The last time we lost a dog was at the end of November 2011 when our beloved Leonberger, Max who was a month shy of his 11th birthday, departed this earth. To be nearly 11 was quite an achievement for a dog of his breed because 8 – 10 years is the expected lifespan and some don’t make it past 8 or 9. We feel blessed then, to have had him for as long as we did and to have experienced the joy of having him in our lives. Of course, he was not the first dog we have had to say goodbye to, nor will he be the last, but even today, I still wish I could see him again.
Every time we lose a loved pet, the grief is the same. We never get used to it. We find ourselves wondering why we are so willing to put ourselves through this kind of pain time and time again. Some of us swear there will be no more animals because we can’t go through the grief again, but I guess most of us will eventually succumb to acquiring another. I have done and will probably continue to do so until I am too old to have a pet any longer.
Let's face it - we know, don’t we, from the first day an animal comes into our lives that almost certainly, unless we are elderly ourselves, we are going to outlive that animal (with the exception of a parrot, which of course may well outlive us). From the very first moment that we become attached and lose our heart we know that we are setting ourselves up for grief somewhere down the line. However, we are more than willing to trade the future grief for the joy and love our pet will give us no matter how long or short that time will be.
Some of us are lucky to have our pets for more years than others. With a giant breed such as Leonbergers, we can only expect around 10 years. Some giant breeds such as the Great Dane, have a much shorter life span. With a smaller dog, a cat, a horse or a parrot, we can expect far longer. But we know the dreadful day is going to come when we will be called upon to make a decision we have been dreading since the first day we brought our pet home.
I think for many of us there is the fervent hope that our pet will, when it has become old, die in its sleep so as to avoid the decision altogether. I think people who experience this are very lucky. I have always secretly hoped for this but it has never happened. Even before the event, our worry is whether we will know “when the right time” has come.
I sincerely believe that our pet tells us when the time has come. I believe that for most of us, there seems to be an unspoken moment when we exchange a look with our pet, and we just know without a doubt that this is it and we must make the decision. I believe that sometimes we put off the decision because we just want to keep our pet with us for a little longer. I have been in that scenario. Looking back on it now I realise I was being entirely selfish, but given the emotion I was experiencing at the time, I can see why I put it off.
That decision sometimes feels like a betrayal of the love and friendship our friend has given us over the years. We may feel very guilty afterwards and torture ourselves with questions about whether we did the right thing. Was it the right time; maybe we should have waited a little longer? Logic and reason in these circumstances can fly out of the window. What we knew for sure before saying goodbye, seems less clear now.
I believe that making the decision to take our pet out of pain and suffering is the last loving thing we can do for them no matter how heartbreaking and devastating it is for us. Your arms around him or her should be the last thing they feel, and the comforting sound of your voice should be the last thing that your friend hears. You will be the last thing your pet smells before taking a last breath in this world, and travelling on to the next. I would urge that if at all possible, your pet is sent on their final journey in the comfort of their own home and familiar surroundings, not in the sterile and for some pets, frightening atmosphere of a vet office. I believe this makes the event far less traumatic for both pet and owner.
Of course, I also know, doing the job I do, I have set myself up for a whole raft of sadness in the future. I am very attached to many of my boarding dogs, especially those that stay with me a lot and who regard me as their substitute mum. In the last few years, some have taken that last breath in this world and I have shed tears for all of them. Dogs that were young when I started up, are now quite old. Time seems to pass in the blink of an eye.
I always find that mostly, to know a dog is to love it. If you are a dog person, how can you not?
I was so devastated when we lost Max that I thought no other dog of our own would ever be as special. It took me a long time to feel able to welcome another Leonberger into our home. And yet, 18 months later, in 2013 we welcomed Juno at 8.5 weeks. She turned 6 this year. Bella came to us at 2yrs old in 2014. They are both special beyond words.
And so, the cycle of joy and pain began again……