Last Tuesday I placed the most difficult signature of my life on the most unwanted piece of paper ever.
I signed away the life of our Penny.
Penny came to us thirteen months ago. She was in a horrible condition.
Months of neglect has reduced her to shadow of herself.
Down to half her former weight and seriously dehydrated, her eyes sunken in to be almost invisible behind dark shades on her skin, some kind of infection around her eyes, mouth, nose and ears leaving a hard black crust. Even if she looked at us, it was like she wasn’t there.
A walking ghost in search of somebody who wasn’t there any more.
We took her in so she could die in a warm home, on a soft pillow, and not in a cage in the cold amongst strangers.
The vet gave her a month, maybe two.
Penny was stronger than that, though. She came back.
Once we figured out what she liked, she started eating. She drank lots of water. She put on weight.
We took her for short walks every day. Just a few hundred meters. It was all she could handle.
There was grass and dirt. She didn’t know what it was initially, having lived entirely on the paved alleyways of Venice, but she soon found out that it was nice and interesting for an old dog, and she willingly walked there twice every day.
There was a bar like the one where she stayed so often with her previous owner, and after a strenuous walk to the grass and back, she would rest between the tables, asking for treats with her characteristic double “vouf-vouf”.
After a while everybody knew her, just like where she lived before.
The hardest part was the stairs up to our second floor apartment, and she would often resist leaving the bar to confront the many steps up to her pillow.
When it was too hard, we would give her a helping hand, or even carry her which she enjoyed immensely.
She put on to much weight, so we had reduced her portion, of which she definitely didn’t approve.
Her eyes came back alive and almost ceased watering, the black shadow healed, and the black hardened stuff on her nose, in her ears, around the eyes and her mouth disappeared.
We brushed and gradually her fur became fitting for a beautiful collie, rather than the dense carpet it was when she came to us.
However, you can’t turn back time, or even halt it.
As the months passed, she became slower and more tired. She needed more help on the stairs. We stopped trying to take her for longer walks. She needed longer breaks at the bar.
In the hot summer she suffered the heat. She could hardly breathe. We bought an air conditioning unit, and she slept just in front of it all summer.
She continued to lie down in front of it, even when it became less hot and we turned it off.
We thought it was old age, arthritis and general weakness.
During the last few months there was a marked deterioration of her health. She was very short of breath, and would stop every few steps to breathe. She was very tired.
Last Saturday we spend the entire day on the Certosa island, where my company has its office. We took her along, even if the walk was a bit longer than she would normally do. She was tired, but has a good place to rest and still wanted scraps of food.
On the return trip her luck ran out.
Stepping off the vaporetto to the platform, a wave moved the boat, and her hind leg got caught between boat and platform.
We got her free, and on the platform, but she couldn’t stand. Her leg gave way, and she was bleeding profusely.
I carried her to a safe spot, and we started phoning all the vets we could find a number for. Our own vet didn’t answer initially, and we were very scared. Penny was bleeding copiously, but didn’t complain and remained conscious and responsive.
I carried her in my arms, best I could, the 6-700m to our vet.
She had lost lots of blood, but was still responsive and didn’t complain.
The X rays showed a fracture of her heel bone, and the blood was from skin wounds, deep but not life threatening.
I carried her home, and we started searching for a veterinary orthopedic. It was a Sunday, and the worst emergency was over, so we were asked to call again Monday.
The best clinic is in Thiene at the foot of the Dolomites, 90 minutes drive away. Living in Venice we don’t have a car, and need to take a vaporetto towards the mainland, so it became a three hour journey.
We set off at 6am, and arrived the in a friend’s car at 9am. Penny was in a plastics crate from a bicycle trailer, and handle the journey well. She slept most of the time.
Once at the clinic she was visited by a vet, an orthopaedic, a neurologist and an anaesthetist. They took a blood sample.
We then waited for several hours. Penny was very tired, but she slept or at least rested as long as we were close besides her. We couldn’t leave as she would get very worried, twisting and turning to find the one missing.
When the anaesthetist came back with the results of the blood test, it showed that Penny was very anaemic, and it wasn’t just because of the blood loss on Saturday evening.
The only way to figure out if they could do the operation on her fractured heel safely, was to do a full body CAT scan.
To do the CAT scan they would have to do a full anaesthetic, and they couldn’t guarantee that she would survive that.
It wasn’t easy but I signed the papers and we sent her off for the scan.
They told us we had half an hour to get a quick lunch.
They called us back exactly half an hour later, and the news were devastating.
An entire lung was one giant tumour, and the other lung was half full of fluids. No wonder she was so tired and short of breath.
There was another tumour on the liver, so the cancer had probably metastasised.
There was no hope. We tried to plead for any kind of way out, but all alternatives would only cause Penny more suffering.
The fracture on the foot would take months to heal, but the lung tumour would kill her in a matter of weeks. When she died, it would be of slow suffocation, potentially taking hours of pain and agony.
We cried our eyes out, but tears won’t heal her, so there was no alternative. Every other option was unbearably worse for Penny.
We went to see her one last time.
She was still under full anaesthetic, strapped into the CAT scanner, with a huge green tube in her mouth for breathing.
I don’t know if it was a good idea to go and see her, because I now have that image of poor Penny, strapped into that machine, empty eyes and that big, green tube in her mouth, but we couldn’t just walk away.
After a while outside crying, we went in to pay the bill and sign the final papers.
Putting my signature on the euthanasia permit is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Her departure had left us devastated.
She is now reunited with her first owner, Claudio, with whom she spent her first thirteen years. He died six months before we adopted her.
I hope there are grass and bars and plenty of treats where she is now.
She has been a part of our life for over a year, and she had given us so much.
In the night she would come into our bedroom several times to make sure we were still there, and sometimes she would fall asleep just outside the open door. We always left a fleece cover there for her to sleep on.
In the early morning when Martina got up to go to work, she would be all sleepy, but wag her tail and wanting to be cuddled before falling asleep again.
Later in the morning when she wanted to go for a walk, she would do her “vouf vouf” continuously following me around as I got up. She would even check up on me in the bathroom to make sure I didn’t somehow escape without taking her along.
Our walks were usually about an hour each, but as soon as she had done her necessities she would head straight for the closest open bar, where she would lie down between the tables and beg for treats: “vouf vouf”.
At home she had her pillow in our living room where she would spend most of her time, but as our home also became her home, she started wandering around and rest wherever she felt like.
We tried to take her out for longer walks, but she got too tired. Her favourite place was no doubt the local bar, similar to the place she went every day for thirteen years with Claudio.
She lived fourteen years, ten months and twenty nine days. She spent just a tiny bit at the end with us, but she made us smile, laugh, and be happy.
She loved us and we love her, and we always will.