“What about Argos?” I cried, halfway through my vast breakfast of bacon and eggs. Hazel simply thought I’d spent too long in the combine cab, and took no notice.
She hardly noticed when I vanished into the attic as soon as the egg yolks had been licked off the plate by a frenzy of dogs.
But when I reappeared half an hour later, triumphantly bearing not an old shopping catalogue but a moth-eaten copy of Homer’s The Odyssey, she was moved to utter an Ulster version of WTF.
See also: Read more of Charlie Flindt’s columns
The reason (I explained) for my venture up into the musty attic rooms, once home to seven domestic staff but now home to almost everything I’ve ever owned, could be found in the recent licking clean of the plates by the dogs.
It’s now two dogs instead of three. Fred the huge flatcoat made it to his 13th birthday in July, at which point one of his many tumours burst (Flatcoat owners nodding in sad appreciation of this).
Company for Granny Flindt
The next day, poor old Graeme the vet had the horrible job, for the second time in 12 months, of putting down a much-loved dog. And the one he’d put to sleep last year was only five.
What’s been bugging me, as another bag of ashes joins Granny Flindt on the office shelf, is this: why don’t dogs die of old age any more? We ran through the list of dogs – and cats – we’ve owned.
Apart from the tumours, there were seizures, the occasional incontinences – but among the dogs, not one “died peacefully in its sleep”.
Most of the cats have fallen victim to the road – and that’ll never improve as the white settlers speed through in their SUVs – or just vanish.
Martha – dear old Martha – made it into her twenties, and one day curled up in the lean-to and lay stock still. I went to stroke her and there was a hiss of disapproval. The next day she was dead.
I’m sure that in my youth, dogs lived well into their late teens, and then we’d come home from school to be told that they’d died.
Ripe old age
In less sentimental days, of course, an ancient and knackered dog would find itself tucking into a surprise bowl of its favourite treats on a mysteriously open bit of ground, blissfully unaware of the snapping-shut of a nearby twelve bore or the closing of a rifle bolt.
“A keeper’s death” I think they call it, and having spent some months trying to persuade myself that our two flatcoats didn’t actually know what was going on as the needle went in, I wonder if I could have pulled a trigger on dear old Fred. “No” is the answer.
But what of Argos? Argos was Odysseus’ beloved hunting dog, a legend in the field, but left behind as his master spent 10 years fighting the Trojan wars and a further 10 years battling against malevolent gods, trying to get home.
When he finally gets home, Odysseus hears that his palace is full of suitors, all lusting after his fabulous wife Penelope. Granted a disguise by Athena, Odysseus makes his way to the palace.
Outside, on a muckheap, lies Argos, now more than 20, flea-ridden and decrepit. Somehow he recognises his master, he drops his ears and wags a pathetic tail – and then dies.
All Odysseus can do is shed a silent tear, to maintain the disguise, and then goes all Tarantino on the suitors. OK, it’s a story, and it’s 2,800 years old, but dogs did once die of a ripe old age. Why don’t they any more?