As pet owners unite during the holidays, the quote “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” always rings in our ears. However, we still have the odd family who doesn’t take this warning to heart. Although some dogs find forever homes through the holidays, for my Labrador Retriever, Caesar, this time of year was always one of agony.
Caesar (who was actually a girl) was a typical poster-perfect yellow Labbie: soft fur, melting eyes, and a face that could light up a room. Take all these factors into a weeks-old puppy, and you could understand how she was so easily snapped up. She was bought on December 18, 2000, as a well-meaning Christmas gift for a young man’s girlfriend. Innocent enough, right?
At this point, Caesar ended up on the route that so many dogs take: The puppy needs exercise, the puppy wants attention, the puppy needs to be trained, the puppy this, the puppy that! Eventually, the young, explorative couple could not put Caesar into their routine. They grew tired of her, left her to their parents, and eventually eloped to Hong Kong. By now you’d think, “Oh good, she’s receiving attention now, great!” However, it only gets worse. Caesar would be lucky to have a walk once or week, or get more than an hour’s worth of socialization. She was cooped up in the house, often being feed human food as a vent for pity.
I do not hate or despise these people; I saw they did love her and knew they were in the wrong. Looking back, it only frustrates me. Why did it take them six years to realize Caesar could not live like this? It was only when my Dad started to work on their house and met the owner that he was able, with friends, to convince the owner to give up the dog.
Taking Caesar in 2006 was perhaps the most emotional moment to date I have witnessed. The younger son, refusing to say goodbye or cry, and the parents, in tears at the doorway. We were given a letter, which I still have:
“You have come to receive this letter in the matter of Caesar’s best interests: Unfortunate to say, we are no longer able to take care of her. Although this maybe the hardest thing for us to do, we do it so Caesar maybe able to live her life as she should.”
My family was fresh from an adoption disaster three months back, but despite this we wanted to help a dog in need … and this dog ended up to be Caesar. Despite this, the December holiday was not done with Caesar quite yet.
Fast-forward to December three years later, with another Labbie, and Caesar had successfully molded into our family life, but all was not well. She was losing weight and unable to digest food, and she had crippling diarrhea. Did she eat something again? Was it the cold? My family huddled around the phone after she was sent to the emergency vet. And on that phone, we heard the word everyone fears.
My Mum struggled to keep calm and organize an operation to remove Caesar’s cancer, which had grown to the size of an orange. My Dad –- the burly builder –- curled up crying in a chair. Me and my sister, in each other’s arms sobbing. We sat there crying to each other, thinking of Caesar. We had only had her three years … why?
Despite her lack of socialization, she was never a mean, scared dog. We’d fall asleep together on the couch; she’d steal children’s biscuits from their hands. Our family became forever grateful to the small team of volunteers who worked for hours straight on Christmas Day to save her life. Yet it was perhaps the bleakest Christmas I would ever care to experience. We had presents, but what about Caesar? She was on a cold table, barely conscious, fighting an invisible foe.
From this point, Christmas was never the same for my family. It will always be plagued by that horrible memory.
The vet gave us a few mere months for Caesar. Caesar gave us another three wonderful years (in true Caesar fashion as well -– a stubborn pride). But unfortunately, at roughly the same time as before, she was diagnosed with five more tumors. Christmas would have its way with Caesar –- the last laugh. My Dad sent her on her way, cradling her in his arms, singing to her softly, crying into her fur. Before she left for the vet, she gave me a look that said: “I’m sorry I couldn’t fight it any longer.”
I hugged Caesar so tight, massaged her ears, and rested my head on hers. I told her she didn’t need to be sorry. I was sorry about the fact that we were never able to give her more years to sniff the woods or annoy our other dog. I remember Mum bursting through the door, trying to be brave. She shook her head and said to me, “No, Connie. Caesar … didn’t make it,” and she burst into tears on my shoulder.
Caesar took her last breath the same day she met her first family: December 18.
Caesar could have had it better, and she could have had it worse. Either way, I write this as our thoughts have begun to turn to the autumn and so soon to Caesar’s 12th birthday. Please, when you give a person any animal as a present — that special, surprise gift with the glowing face and loveable looks — please think about the animals that ended up being the presents nobody wanted, the older animals who, like Caesar, had problems finding homes simply because they were old.
Connie Norris lives in Surrey, England, and is studying animal management.
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