It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog for the week, as it isn’t about what I was expecting to be writing about at all.
This blog is dedicated to Hooch. Hooch was a five-year-old Dogue-de-Bordeaux (you know the one, the kind from that movie Turner and Hooch – hence the name!) who belonged to my neighbour, Mavis.
Mavis and Hooch were always together. Partners in crime prevention; they patrolled our neighbourhood with the ferocity of a hard-core military service.
Every morning and every evening they set off from their house and do the ‘circuit’, Mavis with a trowel and plastic bag in hand in order to clean up after the magnificent beast that was Hooch.
Later on they would stand in their front garden, Mavis chatting to her friends and neighbours whilst school children would run up to stroke, pet and hug ‘Hoochie’.
I’ve lived next-door to Hooch and Mavis for about three years. For the first year or so, I lived on my own and Mavis was a diamond.
She looked out for me and I always felt safe with big Hooch keeping his beady eyes out. Every morning he would see me off to work and every evening he would be waiting to watch me arrive home.
Hooch’s big face would be peering out of the window, over the window ledge; just next to him would be his mistress. Sometimes he would be out on his walk and I would give them a wave as I set off.
If Hooch was out and about he would come lumbering over for a stroke and a fuss. He became a part of my daily routine. He is part of the reason that I decided to get a dog myself.
Hooch’s gentle nature but magnificent stature cemented my belief that big dogs are not to be treated as difficult, aggressive or scary. Mavis’ cat Percy would boss Hooch around his own front garden. Percy was a villain.
Unfortunately for both Hooch and Mavis, Percy died last week after suffering from bleeding on the brain, which may have lead to a stroke. Hooch was clearly devastated by the loss of his best friend, as was Mavis.
The sight of people crossing the road to avoid Mavis and Hooch still makes me chuckle. You couldn’t get a more placid dog, or a friendlier and more helpful neighbour. That’s not to say that Mavis didn’t have to pull Hooch into line every now and again.
Hooch did have a tendency to become very interested in a certain smell, person, place or animal on his walk and decide on his own alternative route. When this happened to be the middle of the road it became a problem and Mavis would have to yell his name out in a tone and volume that would have struck fear into the hearts of giants. But then Hooch was a giant and he needed to feel the fear in order to be kept safe.
Mavis is a great dog owner. I think that dogs are certainly happier and lead a more fulfilling life when they have clear boundaries, a confident owner, frequent exercise and spend a lot of time by their master’s side.
“All dogs need a calm, confident leader to help make them feel secure. Being a leader is not about dominating your dog and making him submit to you, it is about being a teacher and building his confidence by using positive reinforcement techniques to encourage good behavior” – Victoria Stillwell, Dog Expert, Huffington Post, May 17 2012
Hooch was certainly a very happy dog until Percy died. One he’d lost his best friend he started to exhibit symptoms that went beyond grief. He stopped eating, started drinking a lot and urinating more frequently, even having accidents on the carpet which he hadn’t done since he was a puppy.
Mavis took him to the vets where they took blood and scanned his abdomen. He had to be hospitalised a week after Percy died for a couple of days as he hadn’t eaten and was rapidly loosing weight.
He returned looking very weak, sallow and strangely shaven. You could see that he was still in there somewhere but he was exhausted. Beyond tired. We feared that he’s given up. Then Mavis got the news.
Hooch was suffering from Lymphatic Cancer. His lymph glands were swollen and his blood tests showed abnormalities.
Treatment options were offered and considered including steroid injections but the prognosis was that Hooch would be unlikely to survive. He was given a few days to live.
I couldn’t believe it. I refused to believe it.
I wanted the vets to save him but after reading up about the condition online I understood that Hooch was suffering from an illness from which he was highly unlikely to recover and very likely to deteriorate very quickly.
Mavis made the incredibly difficult decision to euthanise. Hooch hadn’t eaten in over a week and he just wasn’t the same dog. I went to say goodbye to him and offer her comfort and support that she was making the right decision.
When I came to the door he almost bounced over the doorstep and I could see him for the dog that he once was.
This exertion caused him to have to have to lie down on the cool concrete under his window ledge. His eyes were hauntingly sad. I told him about Rainbow Bridge. I told him to wait there for us. I’d meet see him again.
I told Mavis about my research and we both agreed that putting an animal through chemotherapy would be a cruel thing to do. Treatment would only prolong his life for a short period and his quality of life would be poor. He was sick, tired and weak. Hooch was a very ill dog.
At 6pm on June 13 2012 his pain and suffering was ended.
Silence has fallen down on our street. Everyone is in mourning. There is no face peering out of the window, no plodding down the street to the sound of a clanking trowel and the passing children are no longer greeted by the big friendly beast.
This morning Mavis vacuumed up dog hair for possibly the last time.
Rachel is a 30-year-old media teacher, who along with her partner Ciarán, owns two dogs and two cats. They also have another cat on long-term foster. As a self-proclaimed dog-lover, Rachel dedicates a large part of her time to the world of dogs, taking training classes, grooming classes, behavioural classes, judging dog shows, turned her dog into a ‘celebrity’ and regularly volunteers for Manchester Dogs Home.