BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
I’ve always been of the mind that dogs are angels with tails. On Tuesday one such angel – which gutless humans maltreated and turned into a biter – was put to sleep beside me on a vet’s surgery stone floor.
Across Britain an army of volunteers care for badly treated dogs and other animals. They are unsung heroes. Often their selflessness is born of a mistrust of humans, which their furry wards share as well. Many spend what money they possess on the animals they care for, on vet bills and dog food – thinking second about themselves, who they tend to love less.
I met Schneider for the first time just last Saturday. I was shocked to see such a huge dog move into the area – bigger than a Great Dane – so paid a visit to Jane, who cares for mistreated dogs. Schneider had something of the Omen about him from a distance with a shiny black coat that glimmered in the sun. Here were fifty-five kilos of pure muscle. This was Cerberus. A Great Dane crossed with a Mastiff, apparently. Jaws that could grasp my child’s head and crush it in one movement like a melon. Yet I was surprised up close by how sweet Schneider was. We played some games, I stroked his muzzle and before long we were having a cuddle. I was soon covered in fur and slobber. Schneider – another tailed angel.
But behind young Schneider’s playfulness was a tragic tale of a short life of just a few years. Schneider had been used as a guard dog, he’d been badly mistreated and his coat was scarred by the burns from cigarettes, wounds from a succession of fights and savage beatings. One day he’d been discarded in the cold streets of a big city and ended up in a pound. Schneider had been born innocent and humans had turned him into a dog with behavioural issues – he had arrived at Jane’s for one last chance after attacking a previous dog carer’s husband.
Still, I immediately took to Schneider. And Schneider seemed to like me. If my two chocolate labs had not been back at home, I’d have volunteered myself to give Schneider his last chance myself. Alas, circumstances would not allow.
On Monday, Jane appeared hobbling down the road. She was in floods of tears. On closer inspection, she was missing a chunk out of her leg and her bum was bleeding too. She had come between Schneider and a small dog. The typical, selfless dog carer – putting herself last and dogs first. (We must find these people and give them all MBE’s).
After things had calmed down, and she had been patched up, I asked Jane if she was crying because she was shocked by Schneider’s sudden change in character.
“Oh no,” she exclaimed, “I know what I let myself in for. I cannot blame the dog. I am crying because tomorrow at 10.15 I must take Schneider to the vet to be put down. I have discussed it with the dog charity and there’s no other option.”
So, that is how I ended up on the vet’s stone floor on Tuesday. After travelling with Schneider on his final journey after he’d had a good meal and been thrown more chews than he could be bothered to eat. After he’d stuck his head out of the car window and sucked up the beautiful countryside air and sniffed those last smells before walking on a lead into the vet’s surgery. After hundreds of strokes and cuddles and some last games. After many human tears.
I have to say that my mate Schneider was strong to the end. He was not floored by the sedative, which the vet presumed would knock him out within just a few minutes. It was seven minutes before he even laid down to sleep and he still stirred when the final injection was gently pumped into his leg.
I bent down to kiss Schneider on the head as he slept. He opened his eyes and stared at me. My hand was beside his mouth, so he knew until that last moment he was not alone. And, as the injection gently killed him, Schneider’s huge paw came to rest on my leg, as if to ask for help. Or was it a “thankyou”? Maybe just a “be there for me”. I do not know. I just know that Schneider was brave and I am sure he knew. I sense he did not hate us at all for killing him – in the short time we were together perhaps he learnt how to trust us humans. Or maybe dogs know what awaits them and long for such peace.
There were some short sharp breaths from Schneider and then one long, last breath that blew out onto my hand.
That was the spirit breath.
That was Schneider.
He was no longer that cigarette-scorched, furry beast lying there before us.
I am still of the mind that dogs are angels with tails. On Tuesday one such angel – which gutless humans maltreated and turned into a biter – was put to sleep beside me on a vet’s surgery stone floor.
Rest in peace, my friend. One day I wish to meet you once again.