RIP Hughie

This is a picture I took of Hughie. For a little guy, he sure made a huge impact on us. Hughie died yesterday and he took a big chunk of our hearts with him.

Hughie was the sixth member of our household. In fact, the animals outnumber the humans by a fair margin. There’s two of us, three cats and until recently, two dogs.

Hughie was a rescue dog and was brought into the house by my partner, Colette. What little we know about Hughie is that he came from a pound and his immediate future was not looking too flash. The word had gone out through the usual channel of caring souls and Colette put her hand up to take on this little bloke for a couple of weeks until he was able to get right and find a loving home.

We already have a rescue dog, so we know the deal. Yota is a beautiful young lady – an Australian Koolie – who came from the bush and had been mistreated and neglected. Today, she is strong, muscular, loves to run and goes ‘Woo woo’ when we take her to the park and her confidence skyrockets as her working-dog personality regains its natural place in the universe. To see the change from a dog that cowered at the slightest noise, had rope burns around her neck, wouldn’t eat and could hardly see because she was so undernourished is to feel a wonderful pleasure that is new to me but has been a lifelong passion for Colette.

I have to say it feels pretty damn good to rescue an animal from an untimely end or a brutal existence at the hands of some uncaring arsehole. I guess that’s made it all the harder to lose Hughie. Based on a hundred percent success rate with one rescue dog, you think you see the path clearly. Patch ‘em up, give them lots of love and attention, look after their doggy needs and they’ll soon be off to the next owner with a big tick next to their name. It didn’t happen. And that’s really shitty.

For a dog that weighed very little and had trouble standing upright, our Hughie had enough personality for ten big pooches. When Yota came near his food, the little bloke would let fly with a mouthful of yapping that made everyone within earshot freeze and take a step back. Humans included.

Hughie was, as far as we knew, a mini Fox Terrier. It seems that plenty of attitude is hard-wired into such breeds. He had more than most. He also had more issues than most. We will never quite know what had happened to him before he got here, but he had a laundry list of physical difficulties. Nonetheless, we fell in love with him and we knew it would be easy enough for somebody else to do the same.

After a few initial tough days, he seemed to finding his feet and getting about better all the time. He would follow Yota all around the house; his little toenails tick-tick-ticking on the floorboards as he found his rhythm and got going. Hughie was never a 4/4 sort of guy. His beat was irregular, like a jazz soloist flirting between time signatures.

When we took him to another carer’s house for the day, the reports came back that he was mounting all the other dogs and flashing his manhood about for all to see. Three kilos and mainly all testosterone. As a sort of dog-foster-father-figure, I may have been quietly proud.

You could tell though, that he had struggled to get this far. He was achingly thin. His legs were all out of whack. He got tired very quickly. One obvious sign of neglect was that he had very hairy paws. Where normally, the hair between the pads would be worn away from walking, Hughie had a lot of fluff. Clearly, Hughie hadn’t been doing much walking. Maybe he had been in a cage all his life? We didn’t really know.

Hughie was around two years old and weighed three kilos. We had a hard time getting food into him and he also had a hard time getting any food out the other end. He had rickets, a bone-softening disease that comes from lack of sunlight. He would seek out a warm patch in the garden and soak up the sun, as if he was trying to cure himself. On the inside, things were complicated as well.

When I saw Hughie, sometimes I would want to cry. But we thought we could fill that little body with our own hearts and pull him through. The plan was to foster him and prepare him for somebody else. The plan wasn’t to lose him.

Hughie went quickly. On Saturday night, he fell ill. Colette woke early and sat with him, cuddling him to make sure he was warm. We took him to the vet as early as possible and the diagnosis was serious. His breathing was irregular and crackly, indicating pneumonia. He needed urgent attention and some tests. How could this be happening so fast? Then we took him to a second clinic and then to an emergency vet.

In what seemed like no time at all, we were faced with the worst possible outcome. To be told by the vet that he was in terrible shape and going quickly was a huge shock. To have to make the decision to let him go was achingly hard and something we will always remember.

Even the vet was in tears. I had expected her to be detached and professional, but she was obviously affected by us, the situation, and the fading little life force in our arms.

I’m glad we were able to say goodbye and see our friend off. I’m also glad that we got to take him home and put him in the soil in our backyard. It keeps him close to our hearts and reminds us of who he was and what he meant.

Someone once said to me that the emotion that surrounds losing a pet is pure.

Our pets give everything of themselves to us. They are never jealous or spiteful or arrogant or greedy or mean. They just want us to love them and to show us how much they love us.

I believe that Hughie taught us a lot in the short time he was here. He was brave, happy and loving. In spite of everything he had been through. He was a real survivor and he now survives in our memories.

Hughie was special. And I think that the people who help animals are special.

I see this every day through Colette’s amazing energy and tenacity to help just one more animal, by whatever means necessary. This caring, nurturing, unselfish will to reach out and make a difference is a wonderful thing to be a part of.

We miss Hughie and so does Yota.

On behalf of both of us, thank you for giving our little friend a chance to live on in naming the Special Dogs Fund after him.

(Marcus Johnson)

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