? 1998 – 28 Sep 2009
A day I never wanted to face has arrived and we have had to say goodbye to our beloved Akita, Annie. So gentle, and so beautiful, she won admirers everywhere she went.
Annie came to us early in 2005 when Neka was less than a year old. We weren't looking for another dog, but a chance long wait in the vet's office brought her to us when she arrived for treatment with an RSPCA handler. We looked at her and she looked at us and we went straight to the RSPCA centre to 'reserve' her, even though they hadn't yet assessed the severity of her hip dysplasia or even whether she would be suitable for re-homing.
Over the next 2 weeks we visited her everyday and took her for walks, getting to know her and trying to determine whether a 33 kilo, middle-aged abandoned Akita could fit in with us, with Neka and with our 2 cats. We need not have worried.
After the first few visits, she would be waiting for me and would drag her handler through the door to greet me. After our walks, she would quietly sit at my feet. One day she headed straight for our van and tried to hop in. It was just right, and so in February she came home with us and immediately claimed her den under the stairs.
We did get off to a slightly shaky start. During the first night she decided she didn't want to stay in the kitchen so with one yank she uninstalled the cat flap from the door. From time to time she also displayed an alarming talent for simply breaking out of metal crates. She never wanted to actually go anywhere, so long as she was with us she was happy.
I had done a lot of reading about Akitas and had sought advice from a few experienced owners and breeders, so we were careful with her at first, learning to read her body language and cautiously approaching introducing her to the cats and to other dogs. Pretty soon she was walking off lead all the time and was beautifully behaved and always eager to please – at least when she wasn't having one of her stubborn moments. At a dog show campground, someone once called “Look out, there's an Akita loose!” Many people leapt to attention to help until someone laughed and said “Oh, it's only Annie.”
At first, as she rolled around on the floor having her tummy scratched, I was afraid when she would open her enormous mouth wide and roll her eyes at me. Sensing my nervousness, she would open that mouth even wider until it was almost big enough to fit a human head. It took me a while to realise that this ferocious looking expression was her soft face and the more nervous I felt, the 'softer' she would make it to put me at ease.
She was great with all people and animals, and so patient with the puppies. However, she did demand her due respect from other dogs. If any dog ever took advantage, she would go up on her toes, head and tail held high as if to say, 'You do know I'm an Akita, right?' and that was all it took. Once, when I was having a crisis with a screaming puppy caught in barbed wire in a field, Annie immediately assessed the situation and stood guard at the gate of the field, letting no person or dog enter until the crisis had passed.
Letting them go when the time comes is the last important act of love you perform for them. You owe it to them to make sure there is no needless suffering, but still I didn't think I could go through with it. In the end, she told us that she had had enough and it was time to go – she stopped eating and didn't even try to get to her feet anymore.
I will miss her during thunder storms when she would seek me out, not because she was disturbed for herself, but to protect me. I will miss her when I'm sitting in the garden during summer evenings when she would stretch out next to my chair on the cool stones. I will miss her on woodland walks where she would suddenly revert to puppyhood to chase the squirrells. And I will miss her everyday lying on her back, feet in the air, snoring next to my desk at work.
I'm so grateful to the wonderful staff at St David's Vet Hospital in Exeter who care for all our animals, and cared for Anniebear right to the end. I was so touched that the nurse who treated Annie the very first time she came in from the RSPCA came again today to assist the vet and say goodbye as well.