'Dusty has barely lifted her head this morning. I don't think she can carry on like this for much longer. But I've committed to this tour. I don't know what to do.'
'As I've told you before,' says Dan in the manner of a resigned parent talking to a wayward child, 'if you're going to shirk your responsibility by going away and leaving your dog, then you have to give me the power to do what I see fit while she's in my care.'
'So are you saying you're happy to have her in this state, and to organise euthanasing or euthanizing her or whatever it's called if I do go away?' I ask.
'I don't think "happy" quite captures it, but yes, don't worry about it. But don't complain if you come back and find she's not here.'
Call Sandy, the horse vet who lives in the village, to ask about procedures. She'll be passing by at lunchtime, she says cheerily, and she'll pop in on her way by.
'It definitely looks like a tumour,' says Sandy, the minute she sees Dusty. She runs her hand down Dusty's bony spine and over her jutting hips. 'She's wasting away,' she says, 'and all this oedema must be caused by something pressing on her blood vessels. It is unusual, though. I've never seen anything quite like this. You could ask your vet to do a post mortem. It'd be interesting to know.'
'But will they have to open her up?'
'How else are they going to do it?' she laughs.
I grimace. 'That's horrible. I couldn't do that to her.'
'I think you have to take the view,' she says, 'of when they're dead, they're dead. If she were a horse, she'd be skinned and chopped up and sent off to France to be eaten.'
'That's horrible!' I can't believe these country people. 'What actually happens,' I venture, 'when you have a dog euthanased or -ized or whatever it is? Could they do it at home?'
'You can ask if your vet will do a home visit, but normally you'd take her in as they'll need a nurse. They have to find a vein. Then they give her the injection and put her in the freezer until the van comes round to collect the dead animals for the weekly incineration.'
'Put her in the freezer?' I am horrified. I'm not having Dusty shoved in a deep freeze and then shovelled into the incinerator with a tangle of dead bodies. It's like the Holocaust. It's dehumanising. I feel tears welling up. She's been such a good, beloved dog all her life. Then in death, she's just lumped on the funeral pyre. Is that all she's worth?
'Can't she be buried in the garden?' I sniff. The problem is, there's only a little vegetable patch and a handkerchief of lawn in my garden. And it's not actually my garden. I couldn't really bury my dog in their veggie patch. It wouldn't go down very well when they're digging up their potatoes.
'You can do that,' says Sandy, 'as long as you can find somewhere to bury her, away from the water supply. It's a lot of digging - you need to go six feet deep. Or maybe that's just for horses.'
She waves jauntily as she heads off. I feel floored. I go back to Dusty and stroke her soft ears. She still hasn't moved. She's breathing heavily, but her eyes are wide open. I don't know what to do.
'Sandy says if we take Dusty in to the vet's to be euthanased or -ized they'll put her in a freezer until they've got enough dogs to chuck in the incinerator,' I bleat. 'But they might be able to do a home visit. Maybe you could find a nice spot in your garden...?'
'You can't expect someone else to have her put down and then tell them how to do it,' he says coolly.
'So you're telling me you won't be digging a six-foot hole in your garden?'
'You're telling me I'm not!' he says. 'I'm not convinced I'd do it for Digger, even.'
'Ironically,' I say drily. I tell him about Sandy suggesting I have a post mortem. 'But I don't want her slit open,' I say. 'And apparently you have to pay, unless they want to do it anyway, in the interests of medical science. I'd have thought they could just scan her or something.'
'You could take her with you to the airport,' suggests Dan, 'and put her on the conveyor belt and whoosh her through the scan. That would do it. But Terminal 4 isn't exactly a home visit.' He changes tack. 'Anyway, at least it won't be like Bonzy. I took him to the vet for an abscess and came back with an empty collar and lead!'
'Don't,' I wail. And then, curious: 'Did you cry?'
'Of course,' he says. 'You can't not, can you?'
Right. Pack. Lily for school. Me for Vietnam. Dusty for ... for two weeks' holiday with Uncle Dan.