Losing Milo

Our daughter always wanted a dog. She would pester us relentlessly about it. We always resisted because with three children, three pet rabbits and both my husband and I working, life was already too chaotic to even consider adding in another full-time commitment. By the time our daughter was a young teen she was volunteering at a local kennels. The kennel owners also bred Jack Russell terriers and one of her jobs was to clean out the puppy pens. This only fuelled her longing for a puppy of her own. She pleaded with us, promising she would do all the work involved, including being on poop patrol. She wore us down and, with her sixteenth birthday coming up, we began to research different breeds. At the end of 2008 we drove out to the countryside in secret where an elderly farmer had one Jack Russell puppy left for sale.

The farmer was gruff and abrupt. He took us to an outside stable and opened the door. Inside was a large, beautiful Doberman and between his legs, a tiny tan and white pup with the sweetest face I had ever seen. His chocolate brown eyes and expressive scruffy eyebrows gazed up at me and I was instantly smitten. I climbed over the barrier and stood in the sawdust, nervous of the bigger dog, but she just studied us quietly from afar. The puppy, however, ran towards me and with one swift tug undid my laces, then sat on my trainer as if the decision was made, which of course it was. The farmer agreed to keep him for another few days while we got everything ready to bring him home.

The following weekend we told our daughter we were helping a friend move house and set off, leaving her to watch her brothers so she would be home when we got back. She still had no idea what we had planned and we were like giggly schoolchildren as we drove away. The farmer greeted us with the news that the puppy had escaped from the stable block through a hole in the fence and was finally found under one of his tractors. “He is a right little handful, this one” the farmer warned us, “he is used to being outside so he won’t like your centrally heated house much”. How completely wrong he was!

Pulling up outside the house, my husband unloaded the plethora of puppy paraphernalia from the boot and took it inside, past my daughter who was watching a film with her friend. I followed with the puppy wrapped in a towel. He trembled in my arms as I carried him into the house. When our daughter looked up and saw his little head poking out of the towel she squealed and burst into tears. As she took him from me, he covered her in little kisses and the bond was made. Like the werewolf in Twilight and little half-vampire baby Renesmee they imprinted on each others souls. After a quick bath to rid him of the fleas and cattle dung he was covered in he was roaming the house, peeing on the carpet at every opportunity and plonking his furry little backside on every lap, chair or bed he could find. He eventually settled underneath the hot radiator and fell asleep. I had foolishly made a rule that the puppy was not allowed upstairs at night but was to sleep in his crate in the kitchen. For over a week he would cry and howl every night until our daughter came down and lay beside the crate. She would read to him and sometimes I found them both asleep on the sofa in the morning, his head in the crook of her neck as he snored soundly. From then on he slept in the crate in the kitchen without protest.

We named him Milo and he slotted seamlessly into the family. At first he delighted in chasing the boys around the house, hanging off their socks or trouser legs as they screamed and tried to escape. He was feisty and nippy but learned quickly that we were more willing playmates if he kept his razor sharp puppy teeth away from our fingers and toes! Once he was fully vaccinated he loved going for walks and would chase and retrieve a tennis ball for as long as we could keep throwing it. True to her word, our daughter happily walked, fed and picked up after him but we all loved him just as much as she did. Everyone who met Milo loved him. For a small dog he was a huge presence and he had an equally huge personality. He was very vocal, barking ferociously if someone knocked on the door and “talking” to everyone in his high-pitched voice. My daughter and I took him along to puppy classes. He was intelligent and quick to learn but at the same time incredibly stubborn. Much to our chagrin he refused to play ball, only obeying commands if he felt like it or if we had cheese about our person.

Once off the lead in our local park it was never certain what would happen. We would try to engage him in a game of fetch and most of the time he would be focused on his beloved tennis ball, often finding other lost balls while looking for his own. he would then try to carry them all in his mouth, refusing to leave any behind, so our pockets would often bulge with smelly, spit-covered rescue balls. But if a squirrel or a cat caught his eye he would take off and it was anyones guess where he would end up. Once he disappeared into the bushes and through a hole in a fence, ending up in someones back garden. I searched the park for ages, crying and calling him in utter panic. I had never been so terrified. Eventually I went up onto the road and began knocking on doors. A gentleman came down the road asking if I was looking for a little dog. It turned out he had strolled in through the open patio doors, helped himself to some biscuits from the owners dogs bowl and jumped up onto the sofa beside the man who was watching football! His wife brought him out of the garden in her arms, she was laughing but I was mortified. Luckily they saw the funny side but Milo didn’t go off the lead for a long time after that. On another walk he ran ahead after a squirrel which shot through the railings and across the railway tracks. Milo followed but only got halfway through and became stuck fast. He whined and barked as I tugged on his back end but to no avail. Luckily my husband was working from home so I called him and he came and found us. By this time Milo had accepted his situation and was standing patiently, waiting to be rescued. My husband managed to slide Milo upwards to the top of the railings where the opening was slightly wider and pop him out at the top. Disaster averted but not before I snapped a picture of him for posterity!

One one memorable walk Milo was mooching in his favourite patch of trees and bushes as I waited for him in the clearing. Suddenly, a startled young deer bolted from the undergrowth with Milo hot on his heels, the widest grin on his face and a maniacal glint in his eyes. He shot me a look as if to say “Look what I found”! Thankfully the deer was faster and sped away but I have a feeling Milo would say that was one of the best moments of his life! Milo loved the water and would launch himself into the river whenever he got the chance. One time we all stayed at a cottage in Devon with a private beach and Milo, safely tethered on a long lead, spent many hours playing in the sea. He was an excellent swimmer and we had no doubt that without the lead he would just carry on doggy paddling and probably end up in Wales. For Milo, every day was a new adventure and his zest for the outdoors was infectious.

As he got older he slowed a little but he never lost his puppy-like qualities. Our daughter moved out and started a full-time job but she visited often and would usually take Milo out for a walk. By this time we had a Staffie, Elsie, who arrived as a puppy and was immediately accepted by Milo as a willing and submissive playmate. They loved walking together and in the garden they engaged in long games of tug with a rope toy, their strength and enthusiasm matching perfectly. Milo loved nothing more than to snuggle up with her in their basket or stretch out beside her in a patch of warm sunshine. If someone mentioned her name his ears pricked up and he began to look for her around the house. A few years later we got a French Bulldog puppy, Wilson. This tiny creature had a huge personality and, although at first Milo was put out, he was astonishingly tolerant and accepted his relegation with grace. He was, however, always the head of the house and even Wilson knew when to back off and leave him alone, especially as Milo got older and more cranky. His back legs were now arthritic and he developed a funny little waddle but he was the most stoic little dog I have ever known, never suffering from illness or injury until he was almost fourteen years old. Suddenly we began to notice that he was sometimes vacant and would rub his head with his paws. In September last year we were preparing for our sons wedding. We had booked the three dogs into kennels for the night as we were going to be staying at the venue. This was a concern as they had never been in kennels before and we worried about how they would cope. Two days before the wedding Milo had a seizure. It was absolutely terrifying. I honestly thought he was going to die and I panicked, not knowing what to do to help. My husband put a cushion under his head and we waited, speaking softly to him until he came round. I called the emergency vet and they were lovely, reassuring us that we had done the right thing but because he was now recovering there was nothing more they could do. After a sleepless night during which I just watched Milo sleep, petrified that it would happen again he seemed fine, he ate and drank normally and we thought that perhaps it was a one-off.

The following day Milo had a second seizure. This time we were more prepared and it was over quickly but it took much longer for him to recover, he was disorientated and distressed for an hour or so afterwards. We quickly realised that there was no way we could leave him in kennels so we cancelled and made an alternative plan, involving various people coming in to check on the dogs during the day of the wedding and my sister travelling straight from the reception to our house and staying overnight with them. I was so grateful to her for her help and after a stressful few days we began to focus on enjoying the wedding, which had been postponed twice during lockdown and which we were so looking forward to. On the day we were very busy but Milo was never far from our thoughts. My biggest fear was that he would have a seizure while we were away. Straight after the wedding lunch my husband returned home and spent a few hours with the dogs before returning in the evening for the reception. Thankfully they all seemed to be ok.

Milo was fine for three months after that. He was sprightly and alert and we began to relax. In the new year he had a few seizures close together again and we consulted our vet who did some blood tests. The results showed that Milo was producing too many red blood cells which were forming clots and as they broke free were causing the intermittent seizures. The vet explained gently that we could see a specialist who would do scans and more tests but that this would not change the outcome and as Milo was at an advanced age we should just enjoy him while we could. And that is exactly what we did. Our daughter had moved into a new house and she had him over to stay with her as often as she could. They enjoyed walks in the sunshine and he loved playing with his stash of tennis balls in her garden. Thankfully he never had a seizure while he was staying with her so she didn’t have to witness him in distress. Then one weekend Milo had multiple seizures which got progressively longer and more serious. By this time he was on anti-seizure medication but they were not working and they made him very groggy. I spoke to the vet again and she gave us something to administer during a fit to stop them from going on for too long. I had a heart-breaking conversation with our daughter in which we discussed what was happening and when we might need to make the hardest decision together as a family. A few days later my husband was working away and I was alone with the dogs. We had a very bad night and the fitting continued the next morning. My biggest fear was that he would not come round and would die in my arms not knowing that I was there so I spoke to the vet again who gave me “permission” when she said she thought I knew deep down that it was time. And I did. I made an appointment for later that day when my daughter could get away from work. I cooked some fresh chicken for Milos tea which he ate with gusto, as I tried not to break down. My son came home to be with the other dogs while I put him gently into the car.

My sister is a veterinary nurse and was at the surgery to meet me. My daughter had also arrived and we spent a few minutes feeding Milo all the treats he could eat. He was a little confused but he seemed to enjoy having us all there, sitting on the floor in the consulting room, making a fuss of him. We told him that he was a good boy and that we loved him, we kissed his nose and stroked his ears as the vet gave him the injection. He sighed, then he was gone. I felt a brief wash of relief that we would not have to suffer any more seizures, then a tidal wave of sadness that our beloved pup was no longer going to be in our lives. I have never experienced such a roller coaster of emotions. It is such a privilege to be able to let an animal pass with dignity when the time comes but also such a difficult decision to make when you want to hold on to them and not let go.

The past few weeks have been hard. The house is quiet without him and the dynamic has changed between the other two dogs. They have been more clingy and subdued. I came across his tiny puppy collar while clearing out a cupboard the other day and the tears flowed as I remembered his first proper walk and the joy he brought everyone who met him. I watch the other dogs carefully for signs that something might be wrong, I don’t take them for granted. Every day spent with a dog is precious, they are such intuitive, spiritual animals and I can’t imagine life without them.

Thanks for reading, Michelle. xx

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