Maddie sat in the back seat of the car, calling to Rex, and tapping her knees. The German Shepherd moved, oh so slowly to the open door, a hint of wag in his tail, put both front paws inside the car, and stopped.
''Come on, Rexie. come on, boy!'' she looked up at me, and I could tell that the tears were very close. ''He doesn't want to, Mummy. Can't we take him tomorrow?''
I tightened my lips, not trusting myself to talk, and lifted Rex's back end into the car, where he immediately went over to Maddie and started nuzzling her face. The tears started. Hers and mine. I leaned into the car and stroked my daughter's wet cheek.
''Maddie, sweetheart, you know we have to do it now. We had an extra day with him, so we could all say goodbye, but his life isn't good, is it? He can't eat, he can't run, it's not fair on him.
I had taken Rex to the vet yesterday. He was old, and we had all known that the day would come when we would lose him, but I think we had all turned a blind eye to the signs: Rex was getting thin; he hardly ate anything these days. He didn't want to go for walks. He slept nearly all the time. The vet had examined him and weighed him. He said he'd felt ''something irregular'' on his liver. He would do an x-ray and take some blood and phone me with his findings. I went home and sat, waiting for the call, with very little optimism, but there was a glint of hope. Hope that was dashed within seconds after the vet rang.
''Rex has an abdominal tumour, and the feel of his liver would indicate that it's pretty advanced. We could operate, but I would say that it would just delay the inevitable.''
I didn't hesitate. ''No, he's too old. We couldn't put him through that. But...'' The vet waited, on the other end of the line.
''I hate to ask, but I'd like the children to be able to say goodbye to him.'' I remembered coming home from school when I was ten, to find that our cat had been put to sleep. I didn't want the children to have that feeling, too. But I didn't want Rex to suffer.
''Well...'' said the vet. ''I would say he's not in any pain. Maybe some discomfort, but I don't think it'll hurt him to delay it one more day.'' My relief at hearing this almost overshadowed my sorrow at what would come later. I thanked him and said I'd be there to collect him shortly.
That had been less than twenty-four hours ago. Rex had been pampered and hugged and fussed last night, and the two younger children had left for school after more tearful hugs this morning. Maddie had a day off school, today, and a part of me was glad of it. Maddie had only been a year old when Rex came to us as a puppy, all paws and tongue, and she adored him. I felt it would help her, to be with him now. She was cuddling Rex, in the back of the car, dampening his head with tears which would surely flow again later, and in the days to come.
As I drove towards the vet's my mind replayed all the big events in our lives that Rex had shared. He'd been our friend all his life, and what we were doing was an act of friendship to him.
Maddie and I sat in the waiting room for a few minutes after the nurse took him through, our arms around each other. Then we left, and prepared ourselves for life without our old friend.