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A death in the family

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ABC journalist Simon Royal’s much-loved dog has starred in many of his reports. Sadly, this is the last story he will tell about her.

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Our dog died last night.

Hayley was the only dog I’ve had in my adult life so I’ve never faced that particular pain as a grown man.

I did, however, experience the death of a dog as a 10-year-old boy.

It felt just like last night. I cried tears that were so hot with anguish it felt as though they were burning my face … just like they did on that day in 1974.

The only thing I wanted in 1974 was the only thing I wanted last night.

I just wanted my dog back.

The dog from my childhood was a Dalmatian named Jackson.  He was a puppy when he was hit by a car: gone before either of us had grown up. We were lucky to have had Hayley the Irish terrier for much longer.

Well before the film appeared, Hayley was the Red Dog. That was just one of the many nicknames she’d gathered over the years: Ginger Nut Mutt, Smookers, Reddles and so on

She came into our lives in September 2004, the same week the federal election was called.

It was a co-incidence that foretold the terrier’s first appearance on ABC TV, which was in a politics tale of sorts.

Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge had succeeded in having state parliament ban tail docking of all dog breeds. Traditionally, Irish terriers had a 3/4 dock, meaning the last bit of their tail was snipped off.

Hayley was the first born in the first litter of Irish terriers to have the full glory of their tails protected by the laws of South Australia.

In the ABC story, she served as a demonstration of McFetridge’s argument that a full tail is crucial to a dog’s ability to communicate and socialise effectively.

A few unconvinced dog breeders proposed a different sort of snip for the Hon Duncan McFetridge.

Hayley went on to appear in numerous ABC stories, including about a dog living in a domestic violence situation and a dog named Bill that roamed Adelaide airport in the 1950s.

Her abiding interest in the role of toilet paper in home decoration saw Hayley feature in a recent story about dog shaming. Despite an avalanche of online photos showing pets and the troubles they’ve caused, science reveals those contrite looks are a con.

Hayley-2---Simon-Royal-dog

There was no end to Hayley’s talents. And besides, she possessed a quality prized by the national broadcaster: she worked for nothing.

Her shortcomings were remarkably few. A love of sniffing the cat’s bum. Her simple joy in that meant no one but the cat objected.

That’s not to say we escaped. Like some medieval Keeper of the King’s Stool, Hayley thought nothing of pushing open an unsecured bathroom door to check on her human’s most private moments.

Still, at least she didn’t dig in the garden.

Now, all too soon, we’ve come to the last story I’ll tell about Hayley.

For a long time I’ve wanted to write about pet owners choosing to have their companions die at home, rather than in a veterinary surgery.  There are a number of vets who will help owners do this.

Indeed, there are a few for whom it’s their chosen speciality. They train meticulously for it, offering unwavering support for both owners and animals.

There’s a price to be paid for the joy of having a dog. It falls due on the day they die.

Pain is a word  better suited to paper cuts than describing that price. Bone-aching sadness, perhaps?

What sort of person chooses to help with that for a living, day after day?

The vets were eager to talk,  but I couldn’t find a pet owner willing to share their side of the story. Until now.

On Monday, we took Hayley in for a routine operation. A benign fatty lump was causing her to throw her front leg slightly as she walked. She’d be much more comfortable with it removed.

At first, Hayley’s recovery was normal, but then ominously it faltered.

Something else lurked there, hidden from the blood tests and disguised by the terrier’s stoic nature.

Cancer, that bloody heartless thief of family and friends, had come for our darling dog. Relentlessly it had come.

As I’d imagined telling this story about other people’s tragedies, I’d wondered whether they’d feel personally grateful for having their pet die at home.

I am still wondering about that. It’s too early for me to know, because once again all I am now is a little boy who just wants his dog back.

I dread the first walk. Without Hayley, it will be a mourning walk. I didn’t know on Monday, when I was irritated by her sniffing every bush, that it would be our last walk together. I wish I hadn’t done that.

I dread coming home to an empty house this evening.

But I do know this: when we brought Hayley home from the unfamiliar surgery, her wonderful vet, Dr Angus Brown, made her comfortable.

We spent  an hour with her.

No matter how cranky her antics have made us, without fail, we have told Hayley every day that she is loved.

We told her that again and again last night. We couldn’t tell her enough.

We held her as she died.

When Hayley came back home, she was safe and happy for the rest of her life. And that thought is what I have for the rest of mine.

Hayley at the vet surgery before her last homecoming.

Hayley at the vet surgery before her last homecoming.

Simon Royal wrote this story earlier this week, after saying his final goodbye to Hayley.

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