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Coping with Loss: Moving Forward Without Beloved Canine Companions

One of my canines, Olive, celebrated her fifth birthday this week. While every moment for her is filled with unbridled joy, love, and promise, the occasion was tinged with a hint of sadness for me.

Five years old already!

As I reflect on her breed’s longevity – a mix of collie and Australian cattle dog – I am hopeful that she may grace us with her presence for another decade or more. However, considering the average life expectancy of a human male, I may very well (knock on wood!) outlive her.

The thought of a future without Olive looms before me, evoking a sense of the unimaginable. Just as the absence of our spirited labrador, who tragically passed away early, felt incomprehensible at the time.

Yet, we persevere even after bidding farewell to our cherished animal companions. To liken it to enduring the loss of beloved humans resonates deeply with fellow dog and cat enthusiasts, though some without pets might find the comparison peculiar or even inappropriate.

The truth remains that the passing of each beloved dog – and I emphasize dog as a devoted canine lover – leaves a void of profound sorrow. The memories we hold of them, the unique bond forged through shared experiences and emotional connections, are irreplaceable. Similarly, our interactions with loved ones cannot be replicated with others once they depart this world.

A dog or cat is not interchangeable, just as a person is not.

Following Nari’s departure and the solemn act of laying her to rest beneath the backyard tree she so adored, I vowed, “No more dogs.” The pain of love and loss seemed insurmountable, akin to reliving that emotional turmoil.

Yet, a dilemma arose.

Enter Ronda, the exquisitely beautiful and affectionate black labrador who, at five years old, was left adrift after Nari’s passing. Ronda, accustomed to Nari’s guidance and protection since puppyhood, was plunged into a perpetual state of distress. She couldn’t bear solitude, vocalizing her anguish in my absence and refusing to let me out of her sight.

After enduring Ronda’s anguish for a year and a half, I relented. The irresistible black-and-white puppy Olive, a radiant member of her litter, entered our lives. Ronda transitioned into the role of the elder dog, asserting her dominance over the spirited pup. While the gentle Ronda, now approaching 12, retains her sweet and reserved demeanor, the dynamics of alpha leadership are swiftly evolving.

Twelve years is considered advanced age for a labrador. The mere thought of…

Paul Daley’s dogs Olive (left) and Ronda

The conventional notion is that people “own” pet animals. Undeniably, we assign them names, make decisions regarding their well-being, diet, and exercise routines, particularly with dogs. However, the synchronization of my routine, lifestyle, and daily rhythm with that of the dogs often blurs the lines between our identities.

In their recent absence, as they enjoyed a farm-stay kennel, I found myself walking alone these mornings. It struck me that the familiar faces I encountered seemed to overlook my presence. Were they intentionally disregarding me as they passed by without a nod? No. It dawned on me that these individuals closely associate me with the distinctive sight of a leashed dog at each arm, rendering me unrecognizable in their absence.

We operate as a unified entity, an extension of one another. There exists a remarkable equilibrium – an emotional serenity and tranquility – within this bond. It’s a precious inner harmony, an unspoken interdependence that defies explanation.

I am aware that this harmony is transient. Yet, I am the sole bearer of a vague existential awareness of its impermanence. Their perpetual zest for life leaves no room for such apprehensions, their existence unburdened by the specter of mortality.

This realization struck me most profoundly seven years ago. As the ailing Nari peacefully lay conscious at the vet’s office, our hands tenderly caressing her, I witnessed her gaze filled only with love – devoid of any trace of fear – as the tranquil green sedative gently eased her into eternal slumber.

She became a cherished memory. And so continues the cycle of life with our canine companions, as it inevitably unfolds.