Willow, an obituary

Posted: July 8, 2013 in Obituary

2012-08-15 13.48.09

Some people don’t get it, she was a dog and they never had one so can’t understand and I can accept that. I feel some sympathy for them really as never experiencing the joy of having had a dog must leave them bereft in some way but they wont know it so why worry.

I had the ignominious job of having my dearest friend put to sleep on Saturday at 12.50 pm and as much as I know it was 100% the right thing to do and even taking into account what a precious thing those last moments with her were I cannot shake the feelings of guilt and pain that anyone who grieves will have.

Yes she was a dog and cannot compare to losing a parent or worse a sibling or child but that does not diminish the pain in the moment and in some ways I feel that knowing others wont see it this way hurts more , not less. In saying that I acknowledge the huge importance this beautiful creature had in my life, from the moment I read about the benefits of dog ownership in the mentally unwell to the very last kiss I gave her my life has been better in every way than it would have been if she hadn’t deigned to love me.

Willow was born in Wales on 6th January 2001 and sometime afterwards was shipped to a insalubrious pet shop in Sutton Surrey along with at least one brother. She was so cute with her black shiny coat with a white chest and neck, a very white tail which is why she wasn’t deemed suitable to be a sheep dog, and interspersed here and there were gorgeous spots of pale brown, including her eyebrows, in short she was perfect in every way and seeing her for the first time is indelibly stained into my memory as a great moment.

I was very very ill at the time, I had wrongly been diagnosed as Depressed and the meds weren’t working for me, now we know why but back then it was just frightening how much I could consume in drugs without an iota of effect. I had been so afraid of hurting my loved ones I ran away to America to find solitude. I came home but after a few weeks decided I needed to return and so it was I was sitting in a small riverside park in Las Vegas reading an article in the Review Journal about the work done with mentally ill people with pets. The whole thing seemed to be Kismet, there I was thousands of miles from home, it was my 31st birthday and here was something telling me what I think I always knew, I needed a dog.

Upon my return I spoke to my then girlfriend, now wife expecting to be shouted down but so desperate was she for me to recover she too saw the sense of it and thus it on a Friday the 13th, and a good Friday no less that we borrowed my Dad’s van and ventured to a pet shop we knew stocked puppies to take a look.

I had been very clear in what I wanted, I loved Alsatians but knew Sarah would struggle to handle one so I was interested in either a springer/cocker spaniel, a sheep dog or a beagle. They had some border collies in and when we were asked which gender we preferred I conceded to Sarah’s wish for a bitch, she did want one called Maggie in her dreams but that was one thing I couldn’t do for her. The young man brought out this aforementioned vision of beauty and we were smitten immediately, I say we meaning Sarah and I because our little puppy wasn’t so keen on me that day.

We hadn’t discussed names, mainly because I was still hopeful for a boy but as we drove to our completely inappropriate flat we batted a few options back and forth. I was keen on Xena after the warrior princess and Sarah liked Buffy, we were huge fans of the vampire slayer , it was the early noughties so we can be excused I think. Now I like natural names and Buffy’s best mate was Willow, I liked the character and Alison Hannigan who played her, Sarah liked it too and so she was christened Willow.

Now a Willow is a strong tree, they withstand almost anything sent their way and are beautiful and useful too and this couldn’t have suited out girl anymore if we tried, once named the idea we hadn’t truly had a choice did cross my mind.

Our first moments in the attic flat we lived in didn’t go well, our puppy was small and I was huge with a deep voice and extremely excited by the presence of my saviour so she did the smart thing and hid under a coffee table. I did my best to allay her fears by laying down on the floor and eventually she ventured out and walked round my prone body to say hello to Sarah, to say I was jealous wouldn’t cover it.

Things went very well, she was as smart as we had been warned she would be and house training went without much incident and apart from a few bin attacks she barely caused any fuss and assimilated into my life very quickly. Now I wasn’t suffering from Depression but I was very depressed and getting out of bed wasn’t something I did much, I wasn’t eating very well and exercise didn’t exist for me, or rather hadn’t.

One thing a dog does is demand attention and Border Collies are far smarter at it than other breeds and every morning after Sarah had left for work she would climb onto my bed for a while , just laying against me, a very comforting thing on its own. She would gently nudge me, getting a bit more urgent as I tried to doze through it until she had me fully awake and aware she wanted to get up, without a choice in the matter I just did it for a quiet life. I must admit I rued the idea many times when I truly couldn’t face getting up but looking back I was only functioning in those days to please her.

everyone who met the gorgeous puppy instantly fell in love with her and that included my Dads own young puppy Jake, a chocolate Lab who became Willows soul mate. the two of them loved each other and their personalities meshed well so that it was never a problem leaving her with my Dad and his Wife Trish as it wasn’t like looking after two dogs just one very big one.

My health improved as I knew it would, the routine of getting up and walking her meant I started to build a structure which is the first block in building a recovery, sadly it was a true recovery but that’s not anything to do with willow.

We moved to a house and she got her own garden which she loved, I would find more exciting places for her to be walked and she thrived, growing to a larger than average size for a bitch of her breed. Her vitality was literally contagious and I would watch her leaping in and out of bushes after squirrels or rabbits and realise I was happy in those moments regardless of what else was happening, that remain true for her entire life.

As well as loving me and begrudgingly accepting Sarah as her superior, that took classes to make it happen. she took to my children instantly and became their defacto protector. even up until recently she was keeping watch over my eldest son, he’s pushing 6’4″ but still she felt the need to guard him from what she perceived as a danger. they fell in love with her and alth0ugh they couldn’t have a dog at their mum’s house she was theirs or in reality they were hers and as they grew up she was a constant.

My health waned again this time to melt down and once again her healing powers were called upon. I remember laying in my bed infuriated with life and everything that entailed, punching myself in the face to punish myself for existing. I would feel a sudden change in balance on the bed and then a poor resting on my hands, gently scratching to get me notice her there. Once I calmed down she would lay along my side and nuzzle me, licking my sore forehead and I would speak to her about my pain.

It would have meant nothing to her, I was practically babbling along but she was there and I spoke and without the release of having her listen, dumbly or not I would have escalated and when that did happen eventually it was nuclear so the fact she managed to quell my rage so often is a testament to her. As she passed from this world I spoke to her again about how she had saved my life back then and it wasn’t until I spoke to her about I realised just how true it was.

During this spell my third child was born and because this time she lived full time with him her protective nature was more pronounced. I have lovely photos of her laying next to his tiny form, sometime licking his head others just sitting like the lions on Trafalgar Square , guarding and ready to act. When I think about that time she probably saw my vulnerability and took the lead in case I wasn’t able to, again she was smart and caring and I probably didn’t see it at the time.

Through my very long recovery process I have been able to sit down with Willow and hug her, whisper the truth I wasn’t prepared to say out loud, she would lick me or nudge me and I knew she was doing her best to help and to be honest it worked more often than not.

As she aged something about her didn’t notice the passing of time because she was no different at eleven than at three and people would often assume she was a puppy because of her galloping gait and vitality. sadly Jake wasn’t as blessed, he was often unwell and in need of operations , although Willow was twice operated on to remove tumours, and we were aware that he would probably die before her and what this would mean to her, effectively leaving her alone as she didn’t like other dogs. we took the decision to buy her a friend, we knew she hated puppies most of all but also that under the bravado she was as loving and caring as anyone or thing , hence we brought Boudicca a tri colour beagle, their colours were uncannily similar, and the rest as they say is history.

In her final year Willow regained her youth, at first she resented the intrusion of a puppy, a very annoying one at that but within days they were wrestling and chasing each other. They fell out very rarely and always about buried toys or food but in those last months it was a joy to see the old bouncy willow we hadn’t noticed had gone away return. She was still my confidante and as much as I love Boudicca she was my faithful friend in a way the puppy could never be.

Her third operation to remove another tumour was almost two weeks ago and we worried about her recovery as she was now 12 1/2 but a very fit and strong dog so we went ahead and apart from a couple of days where she was probably in pain she seemed to recover just as she always had before and we naively assumed our hopes having her until she was seventeen continued. her post op appointment last Monday showed we had good cause, her temperature was perfect the scar was healing very well and she was in tip top form, or so it seemed.

Wednesday she began to seem unwell and when she stopped eating we were worried, but not overly so it was very hot and she had always suffered in the heat, even when we used have her completely shaved for the summer months which she loved. By Thursday evening it was obvious she wasn’t well so the vet was called and they out of the blue told us to get her straight to them, I was about to go into a meeting and Sarah’s panicked call got me home within minutes and at the vets in short time.

Her temperature was up but she wasn’t dehydrated and the vet checked her kidneys hadn’t been damaged by the op, the blood tests were good and she had an anti inflammatory jab and we went home, knowing we were due back on Monday for her stitches to be removed, Sarah was to go back before then for a follow up.

that night she perked up, ate her dinner and generally lazed around as she always did, I was hopeful it was just a bug or the heat so didn’t go to the vets the next morning especially as she ate breakfast normally. The vet explained the situation as a bit of a mystery but prescribed her with Tramadol which I was confused by, that’s a very powerful pain reliever and the dose was almost the same as I had taken, I am five times her weight.

Friday evening she took a turn for the worse, she wasn’t drinking or eating, was lethargic and very Un willow like, for some reason I took a few photos, I know now why but then it seemed normal. by the end of the night she was laying out in the garden with Boudicca gently licking her and seeming very concerned for her. unusually she was still out there when I decided it was time for me to attempt sleep and as I carried into the hall and lay her in her favoured spot I was aware of her licking my arm, she was never a dog that liked to be picked up and here she was thanking me, I was concerned.

The next morning she refused food again and didn’t even get up when I came into the kitchen, a very strange thing for her. She remained in her spying position all morning, I gave her some water through a squirty bottle and she did go and try to drink once I’d wetted her lips but she did so very gingerly and then returned to her spot.

Willow is a very protective dog and if something or someone passes our front window she lets them know not to come too close and Saturday morning a neighbour was unloading a car in the our forecourt, I heard a strange raspy wheeze and turned to see my old girl attempting to bark and failing, it was there in that moment I knew what was to come but dared not admit it to myself.

We decided to ring the Vet and they told us to bring her in, we had been told if she didn’t start drinking they would admit her and I believed as we drove there that was the very worst that was going to happen. In the very quiet waiting room I again took her photo for some reason. The vet was fortunately the same lady who had been treating her throughout and when she called us in I had to carry Willow as she had failed in her efforts to stand. The vets face changed as she looked at her and my heart sank.

I remember the next fifteen minutes but in a dreamy kind of way, she did some checks and spoke about the possibility of admitting her and doing more tests but there was an undercurrent she wasn’t saying, I am very pragmatic and Sarah and I had always said we wouldn’t let her suffer so I asked the one question I didn’t want an answer to.

Yes it would be kinder to let her be put to sleep, I then began to reason that we should take her home with us, that of she was going to be leaving us there were people who wanted to say good bye, my oldest son was en route to our house even then, my Step mum would have broken speed records to see her but t wasn’t the right thing for Willow.

We took her out to the green area in the car park, my youngest son sobbing and hugging her as we went. It was sunny and peaceful, we took of her lead, she never wore one usually but vets insist. We resolved it was time and how it was going to go down and then we all said our goodbyes and I carried her back in while Sarah and my son sobbed at the entrance and took a seat in porch.

The vet was lovely and as I held her to my chest, again with her licking my arm the vet told me she would have done the same, that even if we did keep her alive long enough to discover the truth of her demise it would most likely be spent in pain and discomfort and ultimately delay the inevitable, hard truth but delivered nicely.

At 12.50 approx. , with me laying beside her as she had done for me so many times, her head in my hands with our eyes locked together Willow was injected by a very caring nurse with both the vet and the nurse stroking her and speaking to her while is stared into her beautiful brown eyes talking of the love and gratitude I held for her she peacefully passed away.

I can honestly say it was beautiful, there was no sudden change in her, she had not taken her eyes from mine all the while we had laid there and I wasn’t aware of the exact moment she had passed, the vet gave us time and space, patted my shoulder as I shed tears, something I have done very rarely and not in a strangers company in decades.

As I lay her head gently down I appreciated her beauty even more, I was worried about Sarah but knew that seeing her looking so peaceful and beautiful would help her, our son demanded the right to see her too and knowing how she looked I saw no reason to put my foot down. we spent a good ten minutes stroking her and saying our last thank yous, that was the overriding emotion, yes there was a deep sadness but both of us felt gratitude for her being ours, even my seven year old saw that to be true and his caring words were about Willow being with Jake and not in pain, I was so proud in that moment of both of them.

I cannot express how strange it feels sitting at my computer without her laying just beneath me, often jogging my foot with hers as she dreamt. I am sad, sick to my stomach and angry. the anger is born from knowing we did the very best for her to keep her well and still she died too young. I cannot lay in bed awake as the familiar sound of her barking in the garden isn’t there as much as I moaned about it. There is a void in my life now, I have lost a friend, clearly but so much more se was a saviour in a very serious sense, I said yesterday that it wasn’t me loving her I missed most but knowing that she was always loving me and showing it, she knows my darkest saddest secrets and they died with her, never to be repeated.

Thank You Willow for being my dearest companion, for saving my life and always knowing when I needed you, I hope you and Jake are running free together somewhere happy and safe forever, until I see you again, good bye.

  1. Sierra says:

    I am so very sorry for your loss of your beautiful Willow. I understand and literally feel your pain. You see, I had to do the same thing with my border collie, Rizzo 18 months ago.
    While it can be frustrating at what feels as ignorance by others, please know many do understand your grief.

    Willow enjoy your life at the Bridge, know you are safe and your family will be with you again.

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