I have started this blog post three times now, and on each occasion, the jumbled thoughts in my head would not submit to organisation. I know I am writing, and need to write, as a flawed act of catharsis The loss of Lexie is very raw, but I feel there may be some value in trying to get some thoughts written down.
Among my first thoughts, over the last few days and running up to Lexie's death, were about my previous Westie, Heather. She was never a very well dog, as at that time we were not aware of the need to be careful about breeders, but she was with us for 11 years. At her end in 2001, I felt her loss terribly, and could not contemplate going through that experience again. We were living in the Scottish Borders at that time, but we came to our house in Assynt to bury Heather's ashes, as we had with Sally, our Yorkie who had died after a stubborn fight with lymphoma, a couple of years before that. The drive was difficult for us, and re-opened the wounds of her loss a few weeks beforehand. But we bumped into a friend here, who gave us some very wise words, which I have since often repeated to folk who have lost pets.
She said "When we lose pets, I believe we feel that loss just as deeply as for any other member of the family." But then she paused and said "But I don't believe the grief lasts as long."
I found those words very comforting and to a large extent true; the rawness of Heather's death healed, though the scars remained.
On reflection, I felt guilty that Heather, who had kidney disease, had to endure suffering. My goodbye to her at the vet is an experience which still tears me up; she wanted out and wanted to say goodbye. But her loss was such that I did not want to go through that again.
Helen thought differently. I was in a job that demanded quite a lot of me, and it was right to follow Helen's instincts. So in early 2003, we visited a local Westie breeder with a good reputation, and there was one little girl in a new litter amongst her brothers. This was around March, but the litter was outside, in a run, though they were able to go into a warmed shed if the cold bothered them. This tough upbringing meant that Lexie never felt the cold. We were sure we wanted a girl Westie, but the breeder said she had been earmarked by someone looking for a showdog, someone who had experience in showing at Crufts, indeed. But a little while later, we got a phone call to say that the person had rejected Lexie as her neck was too short to be a proper show dog, a narrow escape if ever there was one, as the dog who delighted in getting up to her armpits in gooey peat was unlikely to get that chance as a show dog.
She had provisionally been called Rosie by the breeder, and while her nature fitted the name, there was something that wasn't quite right about it. So we named her after a loch near our house, a loch that was to become a favourite place for her in her life, Lexie. She was never fussed about the spelling of her name, and was happy with Lexy, Lexi or Lexie.
The photo above was taken when she arrived home for the first time.
We should have known she would be someone special right from the beginning. For a start, she needed no house training. She just knew not to do her business inside. During her puppyhood, she made one mistake, and that was largely our fault for not reacting to a request to go out. But rather than just poo, she must have thought about it, as we later found a poo right next to the toilet in the bathroom. This was quite a contrast to her new Yorkie sister, who arrived a few months later, who we thought would never learn not to do her business in the house. She was a delightful puppy, getting up to just the right amount of mischief as she explored life. She was like a clockwork toy. She bounded around at full pelt until it was time to rest then just flaked out for a while, to start again later.
And she was close. Ever so close.
So she came to rule our lives. She just seemed to have a knack of doing the right thing, something she was able to do throughout her life.
She was photogenic, and she loved people though she was usually biffed out of the way by her more bouncy sister. But one of her most endearing traits was how she formed relationships with people special to us. Here she is with my god-daughter in 2006.
And later on, the bond between them was clear:
Lexie formed a strong bond with a friend of ours, Ian, in Edinburgh too. I don't know what the start of this friendship was, but we only saw Ian and Jacqui at interval of a year or so. Yet a wonderful memory is of Lexie knowing that her uncle Ian was going to come home from work, keeping an eye on the door after we arrived for a visit, then doorstepping Ian as he came through the door. A long mutual welcome had to be completed before Ian came through and said hello to us.
In the Borders we lived on a farm, surrounded by sheep, while in Assynt, the hills have sheep everywhere. Once, on a walk, a startled sheep ran in front of us, and Lexie's terrier instincts kicked in, and she ran after the sheep. She got into a heap of trouble, as it is a serious thing for dogs to chase sheep, especially when one lives among them. But after that, she was actively disinterested in sheep. Both Peggy and Lexie, when we come across sheep unexpectedly, now run back to us, or make sure they look the other way as though they never noticed in the first place. But Lexie took it a step further. At one time, the farmhouse where we lived had cattle around it. The cows lined up alongside the wall when we played music on the stereo, to the extent that they would come running if we turned up the volume. And Lexie loved them. She would hop onto the wall, and somewhere, though I can't find it now, we have a photograph of her nose-to-nose with a huge cow; that picture must have been in the same set as the one below. On another occasion, we were walking through a field in the Borders, when I felt an odd sensation. I turned around, and about 200 sheep were following us, intrigued by what they may have thought was a little lamb inadvisedly following some people. Yet Lexie was unfussed by the flock.
She was tough, too. Once, at work, I got a phone call from a distraught Helen to say that something had happened to Peggy. In fact, a wasp had stung her, and she made sure others shared her pain. I hurried home, by which time she had calmed down a bit. It must have been a waspy year, because a while later, Lexie too was stung on the snout. Yet her only reaction was to shove her ears forward in that way Westies have, as though puzzled by why the wasp would do that. Later, she would develop ear infections that the vet thought would have drive other dogs wild with pain, yet Lexie was stoic throughout. She also had an infection of demodex mites in her paws, which caused them spontaneously to bleed, yet never let on about the pain she must have been feeling.
We moved to Assynt permanently in 2008. But one memory from the Borders is walking into Melrose in the summer, when the village was beautiful with flowers, hanging baskets and so on. Lexie would, literally, smell the flowers. Other dogs would be interested in the scents of the flower pots, but Lexie would have her nose deep in the blooms. We grew carrots and cabbages one year, veggies she loved. And we found she had worked out how to pull the carrots from the ground by their fronds, even pulling multiple carrots to allow Peggy a bit too, leaving the fronds and the top of the stalk. We found her nibbling the sweet cabbages while they were still in the ground too. Once, Helen, who like corn of the cob (mielies) gave her a piece. She was a bit puzzled at first, but quickly learnt to hold the cob between her paws, while stripping the kernels with her front teeth, eventually leaving a perfectly striped cob.
Here at home in Assynt, she loved the hills. Whereas Peggy, on a walk, wanted to keep going, Lexie loved nothing better than finding a lookout point and simply surveying her land. We have so many photographs of her in this type of pose. She got something from just standing and staring.
Here she is cooling down in her namesake Loch.
She loved what we called moonwalking - paddling but not-quite swimming, such that she should twinkle-toe walk along, supported by the water. She could swim, but was happiest moonwalking.
And here she is, loving life, and contributing to ours.
Lexie loved it when we went camping. This was in marked contrast to Peggy, who hated it. We went to Kinlochleven once, on a weekend away, and stayed in one of the little wooden pods. We spent the cold evening in the pub, and climbed into the bunk beds expecting a cold night. Lexie jumped up to me, went to the bottom of the bed curled up and slept the sleep of the righteous until the morning, when Helen, me and Peggy were bleary eyed with frozen, disturbed night.
Here she is, relaxed as ever on a campsite in Perthshire.
I can't actually recall at what stage we started noticing that all was not well with her. People meeting us with the terriers could not believe they were 14 years old, as both were lively and playful. I think it was when we mentioned to Lucy, our wonderful vet at Easter Ross vets in Tain, that Lexie seemed unsettled in the evenings. She started turning on her bed, a behaviour that would eventually become so bad she would get dizzy and fall over. She was just unsettled. Lucy quickly spotted other signs, and we know that Lexie had developed canine cognitive disorder, CCD, or in easier to understand terms, doggie dementia.
She had other issues, such as the ear infections leaving her badly deaf, and a variable amount of physical energy.
This is a horrible disease, as awful as in humans, and following very similar patterns. The really dreadful thing about it is that it has few physical symptoms, they are all behavioural. Over time, she came to be overly dependant on me, perhaps because I was the one tightly formed attachment she had that gave her some stability, something she could trust. So she hated being parted from me, and cried if, for some reason, I had to go out without her.
Other symptoms were ones we could misunderstand, such as we thought she was going blind, when we gave her a treat, which she recoiled from as though simply not seeing it until it brushed her snout. She would see us, but if we touched her, she would react with a start. Yet throughout, she kept her appetite, and even ate better, the one thing we should have understood as an instinct rather than a behaviour.
Like human dementia, night times were the worst. She just could not settle. Latterly, I was awake for much of the night with her. At times, my touch, but not Helen's would settle her, but pretty much every hour, even on good nights, she would wake and the circling would start. And the pacing. She would pace up and down the room or the house, and showing classic symptoms, she would walk into a corner and be unable to walk out. She would biff straight into furniture and stay there as though paralysed. The ages spent on the Internet on sites about CCD confirmed so many symptoms. And towards the end, the really dreadful thing was that I was no longer able to give her any comfort or relief. It got to the point where every moment was a new one for her, as though she found herself in a new and frightening situation. I was no longer a source of stability to her confusion.
A word here about vets. There are times when I wonder how much vets treat animals and how much they treat their owners. Lucy has been simply wonderful throughout. She encouraged us to send her occasional email reports (we live about two hours drive from the vet.) But a while ago, we understood that things were getting much worse, and we spoke to Lucy about how we would know when it was too much for Lexie. Lucy could not be definitive, of course, but we thought we had a while with Lexie yet. Lexie needed another set of antibiotic drops for her ears anyway, so we planned another vet visit.
But that trip to Tain, so routine and a journey we do every three weeks or so, really took it out of Lexie, and for the first time I felt a bad corner had been turned. That night was just awful. She spent it in terror. To allow Helen to rest, I stayed downstairs with Lexie, and pulled out the sofabed mattress to try to get some rest myself. But the presence of new obstacle in the room terrified her, so I put the bed away and just tried to grab the rest I could. She settled around 4.00am, and I got some sleep. That day, I took her with me on the post office run into the village, which she always enjoyed as a bit of time alone with her boss, but it had now become an ordeal to be endured. The following day was no better, and the sense that I was utterly unable to give her any peace at all, that we had nothing left in the armoury against which to fight this dreadful disease was a horrible sense of frustration and powerlessness. I phoned Lucy in tears, and with Lucy's advice, that it was now Lexie's time, I somehow understood that we were going to have to go through her loss again, and memories of Heather and her passing came flooding back. I have thought that we made Heather suffer for longer than was bearable for her; I did not want to make that mistake again, But here was a dog with no obvious physical symptoms, who was in every way except mentally healthy. But looking at her and the terror she showed, I knew Lucy was right with her advice. I also realised that I had been crying and grieving for Lexie for several days, and that in my heart I knew that Lexie was really no longer there.
So I took her on her last journey, a tough one for her. I wrapped her in the blanket we bought for her before she came to us, the orange one in one of the pictures, above, and in which she was wrapped on her first trip home, and said my words to her.
I was sure, if we accept that it is right to put pets to sleep when their lives, lengthened by our medical abilities these days, become too much to bear, that it was the right moment to allow Lex to go. But I was unsure whether that capability we have is too much of a power over animals. There is an acceptance of the ethics of euthanasia but I have reservations about it. So I could not, and cannot, be sure that it was in Truth the right decision, though it was the right practical decision. I am not putting that very well, but maybe it's understandable. I had a choice of two paths. Both paths, I thought, were morally fraught, so neither could be the Right path. I had to choose in the knowledge that it was a choice of two wrongs, and that part of that were aspects over which I had no control or influence. I am still trying to come to terms with this. No amount of knowing that everything points to the right decision can block the nagging doubt. I know I had to let Lexie go, but... I know that people say it is the last kindness we do for our pets, but... I know that her life this last while was dreadful, but... I look for consolation in the knowledge that such intractable issues are part of the human condition. And as it happens, I stumbled on this quote from Thomas Merton, which suggests I need to stop obsessing:- "Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. It is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a insoluble problem."
The things we tried against CCD. She was on Vivitonin, which we believe delayed the worst of her condition. We tried a Thundershirt to help her, which we thought helped, but now we think may have been us wanting it to help. Lex liked wearing it anyway. We tried coconut oil. We tried herbal remedies to calm her. We resisted the temptation of sedatives after our vet explained that they masked the ability to display symptoms of fear, not the fear itself. We kept her on pain killers knowing that discomfort worsened her introverted fears, and which we think helped a bit. We read, and researched, and listened. We hoped.
There is plenty more to tell, about Lexie, about the ache when she just wasn't there, about the agony of not having a second bowl of food to place down when feeding Peggy a day or two later, about people's understanding of our loss, the card the vets sent us (including Peggy) and the surprise thoughts that left us wiping eyes yet again. But mostly about the many good things in her life, the majority of the last 14 years when she has been a delight in our lives. It's going to take months and we will never fully get over it, as we know from Heather's death. Heather developed an aversion to the sound of 1990's-style telephone rings before her death. She really hated the noise, and we went to great lengths to prevent her from hearing it, as even if it was on the TV, it spooked her. And 16 years later, we both tense up when we hear that type of phone ring. We know Lexie's effect on our lives will be just as great, perhaps even more so. We still have Peggy, and Peggy's vitality is showing us how ill Lexie was. I still have the urge to help her climb the stairs, when she doesn't need help, or call loudly against deafness when she isn't deaf, and the myriad other ways we developed to help Lexie's later life are not necessary with Peggy. And she still checks before jumping on the couch to make sure she doesn't unsettle her sister, and when we get to a point in our daily walks that Lexie found hard going, Peggy waited and turned around, ears erect in searching for her sis. These things, too, will pass.
And so I write this about my dog, whose little life was so important. I miss you so much, my little doggie,
Feb 2003 - Feb 2017
Postscript: We have been touched by the kindness and understanding of many regarding Lexie's death. A few weeks later, we got the call from the vet to say that her ashes were ready for collection. We were not looking forward to burying her ashes with her predecessors, as the finality of that action opens wounds again. But in the little box was a condolence card, along with a posy of everlasting flowers, a little touch Lexie would have loved, given her love of flowers. I have placed these inside a sealed glass jar to mark her grave. And when we took the little urn containing her ashes out, we saw that the top sweetly had an embossed pawprint, while there was a brass plate on the bottom, with Lexie's name engraved on it, a delightful touch, showing that others understand what the loss of a dog means.
I hope readers of this obituary for Lexie get some sense of being uplifted by a doggie life well lived.