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George Mitchell: Losing a pet can be harder than many realise

George on a walk at Balmedie beach with his beloved Sammy.
George on a walk at Balmedie beach with his beloved Sammy.

It’s something no pet owner wishes to have to do. But sometimes it has to be done. Last week, our beloved dog Sammy was put to sleep.

When he arrived in our lives, due to my past connections with dance we called him Sammy, in tribute to Sammy Davies Jnr. And so he became Sammy, or Sam.

Little Sammy when he arrived at the Mitchells’.

As I write this, I’ve just read Yvie Burnett’s column on losing her cat. I feel for her. I feel for anyone who has lost a pet or is right now in the process of making the decision that we had to make recently.

My apologies if you’re not a pet owner, for I’m afraid you’re going to find this the most boring and sentimental mush column you’ve ever read.

On second thoughts, I take it back, I’m not sorry for what you’re about to read. If you’re a pet owner, you’ll get it. If not, then you won’t.

I love the pet pages in Your Life magazine, the ones of your pets that you send in. Our pets really do make our houses a home.

Sammy was an extremely fit 12-year-old Lab. Twelve? He looked and acted more like four. Out walking, people simply could not believe his age.

A picture of Sammy taken at Bennachie in winter.

Sam started to lose weight, and it became rapid during the past weeks. His sleek yet solid muscley hips, now had a disturbing bony feel.

He was physically sick more times than I care to recall over the past year. Distressing for any dog, he seemed embarrassed at the mess he made.

Sam ate well. For months to build up his strength, we fed him steak, chicken, cooked veg, porridge, eggs, you name it. He loved it, but ultimately, it didn’t help, other than Sam adoring his mealtimes.

“He eats better than me!” the vet told us when we discussed his new diet.

Sam suffered two violent fits, strokes if you like, during the night. Thrashing around and foaming at the mouth. I’d never seen such a thing before, it was extremely distressing for us all.

After the first one, he actually got up, came downstairs, and after a trip to the vet, he rolled happily in the grass.

“It may never happen again,” the vet said. But it did, three hours later, and it was a bad one.

I can’t speak for other members of the family, for we all had our own relationship with Sam.

As for me, I could mention our special walks we took together, but my abiding memory of Sam is when I’ve been ill and how he reacted.

Sammy’s favourite position after a long walk.

In spring, I had cortisone injections for an ongoing frozen shoulder. I couldn’t lie down in my bed, so I sat in a chair in the lounge for three nights. Sam normally sleeps in his bed in the kitchen. He’d observed me during the day, then sat with me, all night, for three nights. He never left my side.

Recently, I had an incident that required an ambulance and A&E. Lying on the living room floor in pain, Sam brought me his favourite toys and laid them down beside me. He even dragged his own bed through from the kitchen to the lounge and offered it to me.

They know. They know you are in pain. If you’ve been there, you’ll know exactly what I mean

For the next two days, Sam got worse.

I tried to repay Sam’s kindness and spent his last night with him in the lounge. He couldn’t make it upstairs anymore.

Sam’s brain had no doubt been affected by the seizures, especially the second one. His sight was now bad, he couldn’t focus and his back legs were going.

He spent half that night getting up, trying to walk, stumbling, bumping into things, before setting down beside me and sleeping.

In the morning, he managed – with help – to get outside to go to the toilet in the garden. He still had the dignity to do so. He just made it, before crashing into the bushes and falling over.

At this point we decided, enough was enough. We’d been here before, of course, with Goldie, Sheba and Blue. It doesn’t get any easier.

How do I feel as I write this? Numb. Empty.

We called the vet at 8.30am. He came at 11.30am.

The last few hours of Sam’s life were the best out of this whole sorry episode. We took his bed outside into the pagoda in the garden. He lay down and we placed two of his blankets over him. It was obvious to us – he was never going to move again.

I think he also knew it. He was in no pain or distress anymore. He was calm, his breathing fine.

No stick was too big for Sammy.

During his last two hours Sam lay very peacefully with his head in my lap, his nose tucked into my dressing gown.

The vet was tremendous. With much compassion he examined Sam and told us it was highly unlikely he would recover. We didn’t need any more time to consider our options.

The vet sedated Sam, then we were told we could take as long as we liked before he received the final injection itself.

To be honest, there was no point in waiting. I told the vet to just do it, and he slowly injected the syringe into Sam’s leg.

We were warned that there could be a reaction, ie body movements and such like. Thankfully, Sam didn’t even flinch.

Literally seconds later, the vet said that Sam was gone.

Sammy died with his head in my lap.

In the end it was peaceful. Very peacefully.

I really don’t have any more to say or write on the subject, but I hope the words I have written are poignant ones. For the rest of this column, I’ll let the photos of Sammy’s happy and fulfilled life do the talking.

I dedicate this column to all of you who have loved and lost a pet.

Sammy is buried beside George’s last dog, Blue.