The other evening, the Old Girl dog was sitting on my lap and gazing lovingly into my face. Well, I told myself it was lovingly, but I suppose it was more likely she was simply trying to implant the word ‘cheese’ in my brain. However, whatever her motives, she was sitting on my lap staring at me.
And then she yawned.
I swear could feel my skin peeling away from my flesh …
She was as an elderly dog when I adopted her, and her teeth were in such bad shape that most of the front ones were extracted as soon as she was strong enough. (She recently sank her gums into the ankle of a passing jogger and he didn’t even notice.) Since then, Tom-the-Vet and I had been keeping an eye on the few she has left, knowing that they would eventually need attention, but also conscious of the fact that 13 year old terriers shouldn’t be given general anaesthetics any more often than is absolutely necessary – at least not if you want them to wake up again.
It’s a constant balancing act, trying to decide which is the lesser evil, but that yawn told me the balance had tipped and Something Had to Be Done. So this week I deprived her of breakfast and took her down to the surgery to meet her fate.
The Boy Dog was ecstatically happy when I came back without her. He had me all to himself, didn’t have to share things with HER and thought all of his Christmases had come at once. I, on the other hand, told to ‘come back at 2.30pm’, spent the day fretting and watching the clock: remembering her stricken face as I walked away, worrying that her staunch little heart would pack up under the strain and expecting the ‘phone to ring at any moment with a sad voice on the other end saying ‘I’m terribly sorry, but …’
Needless to say, it didn’t happen. Tom-the-Vet says she has the heart of small ox and that whatever it is finally kills her, it’s not going to be a heart problem. In my opinion, it’s likely to be something she ate. She’s a dog without discernment, dietetically-speaking. Rocks, slugs, toads, dirt, decomposing wildlife, mushrooms, hedgehogs … she’s tried them all at some point, with varying degrees of ‘unfortunate consequences’ most of which end up on the fireside rug. (In case you were concerned the hedgehog was, of course, never in any danger at all and the toad was also completely unharmed. In fact, she couldn’t spit it out fast enough, and spent the next half hour ack-ack-acking her way around the garden.
Unable to wait until 2.30pm, I turned up at the vet’s surgery 20 minutes early and, reassuringly, could hear her shouting the odds from the recovery room just down the corridor. She sounded absolutely furious, which I took to be a healthy sign, and settled down happily to chat to Jenny, the friendly veterinary nurse who doubled up as the receptionist.
As we were discussing the merits of various breeds of dog (a couple of demented pugs having just left the waiting room as fast as their stumpy legs would carry them) an elderly lady came in, carrying a capacious handbag. From the apron under her coat to the short wellies that had seen better days, everything about her said “Farmer’s Wife”.
‘I don’t ‘ave an appointment, but I wondered if Tom would take a look at something for me?’
Jenny smiled at her brightly. ‘What’s the problem Hilda?’
‘Something’s been biting our Glen, and me son found this in the kitchen …’
Rummaging in her bag, she produced a jam jar, half-filled with grass and with holes punched in the lid. She held it out to Jenny who leaned forward to inspect it just as the woman added, “It’s an attercop.”
The effect on Jenny was electrifying. She shot backwards as if someone had punched her in the solar plexus and literally flattened herself, bug-eyed against the far wall.
‘PUT … IT … AWAY.’
Startled, Hilda shoved the jar back into her bag and stared at Jenny as if she thought she’d gone stark staring bonkers, which – indeed – she very nearly had.
‘Can’t. Stand. Spiders.’ She gibbered, and if she could have climbed out of the window, I’m pretty certain she would have done.
I, on the other hand, love spiders – and as soon as I heard the word ‘attercop’. I was on my feet, hopeful that something exotic had escaped from a crate of bananas. I took the jar from Hilda’s bag, ignoring poor Jenny’s feeble pleas of,
‘Oh please don’t …’
Peering through the glass at the lurking occupant, I was vaguely disappointed to see a perfectly ordinary house spider. True, it was a very large and handsome specimen, but it was nothing out of the ordinary, and I said so.
‘It’s a beauty, though.’ I added, put it back in her bag. ‘And the grass was a kind thought.’
‘Well, ’twas skittering around in the jar and I didn’t want it to hurt itself.’
Jenny squeaked. Hilda and I looked at her curiously, and it was Hilda who voiced what I was thinking:
‘So you don’t like ALL animals, then?’
She shook her head mutely and it wasn’t until the jar was safely stowed away in the handbag once more that some of the colour returned to the unfortunate girl’s face and her vocal cords started to function again. Mind you, what she finally said fell firmly into the category of “the blindingly obvious”:
‘I’m absolutely terrified of spiders.’
‘So what would you do if someone came in with a pet tarantula?’ I asked, more out of badness than genuine curiosity.
‘I’d leave the building,’ she replied firmly, recovering some of her shattered composure. ‘Possibly even the county.’
At that moment, Tom-the-Vet appeared with a small and slightly wobbly Jack Russell on a lead and the news that she’d lost four more teeth. ‘Won’t stop her eating, though. Just keep her on soft food for a couple of days.’
As I was leading the Old Girl away to return her to the bosom of her family and a deeply disappointed Boy Dog, I heard Jenny saying calmly, ‘Hilda has something she’d like you take a look at and I’d be obliged if you could do it in the surgery.’
‘Oh?’ said Tom. ‘What’s that then Hilda?’
‘Attercop. Big one.’
‘Really? I LOVE spiders. Let’s take a look.’
And then I heard a whimper. At least, I think I did – although it might just have been the consulting room door squeaking as it closed …
(Picture credit: Adapted from Cobweb II by Kjell Eson on Flickr and reproduced under a Creative Commons License.)