I’d often read the posts of others on Facebook, reporting the loss of their dogs. Each and every time, my heart would sink, and my eyes would become watery. I knew my day would come. I knew that one day, I’d have no choice but to say goodbye to Barney (Mr B). That day came sooner than expected. Mr B developed a very aggressive cancer at the age of just 9.
He was my pride and joy, my soul mate, my training partner. He’d accompanied me through university, as my training dog, as I studied canine, and then animal, behaviour. Whenever I felt low, he would be there to make me smile. It was an amazing connection which didn’t need words or explanations. He was utterly perfect for me, and we adored one another.
His demise was rapid, and I spent the final 2 weeks sleeping in the living-room with him, as he could no longer manage the stairs and needed to pee frequently due to the steroid medication he was on. But that day did visit. He was euthanised at home on 27th April 2022. The grief felt like it was too much to bear. I’m no spring chicken – I’ve had my share of grief, but this just felt impossible. Barney was such a massive part of my life and who I’d become, that I didn’t even know who I was without him. There was the inevitable influx of sympathy, but none of it brought any comfort, and I grew to hate the phrase ‘sorry for your loss’.
Soon, everything goes back to normal – the world stops for nobody. But there you are, still hurting beyond words, having to deal with day-to-day chores, having to work, having to eat, waking up each morning and looking for where your dog is, sitting in your car because you can’t face walking into the house and your best friend not being there, happy to see you.
There will always be people who cannot understand this, but for me, it was not dissimilar to losing human friends and relatives. In some ways, the sense of loss was even greater because I was also grieving the loss of that really special connection. I can’t explain it very well, but I could certainly feel it. A human-to-human connection, even special ones, comes with a certain amount of baggage. If you’re low, your partner may feel pressure to help you feel better. You then feel pressure for putting them in that position. Or you’ve had a bad day and are really fed up – when you connect with your dog, they never ask why you’re feeling low, you don’t have to explain anything, you can just connect. For many people, talking is supposed to be helpful, but for me, I don’t like to talk about stuff when I’m low; dogs never ask what’s wrong? They just connect. I still grieve for this special connection I had with him.
Our human society puts pressure on people to move on and get over it. I didn’t want to move on, and I don’t think I’ll get over it, but the despair does lessen over time. Mr B is a huge part of who I am, and he’ll never be forgotten. It hurts because he mattered, and he will always matter. He made me a better person, and I think it’s my responsibility not to waste that. My relationship with him has had to change, but he is still in my life. We have a life-size picture of him on the wall, and I often speak to him, telling him what a good boy he is. I know he doesn’t hear me, but it makes me feel closer to him and reminds me of our connection. We also arranged for a memorial bench to be placed in the town park, I like to think of people smiling as they see a bench in memory of a dog – Mr B, still making people smile.
Now, I’ve finally begun a new journey with a black Labrador puppy, named Monty. He isn’t a replacement for Barney, that’s not possible, but I see it as a way of honouring his memory. All that he taught me, the person he made me, going into something good rather than the sense of emptiness I was carrying. I’m back to enjoying daily walks and watching Monty interact with the world. Just watching him enjoy life, is one of my greatest joys. On many days we walk past Mr B’s bench, and I touch the arm of it. Knowing it’s there because of Mr B’s life, brings a little comfort. I will never stop looking at the picture of Mr B and wanting him to spring into life, I will never be able to part with his harness, just in case he does, but I’m once again beginning to feel the joy of just walking with my dog and looking forward to our connection growing into something very special. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but my advice is not to try and ‘get over it’, but to find ways of living with it, to look out for the chinks of light in the darkness, to find a way of honouring that life and ensuring its meaningfulness continues.
In loving memory of Barney, aka, Mr B., who’ll remain in my heart forever.