Strangers’ surprise helped me say goodbye to my beloved pet Ella

Strangers surprise

by take-a-break |
Updated on

After devastating news, I wanted my beloved Ella to have one final run on the beach. Then something amazing happened. By Sarah Keith, 44

cancer dog's last walk

A soulful pair of brown eyes looked up at me, but I stared straight ahead and said: ‘I’m trying not to look at you!’

In the end though, I couldn’t resist and I gazed down, saying: ‘Oh, you are very pretty.’

The black and white puppy wagged her tail, as if she could both understand and accept the compliment.

Her name was Ella, and she helped out on my best friend Amanda’s family farm — Amanda looked after my husky-collie cross Sebastian during the day, while I was at work.

Only, it had turned out that Ella wasn’t too fussed about herding sheep. So Amanda was looking for a new home for her.

‘Collies are an active breed, so we need someone who’s happy to go out for lots of long walks,’ Amanda told me.

I was sorely tempted.

Cancer dog's last walk

Trouble was, as well as Sebastian, I also had a terrier called Tyler and a Chihuahua named Chico. I wasn’t really looking for a fourth dog.

But I had just moved to a new house surrounded by farm tracks and bridleways, and in the end, Ella proved impossible to resist.

‘I’ll have her,’ I said to Amanda.

I took her home on her first birthday.

Six months later, Sebastian passed away, so taking Ella turned out to be a good decision in lots of ways.

There was an old wives’ tale that said the spots on a dog’s nose indicated their intelligence. And Ella, who had a lot of spots, turned out to be very clever.

She picked up tricks quickly, and always seemed to understand what I wanted her to do.

And although I wasn’t meant to have favourites, Ella was a really good dog. She got on brilliantly with children, and was well-behaved in the car and at the vets.

And she was so affectionate, always sliding over for a wet-nosed cuddle or pressing her warm body against my legs as I sat on the sofa.

And she had one activity she loved more than anything else.

‘Walkies!’ I’d call.

'It's her time, isn't it?'

With that, she’d charge out of of the front door, and hop into the boot of the car. Then we’d drive down to the beach.

There’d be other walkers around with their dogs, and Ella would pelt around the sand with them.

Sadly, as the years passed, Ella developed arthritis, so we weren’t able to go to the beach as much.

Then, out for a walk on New Year’s Day, I noticed a change in her.

Blood tests showed her white blood cell count was up, suggesting an infection. The vet gave her painkillers and antibiotics, which seemed to perk her up.

But within days, she was struggling to eat and her weight had begun to plummet.

Watching Ella struggle, it seemed like the problem might be in her mouth. So the vet took a biopsy of her gums.

A few days later he called with the results and my worst fears were confirmed. It was oral cancer.

‘It’s sometimes treatable,’ the vet said. ‘But that would involve taking bone away from Ella’s jaw, and then she’d need intensive chemotherapy.’

By now she was 12, with established arthritis. Putting her through invasive and painful treatment — which might only buy her another six months — seemed wrong.

She’d already lost a quarter of her body weight. I couldn’t watch her suffer any more.

‘It’s her time, isn’t it?’ I said tearfully.

‘We’ll book her in to be put to sleep on Monday,’ the vet agreed.

Cancer dog's last walk

I was heartbroken, and immediately I knew I wanted Ella to have one final walk in the place she’d loved the most.

So I put a post on Facebook page, explaining that Ella had been diagnosed with cancer and would be put to sleep two days later.

I’d love to organise one last run for her, on the beach at Fraisthorpe, before she makes her final journey, I wrote. She’s been restricted in recent years as I’ve tried to protect her from the wear and tear and worsening of her arthritis, but now it doesn’t matter and I’ve love for her to go out with a bang…

Before long I was getting replies from friends, explaining that they’d like to be there for me, but couldn’t because it was a Monday and they’d be working.

I understood, and felt grateful when Amanda’s daughter Savannah said she’d bring her working Cocker spaniel Elf along.

I noticed the post was getting shared quite a lot, but I didn’t expect many people would make the journey for a dog they didn’t know.

On the Monday, we set off from our home in Hull, East Yorkshire, and travelled down to Fraisthorpe Beach.

In the car park, there were a few people with dogs milling about. Then a woman stepped forward.

‘Are you Sarah?’ she asked.

I was a bit confused as the woman walked alongside me to the beach. Then I saw the crowd of 30 or so strangers with dogs, waiting for us.

Suddenly, I couldn’t stop the tears. I knew they were there for Ella.

I’d dosed Ella up on painkillers so her arthritis wouldn’t bother her, and she quickly bounded off with a group of other collies, tail wagging furiously, looking for all the world like a puppy once more.

It was so brilliant.

Most of the other owners kept a respectful distance, but one lady handed me a heart she’d embroidered with ‘Ella’s Beach Walk’ and the date, and a couple of others came over to offer hugs.

We stayed on the beach for an hour, then I took Ella back to the car to give her a drink and checked she was OK.

She was still raring to go, so I left Tyler in the car, and Ella and I had a quiet walk by ourselves.

I’d known she’d be sore and tired once the adrenaline and painkillers had worn off, so I’d timed the walk in order to take her to the vet’s straight after.

She managed to walk into the surgery herself, but she was very wobbly and weak.

As the vet injected her back leg I held Ella’s front paw, stroked her head, and told her how much I’d miss her.

Then I felt her last breath on my face.

Back at home I got Facebook messages and even keepsakes from all over the world. My post had been shared an incredible 1200 times.

I was awed by the kindness of so many strangers.

Now I have Ella’s ashes at home and I’ve sent a lock of her fur to be set in a resin ornament.

I still miss her desperately. But thanks to a group of people I’d never met, she had a whale of a time on her last day on Earth.

I’ll always be grateful for that special final walk.

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