The one sad thing about dogs, as we all discover sooner or later, is that they do not live as long as we do. At some point, no matter how careful you are about fleas, worms and other hazards, you have to say goodbye.

This often involves the painful decision that your beloved mutt needs to be helped on his way. As long ago as the 19th century, according to Axel Munthe (The Story of San Michele – a good book though somewhat downranked by current critics) it was already customary to get your vet to do this for you.

tim's dog
Kiki. Photo: Tim Hamlett.

Munthe is rather critical of the euthanasia methods then current, and suggests instead that you should take your elderly dog for a walk in the park with a favourite bone … and a revolver. What you are supposed to do with the resulting dead dog he does not say. But in those days dead horses, abandoned where they had dropped in the street, were a serious municipal waste problem. So perhaps the odd canine corpse would pass unnoticed.

The first parental pooch I remember was a Dalmatian called Lucy. When, I presume, she died my brother and I were – as was customary in those days – considered too young for the awful truth. We were told she had emigrated to the Isle of Man. I swallowed this whole.

In Hong Kong there is a curious wrinkle. Vets who do not usually make house calls – at least for small animals – will volunteer to do the Last Injection in your home. I suppose this is preferable to having customers leaving the office, distraught and dogless, in front of the other customers.

Our last departure was a bit more elaborate, because the dog, Kiki, had been in and out of the City U dog hospital (or Veterinary Medical Centre, in its official terminology) for months. Sensing that things had taken a turn for the worse we had checked her in again and she stayed overnight in the Intensive Care Unit. The City U centre is the Adventist Hospital of Dogs – it is very well equipped and quite expensive.

The next morning I was woken by a call from the ICU saying that things had not gone well and we should hurry to the bedside. By the time we got to the ICU it was clear that there was no hope. Vital signs were all over the place and it was time to end the suffering. To which we agreed.

CityU veterinary medical centre
Photo: LinkedIn.

We were then passed on to a lady I had not met before who seemed to be the Soon-to-be-bereaved-Parent-Whisperer. She explained the procedure and we were ushered into a delicately named “Family Room,” whose purpose was rather given away by a copious supply of tissues and a little pile of leaflets from pet cremation services.

Your dog is wheeled in and transferred to a small shelf. She is already fitted with the tube in her leg through which the drugs will be administered, rather along the lines of American capital punishment by lethal injection. We were then supposed to have ten minutes together before the send-off, but after five minutes Kiki disrupted this plan by dying without medical assistance.

So we had a brief medical visit to confirm that no further help was required, the tube was removed and Kiki was rearranged in a tactfully comfortable-looking position. And after some farewell looks you sort out the cremation service, tidy up the financial arrangements and go home, feeling awful and wondering if there was something else you could have done.

Two days later a little surprise: there appeared in the mail a card, with a handwritten message of consolation, signed by the various people at the dog hospital who had worked on Kiki. I do not know if they do this for all their deceased clients or if Kiki had accumulated a fan club during her numerous visits. Either way, it was a nice gesture and I appreciated it. 

I don’t know how this affects other dog owners but I always spend a day or two thinking I never want to risk having to experience again the emotional upheaval of losing a furry friend. Then you gradually notice that there is a dog-shaped hole in your life and start thinking about filling it.

We lasted a week. The new dog is an affectionate mongrel called Lemon.

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Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.