Oreo limped down the street. His hind right leg was dragging badly now, but he still loved his daily walks. Sarah had got him as a puppy, the only living pup in a litter of three, born one December in the corner of the Millers’ garage. The bitch had abandoned the litter, and Oreo’s siblings had died within a few hours of birth, but little Molly Miller had refused to let Oreo go. She’d nursed him with baby formula and one of her own old bottles, carried him around in a sling she’d made from an old scarf, and generally treated him like one of her dolls. She’d been heartbroken when her mum had said they couldn’t keep him. When Sarah came round to collect him, Molly had cried for hours, even though Sarah promised she could visit any time she liked, and had even agreed to keep the name Oreo, given to the pup because of the white band around his black midriff.

Oreo missed Molly’s visits. She had come round every weekend for the last 12 years, but now, she’d moved to London to study history. He missed her cuddles, which completely disregarded the stink emanating from his aging body. Sarah was affectionate, and looked after him well, but Molly could make him feel half his age with her boundless teenage energy, unhampered by the trials and tribulations of employment, mortgages, or aging and distant parents.

He sniffed a tree, catching the scent of that idiot greyhound from the next street over. Cocking a leg, he added his own spray to the mix. He may not be able to outrun him, but he could out-piss him any day of the week.

‘Oreo! Heel!’

He limped back to Sarah, walked into her leg (his depth perception had been getting worse over the last few months since his stroke, and he spent half his life bumping into things), and nosed her hand for a treat. She ruffled his head distractedly, and slipped him a dog treat from her pocket. She’d started buying those ‘fresh breath’ dog treats, but they didn’t seem to make any difference.

God she loved that stinky old hound, but she knew she couldn’t take him with her. The flight to New Zealand was too long, she couldn’t stand the thought of him dying alone in the hold. She wished there was another way, but she had no choice, her dad had said it was a matter of weeks. If only she’d gone sooner, she’d been saying she was going to move back for years and putting it off, but she’d refused to believe things could be that bad.

Poor Oreo, he’d been so confused by the boxes around him these last weeks, bumping his way from room to room, sniffing at the packing peanuts, getting tangled in the bubble wrap, and generally making a nuisance of himself. If only there was some way to explain to Molly, but Sarah knew she’d never forgive her. She didn’t know how weak he’d become, how confused, how pungent. She’d have to just write to her, she could mail the letter from the airport. ‘Old age’? ‘Natural causes’? how to phrase it…

They reached the door to the vet’s surgery, and Oreo sniffed the air. Hmmm, this was new…