When Dave and I were first dating I lived in an old two bedroom cottage with a friend. Close to the City, with a sprawling yard, the timber house had polished wooden floors and no fly screens. My cat, Seth, came and went as he pleased. Nineteen years old and completing a fine arts degree at University, I came and went much like the cat.
As the romance became serious, the end of University moved closer and the beginning of work uncertainty loomed. Regardless, I had my heart set on the addition of another pet. A dog. I was wisely advised against such a prospect, given my lack of stability. A dog would rule out apartment living. A dog meant expense. A dog meant responsibility. And yet, one day I announced to Dave that I had found my dog. An advertisement in the newspaper for a giveaway caught my eye. A Rhodesian Ridgeback cross. I was quite certain, sight unseen, that he was to be my dog. Perhaps it was the name of the breed that captured my imagination, as I had no idea what sort of dog that was, but I called immediately and told them I was on my way.
That was twelve years ago. I had fallen in love with him immediately and never regretted my decision. Not long after that, as it happened, my friend moved out and my other love moved in. Dave, Seth the cat, Odin the dog and I became a family. When we would walk Odin, Seth would trot along behind us. The neighbours smiled and waved at the sight of our black cat following us down the street, the bell on his collar tinkling. I remember that if we wanted to go for a long walk, we would have to lock the cat in the house, for fear of loosing him.
Seth, being older and surely wiser, asserted his dominance in the relationship from the beginning. He was not prepared to let size, or the traditional dog and cat roles, play any part in their relationship. He would sit upon the coffee table and swat Odin with his outstretched paw should the dog draw too close. Odin soon learnt that the cat was boss. He didn't even dare look at the cats bowl of food. Just as he became incredibly protective of us though, so he did of Seth.
We brought our first house the week before we were married. We spent longer on our honeymoon than we had spent living in our new home and we could not wait to return and get the renovations underway. I'll never forget the sickening feeling of coming home from work one day to find Odin no longer in the yard. It was the first of several times I walked the streets around our home, calling his name, hoping that he would come running back to me. A broken paling, an open gate, a storm. He was prone to wander but always returned.
I remember taking Odin camping. Once, when it rained, we slept in Dave's van. A single mattress laid out in the back, the two of us pressed uncomfortably against the indent of the tyre, while Odin slept soundly on his half of the bed. I remember my brother walked Odin to the shops once to get a movie. As we watched the film upon his return, a lady from the council called to ask if someone had forgotten something at the shops? My guilty brother ran up the road to retrieve Odin from where he had been left, tied to a pole, outside the video shop. Odin seemed pleased with the food and attention he had been receiving as he waited. I remember Odin always following me around the house, from room to room. His tail occasionally knocking things over in happiness. I remember the broken door handle in the bathroom and how he would push the door open and sit on the bath mat while we showered. I remember how he never could catch a ball, always missing and having to chase it.
Each time I fell pregnant it was as if he knew. He would sit closer to me. Follow me more often. Wait by the door to be let in. When we brought Cohen home there was no jealousy. Instead, Odin guarded Cohen's door and would let no one past without my approval. As Cohen grew, Odin was patient and tolerant. He would walk with the pram, then with the push trike and eventually with Cohen. I recall walking on a golf green with my three boys. Dave and I laughed as Cohen attempted to walk Odin. He would pick up Odin's leash, fall over, run after Odin and pick it up again.
As Cohen and Odin both got older we walked Odin less and less. Arthritis started to affect his back legs and he would stretch painfully after a long walk. Instead he would sit on his cushion on the deck, or his pillow inside the house and watch the goings on around him. His brindle colouring got lighter, his muzzle greyer.
By the time we moved here, into our third house and we had our second child, we could no longer walk Odin at all. He saved his energy for playing in the yard with Cohen, barking at dogs being walked down the street and chasing possums at night. He would watch from the gate as the four of us walked from the house and the cat would watch from the balcony, no longer interested in walking with us either. He spent his days on his cushion on the deck, still a member of the family.
Tonight as I write this, the cat is curled beside me on the couch, but Odin's spot on the deck is empty. Today, we said our final good bye. This past six weeks Odin's health has deteriorated rapidly. Little by little he was slipping away from us and experiencing more and more pain. Yesterday the Vet confirmed that they suspected he had cancer and that nothing could be done. We could only do what would be kindest for Odin.
Saying goodbye was more difficult than I had imagined. After twelve years with us and so much love and history, I was a mess. We had grown up together. He meant so much to all of us. Trying to explain to Cohen that Daddy would be taking Odin to the Vet because he was sick, and Odin wouldn't be coming back, was just as heartbreaking. Cohen patted Odin one last time and informed me that, "He's not sick. It's alright. Be happy Mama." Poor Dave drove away as Cohen and I cried and waved. He stayed with him until the end because I knew I could not. When he returned alone Cohen immediately asked him where Odin was. This question has been repeated many times today. When he catches me crying he kisses me and says, "I kiss you Mama and make you happy. No more crying." Tonight, before Cohen fell asleep, he assured me that Odin would be coming home tomorrow. Oh, the hreatbreaking innocence of children.
Friends and family have kept me company. My dear neighbours have brought me flowers. Friends on facebook have left messages of support. And I have written this record for me, for Cohen, for the future, for you.
In the days that come Odin's ashes will be returned to us and we will bury them beneath a lemon tree. We will grieve, share our memories and try to answer the questions of a toddler. Because animals are are such an important part of a family and teach us so much.