The day Claude died in my arms: More than a year on, Priscilla Waugh still mourns the labrador she had to let go

I held him in my arms as the needle went in. It took about 20 seconds. Then his body slumped gently on my knee and slid to the floor. He looked peacefully asleep. Outside the surgery, on the street, my daughter and I put our arms around each other for a few moments and then went for a curry.

Claude was like me: he loved going for long walks, enjoyed a joke, and was always ready for food. From the day he arrived, he was always at my side and always on my side.

When we finally decided to take the plunge and get the dog we had wanted for so long we made a couple of heartbreaking visits to Battersea Dogs Home and from them gained the address of Labrador Rescue. They asked me exhaustive questions about my home circumstances and why I wanted a dog. It was like arranging to adopt a child. A few weeks later they arranged for us to meet Claude.

His first family needed to find a new home for him because their lives had changed. They were running a hotel and had one baby and another on the way. His brother, Henry, had been successfully resettled with an elderly widower, but Claude was being unavoidably neglected and spent his days lying in the laundry waiting for someone to give him attention. The family had been looking for a place for him for a long time, and although he had tried other homes, he had been unable to settle and the proposed new families had been unable to cope. When we went down to Southport to meet him we opened the car door and he jumped straight in. He was our dog. From now on we looked after each other.

Claude was in early middle age when he came to live with us, and the vet was not happy with our choice. He said that we had taken on a lot of problems with Claude: a weak heart, ankylosing spondylitis (a painful back condition), arthritis and broken teeth. Over the years, however, he came to believe that we had not done so badly. And he certainly got to know him well. Like most of his breed, Claude could not resist food or rubbish, and seldom distinguished between the two. He savoured in equal measure a near-fatal corn cob, which failed to show up on X-ray, and a Mars bar, complete with wrapper. He relished both the rotten fish carcass on Brighton seafront and the fresh plaice he somehow, miraculously, found in Dulwich Woods. Claude became a nice little earner for the surgery.

Towards the end, he developed diabetes, and I learnt how to measure his blood sugar level and administer daily insulin injections. The vet gave him another two years to live - with proper care. Well, Claude had the best care, and he did have his two years. He coped with slowness and blindness and never lost his zest for living, but his incontinence made us both unhappy, and we knew the quality of his life was no longer sustainable.

The hardest thing about his death was deciding the date. It made me feel I was playing God, but the vet's reassurance helped immeasurably. He suggested we come in at the end of evening surgery so that we didn't feel pressured. On the telephone, we discussed the disposal of Claude's body. We have a small garden, and because I was not sure I could dig a deep enough hole in the winter-hardened ground, I felt sick at the thought of foxes digging the body up. Even thinking about such practicalities led to feelings of guilt.

The vet explained that he could arrange cremation. He dealt with a reputable pet cremation firm and, if we wanted it, an individual cremation could be arranged and the ashes returned to us. We loved Claude, but we have photographs and numerous drawings of him, and didn't feel we needed a special place for his ashes. We opted to let the vet take care of it.

This was about a year ago last Christmas. Since then I would guess that I have thought about him every day. Not long, weepy recriminations . . . I just think about him a little bit every day. I still hear a loud silence when the doorbell rings. Sometimes, in the garden, I remember the day he began picking his own fruit, or I suddenly realise how easy it is to work without him investigating every spadeful of earth. Sometimes it hits me that there is nothing to stop me from going off for the day on the spur of the moment.

I think about him with affection, amusement and, of course, sadness. We took responsibility for each other, and he had a good life and a good death. He enriched my life and I loved him for it - and still love him. And there are no regrets.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Direct Mail Machine Operative

    £13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an i...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

    £16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

    Day In a Page

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US