Be The Person My Dog thought I was
My dog, Roxy, joined our family two days before my 15th birthday on the 12 August 2005 – the best birthday present I've ever gotten. She was the cutest puppy – that I-have-to-pat-you-and-make-goofy-noises kind of cute. (As you can see in the pic below.)
She was a blue heeler and border collie cross which made her ridiculously smart, too smart in fact, but she was unusually timid. When she loved you, she LOVED you, but she had a blanket rule about hating all other dogs. Puppy school was a nightmare. She was smarter than every dog in the class. She would work out the point of an exercise after one go and just start doing it before you asked her, knowing she'd get treats. But she’d be on edge the entire time, as there was all these untrustworthy puppies sniffing around. I guess that's where the saying you gotta risk it for the biscuit comes from.
She really was a good girl, though. The best girl – despite being a bit of a weirdo. She loved our family.
Then on Sunday 12th August, two days before my 28th birthday Dad texted me at 8am to say Roxy wasn't eating. I drove over to their place immediately, and we took her to the vet. For Roxy to not eat, something must be wrong. (She's an over-eater – she's never felt that body shame so many females do.)
The vet decided to keep her in for some tests. That afternoon, while my dad and I were picking up some groceries, the vet called to say Roxy had lung cancer. It was everywhere and for 13-year-old dog, treatment wasn't really an option. His exact words, "it's not a matter of if we put her down, it's a matter of when."
Dad and I started sobbing in the middle of Woollies. 13 years to the day since Roxy joined our family, we found out we'd have to say goodbye.
I've been crying on and off ever since. To be honest, I've never known an sadness like this.
But there are a couple of lessons that have stuck out to me. I've just managed to see them through my tears.
1. I should love like Roxy
Roxy was never embarrassed to show me how much she loved me (hard to hide it – her tail is a dead give away). She would hear my voice and she would run through to greet me, tail thumping. She never played it cool. Even if I had forgotten to do something, or I was late or I haven't given her breakfast – she would suggest not-so-politely that I do so, but she still loved me. And she showed me she did.
We should all love like that – unashamedly and unconditionally.
2. Pets are family
I was worried someone would ask, "why are you so sad? It's just a pet." That hasn't happened once. All I've had is people tell me their own stories about losing a pet, and how hard it was for them. And I realise that's because anyone who's ever had a pet knows: they're family.
3. You grieve any kind of loss – and you're allowed to
When you lose anything that's important to you – a person, a pet, a job, a relationship – you need to grieve. Grief isn't reserved for any particular circumstance. It's an important part of any process of loss. It's how you mourn, say goodbye, and come to accept that life is going to be just a little different from now on. That can be sad, but life is going to have periods of loss and sadness – and you're allowed to grieve them. It's the only way you'll move on.
4. Making a decision that's best for someone else, doesn't necessarily make it easier for you
I knew that Roxy was in pain and that her quality of life would deteriorate fast. I know all that. And many people have said to me that Roxy's in a better place now, that she was in pain so this was the best decision. I know we had to do the right thing by Roxy, but it doesn't make it any easier. It doesn't make me any less sad. I'm selfish. I wanted just one more year. I wanted to do all her favourite things and go to her favourite places, just one more time.
Knowing that you're doing the right thing for someone else, or making a decision that's right for them – but feels bad for you – doesn't necessarily make it easier. It allows you to justify it, but it still makes you sad.
5. You never get through anything without your support system
For me it's my friends and family – I'm blessed to have wonderful people in both. But whether that family is your biological, like mine, or a family you’ve built for yourself, you need people who care and love you to get through any lemons life throws at you.
People need friends like mine who sent flowers, called me, messaged me, visited me. Family like mine who cried when I did.
You'll never get through anything without your friends and family.
6. There are different kinds of love
Sanskrit has 96 words for love, Greek has three, many other languages have multiple words, but English has only one. I can't help but feel the English language is doing us a disservice when there are so many different kinds of love, but only one word to describe them.
The way I love my mum, is not the same way I love chocolate. And the way I love the ocean, is the not the same way I love my boyfriend. There are different kinds of love, and I think the way you love a pet is it's own special type.
Love is such a powerful thing. To feel it is one of life's greatest blessings. It can't be contained in one single word – 96 doesn't really do it justice either. There are different kinds of love, and all of them are significant.
I was lucky to experience the special kind of love reserved for pets.
7. I want to be the person Roxy thought I was
Roxy thought I was better than a mouldy old bone. I know this, because she would stop chewing on one to come over and love me. (Unless she was in the middle of hiding it, then I had to wait. She loved me, but she had duties.) She always wanted to spend time with me, or play, or cuddle. When she would see me, she would jump up to put her paws on my outstretched arm, so it was like she was standing next to me. (Deep suspicion she thought she was human.) She just thought I was the bone's marrow.
I want to be the person she thought I was, because that was a person who she loved unashamedly and unconditionally and who loved her right back.
I love you and I miss you, Roxy. You'll always be my puppy.