Debra Clarke of Bonnells Bay reckons dogs have bucket lists, too | photos

WHEN Debra Clarke was told in December that her 13-year-old labrador Abby had a tumour and could soon die, she set about treating her pet to a doggie bucket list.

So Abby was driven to Wangi Wangi to watch a sunset, went surfboard riding at Catherine Hill Bay, and took a boat ride to Swansea where she could chase the seagulls.

“I felt I had just two months to do it in. We even set a date in February for Abby to be put down,” Mrs Clarke said.

Abby’s condition appeared to deteriorate in January, and so the date for her fatal injection was brought forward to January 30.

Mrs Clarke said one night Abby’s breathing became laboured, and she was gurgling. When the vet, Dr Andrew Clarke, of Bonnells Bay Animal Hospital, listened down the phone line to Abby’s distressed respiration he came straight out to assess Abby's condition in case she was in pain.

He decided to postpone the euthanasia that night, but arranged to call back the next morning.

Neighbours sent sympathy cards and arrived at the front door with flowers.

Mrs Clarke and her husband, Brian, prepared for the end.

That night, they watched what they thought would be their last sunset with Abby. They served her a fancy breakfast. They even let her lie on their bed.

But then something extraordinary happened.

“By the time Andrew came out the next morning, Abby’s breathing had improved,” Mrs Clarke said.

Dr Clarke observed Abby for a while and said that he didn’t feel it necessary to put her down while she appeared so comfortable.

He recommended postponing the euthanasia as Abby still had a great quality of life, and to follow up with regular red blood cell counts, in case the tumour started to bleed.

“We had Pets at Peace organised to come and pick up Abby’s body on January 30, so we had to call and cancel that, too,” Mrs Clarke said.

It’s now 10 weeks since Abby had been expected to die.

So her bucket list of activities has grown and, with it, so has Mrs Clarke’s creativity.

In fact, Mrs Clarke said she had been inspired to write a book about her experience, and was now photographing Abby’s activities for inclusion in the book.

She has taken Abby to Specsavers where she was photographed getting fitted for glasses (Abby’s sight is failing); and to the office of Wilson Britten Real Estate, in Morisset, to have an appraisal on her kennel.

Abby is a 13-year-old labrador who was diagnosed in December with an inoperable tumour. Picture: Supplied

Abby is a 13-year-old labrador who was diagnosed in December with an inoperable tumour. Picture: Supplied

“We went to the Stadust Circus in Maitland the other night and went for a ride in the Tea Cup,” Mrs Clarke said.

“We’ve been to Bunnings for a sausage sandwich. And we go to McDonald’s now once a month for a Happy Meal.”

Abby also enjoys snacking on soft-serve ice-creams when she’s out and about.

But the fast-food and desserts are only “sometimes” foods.

“It’s the funniest thing, at home I’ve been feeding her all sorts of healthy foods in the hope of slowing the cancer down,” Mrs Clarke said.

That includes flaxseed, fish oil, ginger, basil and cinnamon.

“And she’s fallen in love with coconut water. She doesn’t like to drink normal water any more.”

Music has also been a part of the process.

Mrs Clarke put some headphones on Abby so that she could listen to Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog.

The dog was apparently keen on the song, but not a fan of headphones.

Abby was more comfortable when dressed as Little Red Riding Hood for a photo shoot.

And on the day the Lakes Mail visited, Abby had her nails painted, and was sporting a floral colar.

The fairy lights installed on her kennel was another cute touch.

Abby apparently likes to watch the rugby league on television. Her favourite team is the Bulldogs.

So Mrs Clarke has put in a request to the Canterbury club to have Abby attend one of their NRL matches.

“Everywhere I’ve gone, there’s not been one person who’s been negative,” Mrs Clarke said.

“And as I spoke with different people, many of them were interested and thought the book was a novel idea.

“I’ve always thought outside the square.”

Mrs Clarke described the last four months as an emotional rollercoaster.

Asleep with her favourite teddy bear. Picture: Supplied

Asleep with her favourite teddy bear. Picture: Supplied

Abby’s diagnosis and prognosis had been devastating.

And Mrs Clarke subsequent research online about the condition was unsettling. Dr Google’s bedside manner needs some work, she reckons.

“Research can be good, but it can totally freak you out,” she said.

Mrs Clarke said the bucket list had been all about creating memories.

But she’s aware that there will come a day when the fun will have to stop.

As long as Abby continued to bounce around with excitement on hearing the words “drive” and “walk” then Mrs Clarke said she would continue to expand on the bucket list.

“When she gets to the stage where she doesn’t want to go anywhere, then it’s game over,” she said.

In the meantime, Mrs Clarke is asking locals to help extend the bucket list.

Suggestions can be emailed to

She has also launched a GoFundMe campaign for the book:

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