On Saturday, Simon and I drove to Te Horo to pick up our first foster dog, who we named Fern. All we knew about her was that she was a border collie, estimated at 5 years old, who had been dumped at the Whanganui pound by a family ‘because she wasn’t an inside dog’. They got her off a farmer, and didn’t tell anyone at the pound her name. The Whanganui pound kept her in an outside cage for a week, with no bedding.
We fostered her through ARAN animal rescue – a virtual network of committed people working with North Island pounds to adopt out abandoned and surrendered dogs. We have a small house filled with love and pampered animals and we figured we had extra love to give.
When we picked Fern up from ARAN, our contact worriedly informed us that she had a large lump on her mammaries, and a cough. I felt the tennis ball sized lump, gnarled and tough, and knew instantly she was an unwell dog.
The car ride home told me more about her. She was almost certainly older than five, and her bright brown eyes saw everything but didn’t quite focus right. She looked spacey, for lack of a dignified term. Her spine protruded upwards from muscle wasting and her cough sounded like dry heaving.
Despite all this she was soft and gentle, lit up by pats and kind words, and once we got her home she followed us everywhere. I bathed her as soon I could to get off the pound smell, and felt her stiff legs and swollen mammaries. She had obviously had several litters of puppies.
Between giving her rest we spent lots of time with her and saw glimpses of what she must have been like when she was well. She made soft “woo-woo” sounds when happy and liked to put a paw on me to remind me she was there and to keep the pats coming. She was patient with our Bonnie – a chubby cannonball of six month old labrador enthusiasm – but she had no desire to play or do anything other than sit very quietly, as close to us as possible.
We made an appointment with our vet, who confirmed she was much older than 5. Milk still came from her teets, and the vet worriedly informed us that the cough plus the tumor meant it was probably cancer. We had guessed as much.
Today x-rays confirmed that it was certainly cancer, and that it had spread to her lungs where it was flourishing. There was only really one option – to put Fern down.
Today at 3.25, with lots of support from ARAN, we had Fern put to sleep. It was sad and awful and laboured but at least we were there to talk softly to her and stroke her velvety ears. It was a privilege to be able to sit with her and hopefully bring her some comfort in her last moments.
As sad as I am (I am writing this in tears) I am mostly furious. I am furious that too many farmers in this country treat their dogs like crap, breed them and run them to death and then pass them off (if they’re lucky). I am furious that a family took her in and either decided she was too much work or, more likely, realised she was unwell and going to be costly so they dumped her. I am furious that the Whanganui pound didn’t properly identify that she was sick and kept her outside without a bed for a week.
I am furious that Fern was just one dog out of far too many who got used and then dumped. I am furious that her finding a few days of peace with us before she died is a luxury not many dogs in her situation will ever have.
I wish we could have done more for her.
Rest in peace Fern. We will scatter your ashes somewhere wild but gentle just like you.