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Mister Wobbles

Marmite, our little black Shih Tzu, has a low, slow, rumble of a growl, befitting the meaning of her breed's name, lion dog. This growl is only heard if we are walking in the woods, and a large and exuberant dog comes bounding towards us. Standing in front of me, hackles raised, Marmite issues forth her lion-like growl. Surprised that the resonant sound is coming from such a small and cute dog, the incoming big and bouncy pooch, always turns tail in hasty retreat. She adores other small dogs and children. When she is following a scent, she does so with a repetitive piggy snort. Marmite is just a laid-back soppy bundle of happiness. The same cannot be said for Tufty, our tatty tan and grey Morkie.

Even as a puppy he was a bit of a grump and barked a lot. There was a time he didn’t like you sitting too close to 'his' end of the sofa. Now all he wants is to be curled up right beside you. And after pawing at your hand for a cuddle, will let you know with a growl when he has had enough. Tufty has never liked being left for more than a few minutes. For years we tried plug-in pheromone calmers and just about every training technique on YouTube. Nothing worked.

When our first grandchild started walking, we quickly discovered Tufty is not good with toddlers. Too energetic and grabby for his choice of playdate. As for other dogs, his small size never deterred him from squaring up to the biggest canine competition and letting them know who was boss. Most just ignored his posturing, but a few did gently put him in his place, at which point he would retreat behind my legs, then pop his head round and bravely growl at the enemy. Tufty used to love his walkies, which often involved chasing squirrels and rolling in fox poop, and of course, lots of barking. Leaves, birds, squirrels, anything that moved was barked at.

Gradually the day came when he was no longer pulling on his lead to make me walk faster. Instead, I was walking slower so he could keep up. When at the sight of the lead, he started hiding behind the sofa, I knew our days of walkies up the woods were coming to an end. He was fifteen years old and was quite happy to just sit on the back of the settee, look out of the lounge window and watch the world go by.

Then his behaviour began to change. He'd always been a bit fidgety when I clipped his coat, especially when trimming his paws. And we had to take him to the vet to get his claws cut, because he made such a fuss about it. But he was always fine with me cleaning his eyes and brushing his teeth. Then one day he bared his teeth when the damp cotton wool pad I was holding touched his face. A month or so later he started growling. Six months after that, he gently nipped my hand.

Within a year, I could no longer groom him. No amount of jollying him along in a high-pitched sing-song voice or doggie treats, or spa music playing in the background, worked. Eventually my husband, Simon, took Tufty to a professional groomer. They managed to clip his coat, but even they couldn’t get near his face. Then Tufty started getting a bit wobbly on his feet and twitching his head, earning him the nickname, Mister Wobbles. We knew he was getting older and frailer. Yet despite these changes he was eating and drinking well, wagging his tail, and loving his cuddles.

A few months ago, when Simon was getting ready for work, Tufty started barking if he was left alone. Then he started barking randomly, for about half an hour, around two o’clock in the morning. A few weeks later, he started howling and whining, in the evenings or at weekends if Simon went out. It was strange because during the week, after Simon had gone to work, he settled down and was fine. Then Tufty started getting distressed during the week too. It reached the point where he was constantly wandering about, howling or whining, every ten to twenty minutes, for most of the day. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me or take his favourite treats. It was as if I was a stranger he had been left with. For a couple of weeks, we tried herbal remedies, but nothing helped. The only thing that calmed him down was Simon coming home from work. When Simon was at home, Tufty was back to his tail-wagging self.

Having run out of ideas to help Tufty, we took him to the vet. Tufty was not impressed at being examined. When much snarling and snapping did not deter the vet, several attempts were made to nip her hands. When that didn’t work, Tufty went for full poop and wee assault on the examination table. The vet diagnosed doggy dementia. The great news was his heart and lungs are really good for his age. The vet prescribed something to help Tufty relax and help with any age-related pain. She said to stick to his normal routine as much as possible. And so we went to bed that night, hoping and praying that tomorrow would be different. And different it most certainly was.

At seven o’clock in the morning, Tufty had his first tablet in a piece of cheese. Dogs are highly intelligent beings. If Tufty hears a pill bottle being opened, or sees you put something in his treat, he thoroughly sniffs the offered delicacy, then turns his nose up and won’t touch it. If he thinks he is just getting a piece of cheese, it is out your hand and in his tummy before his tastebuds have registered there is something extra. When Simon left for work at eight o’clock, Tufty started barking within a minute of the car pulling away. My heart sank. Then after a few more barks, he stopped. It was as if he was saying, ‘Sod this, I’m too tired for all this barking.’

As I work from home, I stuck to the normal routine and went upstairs to my office. Marmite followed me up, as she usually does, and settled in her basket. As I read my emails, I wondered if Tufty was alright because he was quiet. I was just about to go downstairs to check on him, when he walked into the office, curled up in his basket next to Marmite's, and went to sleep. He woke up an hour later, went out in the garden, and even played with Marmite for a couple of minutes, then they both followed me upstairs and settled in their baskets again. It was going really well. About twelve o’clock, the pain in my lower back was getting worse, and I knew a bath would help relax the muscles.

As I lay back in the hot water and the pain began to ease, I saw Tufty walking past the bathroom doorway, with a large poop plastered to his bottom. I practically vaulted out the bath, which my back reminded me was not the wisest move. I turned on the cold tap to cool the water, wrapped a towel round me, turned the cold tap off, then after finding Tufty picked him up and plonked him in the bath. That was the easy bit. His lips curled before he made it quite clear he was not letting me near his rear-end to sort him out. I got my phone from the office and called Simon. Tufty would not be so much of a handful with Simon there. I did the best I could, by unhooking the shower head and showering his bottom, while keeping my hands at a safe distance. When Tufty started shivering, I knew I needed to get him out of the bath. Bless him, he was so hacked off with me at this point, he wouldn’t let me pick him up. Eventually, I simply threw a bath towel over him and scooped up the snarling bundle.

Once he was on the floor, and had wriggled free of the towel, he started running around wagging his tail, happy as Larry. Meanwhile, I was on my hands and knees, trying to keep my towel wrapped round me, while mopping up the water from the bathroom floor. By now, I was the one shivering and my back was seizing. At one point Marmite wandered into the bathroom, looked at me on all fours, licked my face, then went back to her basket. A couple of minutes later, I heard the front door open, then close.

While Simon ran another bath for Tufty and cleaned him up, I got dressed, took some paracetamol and filled a hot-water bottle. Finally, the dogs were asleep in their baskets, I was sitting at my desk, and Simon was on his way back to work. Not quite the way I intended to spend my lunch break.

Tufty has been on his tablets for about a month now. He is so much happier, and seems to have remembered who I am. He makes eye contact, follows me around and is always ready for a cuddle. A couple of times he has whined at the front door but is easily distracted with a treat. Simon has even managed to cut Tufty's face hair, sniper style. While Tufty is sleeping, Simon takes careful aim with the scissors, then...snip and the scissors are quickly hidden behind Simon’s back. Tufty half-heartedly opens an accusing eye. If he saw the scissors, he would be wide awake readying for battle. But on seeing nothing untoward, he closes his eye again and returns to his doggy dreams.

We know Tufty is coming towards the end of his days. He is our little grumpy pants, and we love him dearly, and will cherish every moment we have left with him. 

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