Earlier this year I adopted an elderly German Shepherd and it is no exaggeration to say this dog is the love of my life. I’ve had fiancees, husbands, lovers and illicit affairs. I’ve been a daughter, sister, aunt and wife. I’ve been a fur Mummy to cats, tarantulas, degus, geckos and snakes. And I’ve been a friend and colleague to many. But nobody, nobody at all has ever managed to lay claim to my heart in the way this dog has.
It is a love that transcends all others. He is my support when I feel blue, he is my friend when I need a cuddle. He is my child when he needs help and comfort. It is a love with no complications, no resentments, no distractions and no conditions. It is a perfect love in an imperfect world.
I find it frustrating that this kind of bond between owner and pet isn’t given the same recognition afforded to other kinds of love. Society expects that when I bury my husband I will be given time to grieve. I will be granted time off work to attend the funeral. I will be sent condolence cards and casseroles from the neighbours. People will tell me how sorry they are. But when that fateful day comes when my dog crosses the rainbow bridge there will be nothing. I will be left alone with my grief because the world expects me to move on. Because that is the expected thing to do when a pet is lost.
Except I won’t be able to move on because I will be destroyed. I would rather lose everybody else in the world who is close to me than lose my dog. I know I will recover quicker from the death of my husband than I will from the death of my dog. But I also know I will be grieving alone in a world where many people, including those close to me, cannot grasp the enormity of what it is to lose a hairy friend who is linked by their very soul to yours.
I sought to mitigate the grief by planning to get another dog. But I will not be heartbroken when I lose a dog. I will be heartbroken when I lose that dog. I can’t replace him. I can love other dogs and no doubt I will. But I can’t use my love of others to spare myself the pain I will feel when I lose this dog. Sadly, nothing can spare me the pain I will feel when I lose this dog.
I was caught unawares by this love. Had I known having a dog would be like this I’m not sure I would have adopted him. It is easy to guard a heart from the pitfalls of Hollywood love. But love has a habit of sneaking in by the back door. Unfortunately for me, by the time I realised that, the gates of my heart were already breached.
We will enjoy the years we have left together. And most of the time I will forget that out there somewhere is a bridge that my dog will have to cross one day. I hope that in the years between his crossing and mine I find a way to live in a world without the best friend I have ever had. And I hope that when the day I dread finally arrives, somebody understands and cares enough to send me a condolence card and a casserole.