It is with some difficulty that I am writing this post, because thinking about losing Hamish still moves me to tears.

Hamish was a Gordon Setter – a big, beautiful black and tan dog with a heart like a marshmallow and a passion for tennis balls that passed all understanding. It was just under two months ago, on Friday 9th of May – my beloved father’s birthday – that he passed away, on a warm spring day with the bluebells and rhododendrons in full, glorious bloom. He would have been ten in September.

On that Monday he had been happy, healthy, splashing about in Llyn Brenig with his friend Lexie. On Tuesday evening he ate his turkey but didn’t seem interested in his biscuits. I wasn’t unduly concerned, but on Wednesday my instincts told me he just wasn’t well, so I phoned the vet. I could see that the inside of his eyelids – he had very baggy eyes – was very pale, which just didn’t seem right. I couldn’t get an appointment till 4.30, which worried me but not knowing what was wrong, I waited… Now I wonder if that was a bad decision. I have wondered many things since that day.

When we went in, a short walk before his appointment produced a stool with blood in it – which I took along to show the vet. She took blood samples, and said to call her back if he got worse – she prescribed, as I recall, some interesting goo to calm his stomach and antibiotics. At that stage, none of us knew what was wrong.

That night, he wasn’t interested in his food. I squirted some of the goo into his mouth as instructed, and that was all he had to eat. Other than that he slept, and when he got up to go to bed he was wobbly. I phoned the vet, and at 11pm we were back at the surgery, where she did the blood tests on the spot. I could see from her face that the news wasn’t good.

She also looked at the inside of his lip, which was pale, almost  yellow and said that was typical of IMHA. This, I now know, stands for immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia, which is where the body’s white blood cells turn against the red blood cells and attack them. She gave him steroids straight away (I know now this was prednisone), and broke the news then that only 50% of dogs survive this terrible disease. Hamie stayed in overnight with her watching over him. I worried about him, of course, he had terrible separation anxiety, but what can you do if your dog is terribly ill?

Through the next day, the news was in turns good and bad – he had responded a bit, then he didn’t seem to be responding. He stayed in on Thursday night too – all I could do was to cry and send healing wishes in the direction of the surgery. On Friday, the vet said he wasn’t responding well and we went in to see him as soon as we could.

I was shocked by how weak and ill he looked – poor Hamie, our lovely big bouncy boy, so poorly he couldn’t stand… The expression in his eyes broke my heart and still does, when I think of it now. The vet suggested we take him to the Small Animal Hospital in Liverpool and my husband went home to clear the back of the car to carry him. When he returned Hamish was carried out, with his drip, and placed carefully on his comfortable dog bed, and we set off, Mark fretting about finding the place but luckily my phone turned out to have a sat-nav app. I vaguely remember the journey and how hard I tried to make sure we didn’t take any wrong turns, and we didn’t.

It made no difference. I rushed to book him in, but as we went to get him from the back of the car I could see how weak he was – he was lying down, panting heavily, his big head hung low. I just knew – I pleaded with him to stay with us, feeling his heart still beating in his chest and willing him on… He just put one of his big paws gently into my husband’s hand, and died. 

There is a blur, where the hospital rushed him in and tried to revive him, and then I remember a vet gently telling us that he hadn’t survived. She said he had probably suffered a blood clot – it’s the most common cause of death with this illness. Something unrecoverable, she said. And I remember the bluebells, and the rhododendrons on that terrible, empty journey home. 

I am writing this with tears running down my face, but I have to write it. He was the best, most wonderful of dogs, and there is a huge gap where he used to play, and rush round making sure everything was right in the world of Hamish. He was so sweet, so kind, so gentle and loving, and this cruel, awful disease cut him down and took him from us in a matter of days.

I am haunted by memories and fears – fear that I did something that could have caused this, though the cause is often unknown. Fear that I should have spotted something was wrong sooner, or taken him to the hospital earlier. All sorts of things. I would give anything to have him back. His friend Lexie – his aunt – misses him dreadfully, as we do. I don’t think that terrible gap can be healed.

But what I would say, I would beg people if you see your dog has unexplained bruising, a pale inner eye or lip, bloody stools, lack of appetite or weakness, do go to your vet. Don’t wait. And if your dog is found to have IMHA, try to get the best possible help as soon as possible. I will never know if I could have done more – if I could have done something to save him. I have to live with that, if I can.

Goodbye, my darling boy. I miss you more than I can say. 

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