekend, I did what I knew I had to do for her. I took her for her last ride to the veterinary clinic. We made her comfortable on a large comforter on the floor of the examining room. The vet, the technician and I sat on the floor with her. She was almost asleep as the final injection was administered. I stroked her and made sure that the last words she heard were “Good dog.”

I miss her gentle presence every day and know that the only way to still the pain is through having another dog who needs a home. I also know that I will always remember the joy that Marnie, the most special of dogs, brought to me every day throughout her life.

Almonte, Ontario, writer Iris Winston is a former executive director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She has been an animal lover all her life. Her pets have always been important members of her family.