I wasn’t sure how to approach this, as it is all so raw and painful just now so I will just tell you the facts I think.
Whistler was a border collie, born and bred on Strawberry Farm near Retford in north Nottinghamshire in the summer of 2003. He came to live in Watford with my sister-in-law and her husband when they moved down there, and were a constant part of my children’s lives from that point onwards.
In December last year, sister-in-law and her husband asked us to take care of their dogs as they were moving abroad and felt that, at almost 13, it would be too much for them. We accepted as the children were already very fond of the dogs and had wanted to have dogs of their own.
It was soon clear though that Whistler was not happy – to begin with I thought he was just pining for his owners; it was such a massive change of circumstances so late in life. But gradually he stopped eating and started to become weaker and we started suspecting that he was actually getting sick.
Two weeks ago, he started having trouble walking and although when we changed to real meat from the dried food he was used to he started eating again, he seemed to be going downhill and so last week we took him to a local vet.
This vet was pretty unpleasant and rude from the outset, almost insisting that we put Whistler down there and then, implying that he would report us to the RSPCA if we refused, but nevertheless shaving him carelessly, cutting his neck in several places, and took a blood sample for testing, gave us a bottle of antibiotic pills, and insisted we call the next morning with a decision. His ‘diagnosis’ was poor teeth.
I called the next morning and told the receptionist that we would see how he did over the weekend and come in again on Monday evening to discuss options.
He improved massively over the weekend, although it was up and down, and we had decided at that point to give saving him a try.
So when we arrived at the vet on Monday evening we discussed with a junior vet about trying to put Whistler through the operation to fix his teeth, knowing that he was very weak and may not make it through the anaesthetic, but wanting to try and save him anyway.
When the junior vet went to check with the head of the practice though he came out and was extremely rude again, and aggressive, absolutely insisting that we put Whistler down, and informing us that he hadn’t bothered to send off the blood sample for testing! He was also constantly referring to Whistler as ‘she’, which made me see red!
At this point I felt very uncomfortable about staying with this vet and so we left to get a second opinion from another vet, and went immediately to another practice in town.
The difference between the two practices could not have been starker. Where the first vet had been rude, aggressive and unprofessional, the second was kind, gentle, respectful and understanding. The premises were also extremely contrasted. Where the new vet’s was clean, bright and professional-looking, the first one had felt like a dirty, smelly, outback, makeshift shack of a place. Thinking back, I am amazed I even considered trusting the first vet.
The new vet agreed that Whistler was very sick and weak, but said that there were various options and that he didn’t want to condemn him without proper testing. He gave him injections of a steroid, B vitamins and an appetite stimulant and asked us to come back in the morning for blood tests.
In the morning we left Whistler there for blood tests and waited for results. When the vet called, around 2pm it was bad news, but the original diagnosis of ‘teeth’ had been wrong. According to the results it looked as though Whistler had some kind of cancer, either a lymphoma or leukemia. Even then the new vet didn’t condemn him, and said that we could come in to discuss his options.
We all went in together, and after discussing it and deciding that we didn’t want to put him through chemotherapy, we very reluctantly decided that since any other intervention would probably only give him a matter of six more weeks or so anyway, that we would call it a day and let him go.
The children said goodbye and everyone except myself, husband and the eldest waited in the car while the deed was done.
Needless to say it was pretty horrible – not at all brutal (it was quite gentle and quick), but it felt kind of evil, everybody felt awful and there were a lot of tears (and some of us actually howled with grief, I am not kidding.) We decided to leave his body with the vet for cremation as we’re not in our own house and wouldn’t have been able to bury him. That felt pretty dreadful too but couldn’t be helped. We took his collar and eldest held it in his hand on the way home.
So ultimately the result was what the first vet had wanted but I was so pleased and convinced I had made the right decision in getting the second opinion, and had it done in a so much nicer place, where we felt that all the staff were caring and considerate and actually understood how devastating it was for us all.
We’re all a bit shellshocked today.
Whistler is survived by his sister from the same litter, Sapphire.