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22.07.2019- On Losing a Dog

Dealing with death in any form is one of life's most horrible, and most profoundly upsetting experiences; whether expected or not, handling the grief and upset which follow is something which doesn't seem to get any easier, irrespective of how many times you experience it. Whilst I've had a number of bereavements in my life, and have had since a comparatively young age, one of the hardest experiences is one which is still quite recent and raw- and which has affected me in a way I've been completely caught unawares by. Even a few years on, it's still proving one of the most acutely hard things to work through- memories, whilst comforting, only serve as a reminder of an absence- reinforcing that which is no longer there. So, in an attempt to try and share my experience, I'm sitting here typing away- in a house which still feels heartbreakingly empty for the lack of that most magical of companions- a dog. 

Three years ago now, after sixteen wonderful years of barking her head off at anyone who dared to walk past the house, finding a ball to play with at every opportunity, and hoovering up absolutely anything edible, we had to say a very sad farewell to our beautiful family dog, Chiqui (small in Spanish!) An exotic name, I hear you remark (!), but indeed her Heinz 57 heritage is reflected in her journey to us. She was originally my grandmother's dog, purchased (by her!) semi-spontaneously on her birthday, on a scorching late July afternoon. The more and more I remember that first meeting between them, the more it seems like a completely serendipitous encounter- and one which I feel so lucky to have been there to see. And, let's face it- wouldn't we all love to be able to buy ourselves a puppy on our birthday?! 

After my grandmother very sadly passed away in Spain, we arranged to have Chiqui (who was just over two years old at this time) flown over to the U.K, where she came to live with us (and two very stubborn cats!), arriving on a snowy Friday evening in February. Originating from decidedly sunnier climes, she'd never seen snow before, so was, of course, wholly perplexed by the experience! 

It's worth me noting here that at this point we were very much novice dog owners- having always had cats when I was growing up, the closest I'd ever been to having a dog was dragging various plushie versions of the Andrex puppy around the garden on a piece of elastic which I'd robbed from my mum's sewing kit. Like most annoying children, I'd perpetually be pestering my parents to 'let me have a dog', and, when that failed to yield any results, I moved on to asking Father Christmas. My wishes were equally ignored by him, so, although the circumstances of Chiqui arriving with us were unbearably sad, the means of her arrival gave us all a reinforced sense of duty and care towards her; a sense which, almost from day one, she reciprocated without question. Such is the magic of pups. 

For over ten years, she was the perpetual tonic to every problem I had. Having her waiting for me at the end of the school day gave me the motivation to endure everything from double maths (a thought which still gives me the shivers) to sitting my last GCSE. Looking after her was a constant joy- taking her for walks and all of the routine which is part and parcel of being a dog owner- little everyday things which you only miss once you don't have a reason to do them anymore. It's a strange thing to admit, but I even find myself mourning the more unpleasant aspects of being a dog mum- yes, including *that* sinking feeling when you realise that half of the great outdoors (including the compulsory fox poo) has followed you home from your walk. 

More than that though, it's the absence of her presence which I've found crushingly difficult. There was such a sense of unadulterated joy which came from arriving home from work to a bounding, excited ball of fluff (one which the cats have tried to fill this void but so far, so passive!) Every dog bark from across the neighbourhood is now punctuated by a void of silence in the house where her woof should be. Every person I see walking a dog sends a pang of sadness directly to my heart. If I'm being honest, this grief is probably the most raw I've experienced in life so far- ultimately, I think, because Chiqui became such an integral, intrinsic part of our family- a source of comfort for all of us, and the most entertaining character too. Seeing her through life and into old age, as well as caring for her during those last few weeks is up there with one of the most enriching things I've accomplished in life so far- a fact, I think, which only makes the sense of loss more acute. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not walking around the house in a Miss Havisham-esque daze, and her not being here has definitely become easier to deal with. A year or so ago, I couldn't even talk about her without sobbing, let alone being able to put all of this down on paper, so that's definite progress. If anything, in time since she's been gone, I've realised just how fortunate we were to have her, and how the bond between dog and owner is one of the most special things anyone can experience. Love without condition and care without compromise, on both sides, and forever.

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)


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