This adorable little dog weighs heavy on my conscience. Sometimes decisions we make with the best, most loving of intentions can turn out so terribly wrong. I’m not sure I shall ever forgive myself for this one.
Wendy and Jill were just young pups when I came to live with my aunty Kay. They were undisciplined and spoiled and I adored them, once they stopped barking at me! They barked at everyone and everything.
Kay had a snazzy red Sunbeam Alpine, and when the weather was warm, on a Sunday afternoon, we used to put the top down, load the pups, and go for a ride all around Glen Cove and Bayville. We had a howling good time!
Kay was never without a dog.
I lived with her until 1977 when she and her husband, Ray, retired and moved to Maine, where they had purchased some property. Wendy and Jill were gone by then.
Two new puppies helped Kay and Ray settle in to their new home in Dexter, Maine. Tammy and Misty were the wiggliest, cutest cocker spaniels. Kay and I took them for many walks in the beautiful countryside. Although Winter was always rough, for a few years things were good.
But it turned out that Dexter was a very long way from Long Island, when things started to go wrong. It was possible for me to reach my parents, by then back in England, faster than I was able to get to Kay and Ray in Maine.
In the beginning, I used to fly to Bangor, and then drive the final 40 miles. But flying via Boston, on commuter aircraft, only works when the weather is fine. I came unstuck so many times, in the end I gave it up and just drove all the way, which took no longer and at least got me there!
Ray was a bit older than Kay and he suffered with high blood pressure. I got a call one day to say he was in ICU after a heart attack. He recovered, but it was the beginning of a long decline and the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Kay was not in brilliant health either. She was diabetic, and also had high blood pressure. But there she was, alone, trying to care for her ailing and increasingly demanding husband.
By then Kay had just one dog, Taffy, that she had adopted as a senior. Taffy’s health was also not good and when she died, my beloved aunty Kay was seriously depressed.
I was beside myself with worry, and I suppose I was in denial. I could not conceive of losing my aunt. She was my closest friend. She had been more than a mother to me. She took me in to her home and into her heart when I was 16, and she gave me the love I craved and needed.
I loved my mother to bits, but being married to a selfish, difficult man who had not wanted children, made her life very difficult. So I cannot blame her for the deficiencies of my childhood, but I was never able to be as close to her as I was to her young sister. Kay and I could, and did, talk about everything. Kay was funny and bubbly and absolutely lovely. Everyone adored her, understandably, not least me.
So while I was, by nature, totally practical, and in every case, could see a situation for what it was, I could not think of the possibility that Kay might die from the stress she was under. In retrospect, I realize that I was blind. I should not have been, and I made a ghastly decision.
With no dog to comfort her for the first time in her life, Kay was unbearably sad. We had long conversations in which I was totally unable to cheer her even the smallest bit. This left me feeling desperately inadequate. I had tried endlessly and unsuccessfully to make my parents happy. Now it seemed I could not hep Kay either.
The only thing that I knew would help Kay was having another dog. Obviously a puppy would have been unsuitable and unfair to Kay and to the dog. But I was aware of breed-specific rescue agencies, and while we did not yet have the Internet, I was able to contact Cocker Spaniel Rescue of New England.
CSRNE had a little male cocker named Jazz, that had been given up because he suffered with food allergies. He was mature and I thought he would be perfect for Kay. In those days, the rescue agencies seemed glad to find a decent home, and did not balk at the idea of adopting out to senior citizens. ( They have now completely over compensated, in my opinion, for their previous oversight.)
Kay was overjoyed, and Jazz could not have been more loved. Ray too welcomed him but Ray had always been difficult. Now his ill-health made it all nigh impossible to persuade him not to offer tidbits to the new dog. We tried explaining that it was bad for Jazz because of his allergies, but Ray either couldn’t or wouldn’t understand.
In spite of this, for about a year the situation was manageable. Then, I went for a visit and discovered Ray had become confused and argumentative, which made Kay a nervous wreck. I could see that all of this was seriously upsetting the sensitive little Jazz and I felt so responsible, but much worse was to come.
Toward the end of 1998, Ray was admitted to a local nursing home as he needed 24 hour care that Kay was unable to provide. Also, she could no longer stay in a house that was several miles out of town, along a remote rural road. A very pleasant assisted living facility was found and I went up to help Kay move.
I was relieved by what I found. Kay had what she needed, and Jazz now had the peace and quiet he needed, as well as the proper diet. It looked as if things would work out.
I had not accounted for Ray’s psychological hold over my aunt. I knew him to be a skilled manipulator, but Kay was an intelligent person and I was stunned to find that she felt compelled, every day, to drag herself to the nursing home to endure hours of verbal abuse. I witnessed the treatment Kay received. While names may be just words that can only hurt if you allow them to, such appalling combinations of words from a loved-one could not help but hurt.
Nothing I said to Kay made any difference. I was thankful that she had Jazz to comfort her, and I was glad that she had a comfortable place to live. Sadly, though, she could not seem to manage the transition. Ray was losing ground fast, and I took the precaution of pre-arranging the funeral. Kay seemed to understand this, but her mind must have been in turmoil.
Ray died at the end of March, 1999. Because the ground was frozen, the funeral could not be scheduled until Spring. Kay had a close friend helping her. She seemed sad, certainly, but quite composed and I optimistically thought she would begin to recover from the stress and torment she had been through.
Perhaps if the funeral could have taken place in a matter of days, things would have been different. But Kay began to worry about it. She kept saying she didn’t know what she would wear and it became almost an obsession. I think she was terribly afraid that she wouldn’t be able to cope, even though she never said so.
I made plans to go up for the funeral in May, but just a couple of days before, I got a phone call to say that Kay had suffered a “minor” stroke and was now herself in the nursing home where Ray had been.
On arrival at the nursing home, I was shocked to discover that Kay could not speak, and had lost the use of her right side. To me this did not seem like a mild stroke. Jazz and I stayed with Kay’s wonderful friend and I went to the funeral alone.
The nursing home was good about having dogs visit, so Jazz had been spending time with Kay. She, obviously, could not restrain him, and I am sure the poor creature was very upset and confused about everything. While I was at the funeral, some kids went by to visit another patient. They saw Jazz and teased him. Understandably he bit one of them.
I arrived back from the funeral to be intercepted by the nursing home manager. She was, of course, extremely upset, not with me, nor even the dog. I think she was most upset that she had no option but to ban Jazz from visiting, and she knew that this would be devastating to Kay. She asked if I wanted her to be the one to break the news, but I knew I had to do it. It was my responsibility to tell my beloved aunt the one thing that I knew would break her heart. And it most certainly did.
Kay’s friend was elderly and frail herself, and she had a cat, so Jazz was once more out of a home. I should have called the rescue people, and I don’t know why I didn’t. I think I thought that if Jazz was still nearby, at least Kay could visit with him outside the facility. One of the nurses agreed to take him, and he went to live in her small home with her children. Children had been a problem to him, so it was far from ideal, but I was at my wits end. I had limited time off work and so many things to take care of. I think half of my brain had shut down.
Would have, could have, should have. I have run the tape over and over, and cursed myself endlessly. I had arranged for Kay to have a dog, when I should have realized how easily it could all backfire.
Jazz received a lot of love from Kay, but his sad life became full of stress. He ended up being taken from the person he loved, and placed in a less than ideal home. His new family was unable to care properly for his medical condition. He was put to sleep not many months later.
Fortunately my aunt did not have to know about it, as she died herself, almost exactly two months after her husband.
Before I left her, we sat and held each other for a long time. She seemed to have forgiven me for telling her that Jazz could no longer visit, but her heart was broken as well as her body. I will never forget the depth of the sadness in those beautiful blue eyes when I said goodbye for what was the last time.
Just a few short weeks later I received a call asking me to decide about whether Kay should be given a feeding tube. I said “no” instantly. The very, very last thing I wanted was for my aunt to die, but her life was over. I knew she would not want to continue to exist in that way, totally alone, and without hope of seeing her dog.
People tell me it was not my fault that this happened, but having now re-told it, I know that till the day I die, I shall not be able to forgive myself. I broke my aunt’s heart, the person I loved most in this world, and I caused an innocent animal to suffer unnecessarily.