When I was really tiny, before my little brother was even born (I am five and a half years older), my parents had a dog called Susie. Susie was a medium sized, black and white patterned mongrel. I only really have one memory of her that I can recollect, even though to this day I always think of her fondly.
I was about 4 or 5 and I woke up very early one morning before my parents were up. I slipped out of bed and made my way down the stairs where there was a baby gate across the bottom step. I sat there looking through the baby gate, feeling really independent and grown up about having gone somewhere on my own, and Susie the dog, who was on the other side, padded over to see me. I bravely stuck my hand through the bars and stroked her head. I sat like that for a while, feeling how soft her fur was, and she sat there content to be made a fuss of, and I remember thinking that I must have had a special understanding with Susie even though I was a little bit nervous that she might suddenly try and bite me (she seemed much bigger than me at the time, even though I am certain I would be surprised at how small she really was if I saw her today).
The memory just ends there – I think my mum might have found me perched at the bottom of the stairs. That was the last time I remember seeing Susie, and some time later (I don’t know how long passed), mum sat me down and explained that she was very sorry but Susie had been put to sleep. I understood what this meant, and I remember being upset and asking her why. Mum told me that she was dangerous and that she might bite people, so they had no choice. She told me she wouldn’t have felt any pain and it was the best thing for everyone that way.
Although this was horrible news at the time, I just accepted mum’s word, and never questioned the decision. For the whole of my life I have always remembered that morning and wondered if perhaps Susie knew I was a tiny child and kept her temper even though I stuck my arm through the bars of my own cage to touch her.
Years later, when I was in my mid-twenties, my mum raised the subject of Susie completely out of the blue and asked me, with a haunted look in her eyes, if I had ever forgiven her for what she had done to the dog. She told me she had worried about it every day since and tortured herself with the guilt and the thought that I might hate her for what she did.
I told her exactly how I remembered it – that I understood it was just something that had to be done. That I had not ever, not once, thought that it was her “fault”, and it was a distant memory to me that had left no scars. After some reassuring she seemed to believe me and neither of us have ever mentioned it since. It pains me to think that my mum carried this guilt around for 20 years without mentioning it. That she thought she had done something so awful, I would never forgive her. And that she didn’t realise that I would have accepted her explanation without question, without resentment and with love, whatever the explanation was, simply because she was my mum.