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"Some of my friends forgot me when I was sick. He never did." The unique pain of losing a dog.

I have survived losing my hair during chemo and having to endure it growing back again in tight curls, like an old lady perm.

I have survived leaving my premature baby behind in hospital, not once, but twice. I have been sick, been hurt – both physically and mentally, been anxious, been depressed. I have even survived not one, but two of my children having a chronic illness, so why am I so upset at the thought of having to put down the family dog?

Dogs can tell when you’re upset, and they want to help! Post continues after video. 

A bit of background here. We had not thought of getting a dog; our life was frantic enough without a dog. We had tried looking after stick insects, but as they grew their gnarly wooden bodies scared both the kids and myself. No one wanted to get them out of the cage.

In the end, we decided rather than just let them die of neglect, we would release them into a local park. So when some friends of ours packed up to live overseas, we agreed to look after their five-year-old miniature poodle for six months. He came complete with a plush dog bed that was too big for him, a stuffed toy elephant that he’d stolen from their son, and a bad case of anxiety after seeing his family leave him behind.

And when the six months were up, we did not want to pack him up and send him all the way to England, alone. We wanted to keep him, because despite the fact that he refused to be trained by us, Bertie had gotten under our skin. He slowly went from being kept upstairs at night, to down in the laundry, to on the floor of the kids’ bedrooms.

mourning a dog
"We wanted to keep him, because despite the fact that he refused to be trained by us, Bertie had gotten under our skin." Image: Supplied.
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After one holiday down the coast, we discovered that our dog sitter had let Bertie sleep on our bed. That’s where he remained, despite many attempts to get him to sleep on his own bed. So when it was decided that the journey overseas would be too much for him, we were all relieved; he was now part of our family.

And Bertie thought he was one of us, too. He would curl up in bed, next to anyone who was sick, which in our house has been most of the ten years that we had him. He would follow me round the house. Up and down stairs. In and out of rooms. If we accidentally stepped on him, he would yelp followed by instant forgiveness. If we went on holidays, he would wait patiently for us to return, jumping up and down at the door waiting to say hello.

Like all poodles, he was smart. Bertie knew when he was getting washed and would hide as soon as the water was run in the laundry tub. He leapt up from his daybed whenever any cheese or meat product was taken out of the fridge. He knew when he was due a treat, waiting patiently at the cupboard, until someone else worked out what the time was. His expression was almost like “Seriously. How many times do we need to go over this? It’s treat time, remember? Get with the program people.”

"If we went on holidays, he would wait patiently for us to return, jumping up and down at the door waiting to say hello." Image: Supplied.
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As he got more grey hair, I would block my ears every time someone commented on how old he was looking. It wasn’t that I hadn’t noticed; I just didn’t want to think about our life without him.

Despite being a spritely and active fifteen-year-old, he seemed to be up and down over the last few weeks. After wetting the bed several times and refusing food, a trip to the vet was necessary. It was a shock when the blood tests came back showing that his kidneys were shutting down. I had been convinced it was diabetes, and was willing to give him shots daily if needed. When I left him at the vets for IV fluids, I bawled like a baby. Even when I had the cancer diagnosis, I only cried after the surgeon confirmed that my three lumps were positive. After that, I just did what anyone with cancer does; I got on with the job of getting better. Now I couldn’t stop crying.

Visiting him at the vet hospital was painful. Every time I thought of putting him down, the tears started to roll down my cheeks. It was like the flood gates had been opened and whenever I thought about deciding whether it was time to let him go, another wave of sadness would overpower me.

The thing about Bertie is that when my son first got sick, he would scratch at my son’s door in the morning waiting to keep him company while I went to work. When I was at my lowest during chemo, Bertie would curl up next to me on the bed. Loyal and constant. Even when some of my friends forgot me; he never did. And when my daughter succumbed to the same illness as her brother, he has been her life-raft; keeping her head above water and helping to fight the loneliness that comes with chronic illness.

And that’s why I am crying like a baby at the thought of saying goodbye to the family dog. He has always been there for us, and the thought of letting him go is breaking our hearts.

How did you cope losing a dog? Tell us in the comments. 

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