It’s not often you can pinpoint the exact moment a 16-year love affair begins to die.
The signs are there, everyone else knows it’s coming, but you stick your head in the sand and soldier on regardless, trying to defy the inevitable by not giving it any oxygen.
Then it hits you like a ton of bricks: the end is a matter of weeks away.
It happened to me this week when preparations for a minor operation revealed my dear old dog has leukaemia.
Some of you may groan and say, ‘Oh, it’s just a dog,’ but all those dog lovers out there know exactly what I mean. We flippantly describe our canine companions as man’s best friend, but they are so much more than that.
Indie was never meant to be my dog. In fact, I actively resisted him coming into our world. I already had three kids, countless pets and a couple of jobs to juggle. What did we need with a dog?
But my teenage daughter was a relentless nag and I bemoaned that fact to my then boss. Ever the pragmatist, she had a few sage words on the subject.
“She’s 13, for God’s sake, do you want her cuddling boys or cuddling a dog?” she said. “Get the girl a dog!”
Needless to say, Indie made his arrival shortly after. He wasn’t the tiny cocker spaniel puppy we expected and his heritage has been constantly queried throughout the years, but it was love at first sight.
We bonded the first night on the laundry floor after the neighbour complained about his constant barking. If I sat on the floor, shut all the doors and held him tight, he would stop the racket.
Indie was always meant to be the kids’ dog. They all chipped in their savings to buy him, signed a document swearing to look after him and take him for walks twice daily, and lavished him with love and attention.
But Indie ended up being mine.
Like many parents of my vintage, I found when the kids fly the nest, the family pet stays put.
Indie has been the one constant in my life for more than 16 years. He was there through my divorce. He was there as, one by one, the kids took flight. We’ve been through four house moves, a couple of jobs, bushfires and floods.
He hasn’t been the best-behaved dog – think a pint-sized Marley and Me.
Indie never really got the idea of coming when he was called. He’d run at you as fast as he could and then sidestep at the last second in the hope that a game of chasies would ensue. Ditto with fetch. He loved to get the ball but wasn’t so keen on giving it back.
Indie also has a shoe fetish – thongs to be precise. If there was ever a thong left unattended, it would be quickly swooped up and disappear, never to be seen again. It was always just one thong so the mate would kick around for months in the vain hope we might find its partner. It never happened.
He also loved a good picnic, especially someone else’s. He buried the cob bread one Christmas, got into the Easter chocolates, and stole any piece of food that wasn’t nailed down.
He also lived through his share of misadventure. Twice he was rushed to emergency – always on a weekend, of course – after being bitten by a paralysis tick. He had his stomach pumped after eating rat poison, which turned out to be fish food, was bowled over by a car, lost an eye to a tumour, and wandered off deaf and half-blind into the charred forest after the Black Summer bushfires.
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But he never stopped smiling, and never went for a walk without someone stopping to admire his odd gait, surfie-style hair and wagging tail.
When he finally aged – just a couple of years ago – he became the quintessential grumpy old man, barking at people to get off his grass.
Now he’s pretty much a smelly rug, sleeping most of the time as the clock runs out. I hold his ear when dementia makes him anxious, listen to his soft snores to go to sleep, and mop up the bodily fluids that aren’t as well contained as they once were.
Knowing our time together is rapidly running out, these things are more precious than I ever imagined.
I’m not sure what I’ll do when Indie finally takes his last breath. I do know, for me, there will never be another love like him.