Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eulogy For A Loyalist

I've recently been coming to terms with the passing of our West Highland Terrier, Scotty. The death of a pet is a strange experience. There are no sympathetic callers, no funeral arrangements, no formalities. The reactions to his death have been both sensitive and indifferent. As a result, I am sometimes unsure about how to feel myself. But when I devote any kind of thought to him, I realise just how sad I am. As such, the following is some kind of acknowledgement of his short time on Planet Earth.

Since St. Patrick's Day 1998, when we took him from his protesting but helpless mother, Scotty had been an integral part of our family. He lived with us until last year when he took up sticks with my sister, after a new family home was deemed spatially insufficient for him. Scotty wasn't the typical obedient and always adoring dog. Like we all fall out with each other, each of us fell out with him on more than one occasion. He wasn't always restrained in his protestations to something that was bothering him. Wicked would be a good word to describe his darker moments. In fairness to Scotty, this became less common as he got older. Though he did retain the threat of violence through his customary growl. However, he also had another more human way of expressing dissatisfaction. The most striking example of this was his refusal to have anything to with my mother after she accidentally stepped on his paw. His temporary rejection was especially strange because he usually displayed the utmost respect and admiration of her, possibly because she fed him whilst the rest of us were at school, work or wherever. She even went to the length of actually requesting his attention, something previously unthinkable. All in vain, Scotty must have been trying to make a point. He made classic amends by choosing to forgive her on Christmas Day whilst the family exchanged the annual pleasantries. He must have known there was an above average supply of food under her control that day.

Scotty didn't get on with many people outside the family. Many of my friends often told me how much they didn't like him, presumably because of the frosty reception they received upon arrival at the house. There were, however, some people that he did warm to. They understood that Scotty's friendship was a journey more so than a destination. Scotty often won over his opponents by demonstrating his ability to watch TV, something I deeply regret not capturing on video. He was especially fond of animal documentaries and horse racing. He did show his intellectual limitations by trying to follow the animal off the tv when they ran off screen, only to find that they weren't running across the room as he had expected.

Despite his sometimes lukewarm attitude, Scotty's true colours often shone bright. He rarely went beyond 100 yards of the house, proudly patrolling the garden against the perceived threats of low flying crows and the odd feline. He would be especially fierce in these pursuits after we would give him the verbal command of 'Go on Scotty, Get Him!', as if trying to impress the superiors in his pack. Despite being accused of cowardice, he often stood determinedly against the daily 'threats' of the postman and unfamiliar visitors. These confrontations were usually fanned by the stranger's frantic kicking, fight like stance and constant retorting of the immortal phrase 'Goway you little fucker!'. Scotty's finest hour came when he alerted my brother and I to the ailing condition of my very elderly grandmother as my mother tried to prevent her from fainting to the floor. With the TV volume at high level, it was Scotty's yelping and scratching of the living room door that drew our attention to what was happening.

Despite this dramatic example of just how worthy a dog can be, it is his more subtle friendship that I will miss most. These were much more apparent when one spent some time in the house alone. The cliché image of an owner using their dog as some kind of sounding board for daily thoughts and concerns is one that I can greatly identify with. Of course, he never answered, even if I sometimes imagined he did. But he did look like he was listening, even if he was probably just scanning for the words 'dinner', 'walkies' or 'Duxie' (Scotty's local canine rival).

I often wonder what went through Scotty's little brain when he was alone in the house. I wonder if he ever worried that we wouldn't come home. I always hoped not and tried to tell him, as we left, that would we see him later. Just weeks before he died, I took him to the vet for a haircut and a check on the worsening state of his ears. As the procedures required Scotty's anaesthesisation, I had the uncomfortable experience of having him plead for me, from the inside of his cage, not to leave. It was with reverse emotion that he greeted me upon return. Scotty was given a clean bill of health and sporting a new clean trim, he looked well below his 12 years. When I left him back to my sister that evening, I told him I'd see him later. He didn't take much notice. It was whilst I was out of the country these past few weeks that Scotty's deteriorating mood and turning of his head to one side forced another trip to the vet. This time there was a tumor found growing inside his ear. The vet warned of an increase in suffering and a consequential cutting of Scotty's relatively short fuse. My sister, who had a particular bond with Scotty, was forced to take the painful decision.

I wasn't sure how to take it. I had told myself after our last day together that he had another few years in him. After hearing of why and how he had died, I sat on the couch. As the above memories surfaced, I couldn't help but let go. I'm still reconciling with the fact that I've lost one of my best friends. A fellow sentient that saw me at my best and my worst, my surest and most doubtful, my happiest and saddest; Scotty knew me as the whole package, the complete human being that I am. And I will miss him alot.

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