"I strongly suggest you get used to the idea that she's not long for this world," said my father as he gently patted our old dog, Shirl.
She had taken the opportunity of a sympathetic ear to bury her face in my father's lap with a gentle sigh. I had just told my father that she'd slowed down so much that she could no longer manage her daily walk, had developed a crippling limp, and was sleeping a lot.
"She's on her way out," he said.
"But she's only 10," I said. I have friends whose dogs leapt and chased until the ripe old age of 15.
"Ah, but she's a working dog," he said. It is true that our dog is half huntaway and half retriever. She's a very big black dog, which is one of her main appeals, as is her retriever habit of cuddling. The minute you sit down Shirl will sit next to you and slowly lean in like a building with bad foundations until you find yourself putting your arm around her for a full-on cuddle.
My father was suggesting that the end would be sooner rather than later for my old dog - despite the homeopathic treatments, raw-food diet and comfy dog bed I bought her for $149. I could have whipped it up myself on the sewing machine but I would never have had the satisfaction of assuaging my guilt over my dog's health by handing over so much cash.
"Show Grandpa your poor old limp," I said to Shirl.
She limped over to me, barely managing one foot after the other, staggering. A lot more disabled than she had been minutes before he arrived.
"Doesn't look good," he said.
My Dad once did some veterinary training and has always had an attitude with animals that they'll look after themselves. "No need to take them to the vet. Let nature take its course," he says.
Thus my childhood cat, Pizza - who, naturally, I had deserted when I went flatting - simply stood in my parent's carport, let out a long wail goodbye then conveniently disappeared to die. No vet's bill.
Now it seemed it would be Shirl's turn. Enter Kitty.
She is our eldest cat and about to turn 15.
We knew this because she and her siblings were born under our bed on the morning of a Michael Jackson concert in 1996.
This was a big day in our house because we had managed to secure tickets for all four children to go to the concert and kept it a big surprise until we dropped them off at the stadium. We kept all five kittens, letting each child claim one.
But the mother ran away closely followed by two of the kittens. We kept three, gave away one and then the other was stolen, or so we believe.
On the day when we decided Shirl might indeed be past it, Kitty bounded down the hall, leapt up on the bed with all the energy of a kitten and meowed heartily before setting upon and giving a good beating to our two younger cats.
Shirl looked up from her expensive orthopaedic bed and got with the programme.
The limp is no more, the staggering is gone. Our Shirl is back.