I wrote this for a vet blog I sometimes write for. I love it so much, I had to post it here too…
My seven-year-old son and our dog Dexter are inseparable. They are always side-by-side: in the playroom; in the garden; down the park; and on the lounge at the end of the day watching television.
Sometimes I swear the dog thinks he’s my son’s biological twin brother. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
But the other night as I came across them snuggled together on the lounge – the dog’s head resting gently on my son’s legs – my heart sunk ever so slightly.
If anything ever happened to the dog, I don’t know how my son would cope. In fact, I don’t think he would cope at all.
I guess the reason this morbid thought popped into my head was a conversation I had at work with a colleague the day before. My colleague’s dog had just been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis wasn’t good.
But while the dog’s illness was sad, my colleague said he was struggling more with the reaction of his young daughter. He said it was breaking his heart to watch her comprehend and try to deal with the imminent death of their beloved family pet.
With that conversation, thoughts came flooding back of my own personal experience with the death of a family pet.
Cindy, our Alsatian Cross, was a member of our family before I was. According to family legend, when I was a baby she would stand guard over me in our back garden and drag me back towards the house by my nappy if I crawled too close to the gate.
As I grew older we remained close. She was often by my side as I played outside, trotting alongside me as I rode my bike up and down our street.
And then one night, when I was supposed to be in bed, but instead hiding in the kitchen trying to catch a glimpse of the television behind mum and dad’s heads, I overheard a conversation that broke my heart. Cindy had been diagnosed with cancer and had to be put down…but not for a week.
I had her for one more week.
As you can imagine, I spent every possible minute of that week with Cindy. Hugging her, cuddling her, letting her sleep on the bottom of my bed. And then the day arrived when my Dad gently picked her up and put her in the back of the car. Mum held my hand tightly as Dad drove the car out of the driveway, Cindy’s soft old eyes looking at me as the car slowly disappeared around the corner.
When he returned later, himself heartbroken, Dad gave me her collar. I looked after that collar like it was the crown jewels; the tiny strands of her dog hair that remained caught up in the buckle more precious than any gem. I think mum and dad still have that collar somewhere.
To this day I still think dearly about that dog. The way she watched over us in the garden. The way she’d gallop wildly around the house with excitement when we returned home to her from holidays. The way she would sleep on the end of my bed but yap at me like an old lady if I dared to stretch out my own legs to reclaim some of the space.
And then as I watch my son place his arm around his dog as they sit quietly together, I realize that’s exactly why we do it. For those special moments that only a family pet can bring us, and that will always be treasured now and in the future.