I went for a run the other day, without you.
It wasn’t the first time, I know, you’ve not been able to run with me for a couple of years now. And me? I lost the joy of running without your companionship. My stomach hanging over the top of my jeans like an inside-out pocket, is testament to that.
We used to run together regularly. 12 years of traversing city streets at dawn, beaches at sunset, English country lanes in the middle of the day, stared down by the wary watching eyes of the vixen. I remember some runs in NZ before we left to fly to the UK when it was so hot we would run into the sea at St Heliers Bay when we had sweated and panted our way down the hill.
You loved the water and so it was fitting that’s where we spent your last day. I’d been dreading that day for years – checking your signs, waking in the morning and rushing to see that you were still snoring louder than a freight train, old bones curled around the shadows in our dressing room. I kept waiting for the sign from God that it was time. It never came.
To the last moment you were loving and loyal, despite the pain.
You woke me in the night on the weekend before that last week. You were crying and I expected that you would need to be let out to go to the toilet in the bushes, but you didn’t need to go. You were crying out of confusion and fear, not need of the toilet. You didn’t know where you were, or where we were – your tribe, your pack, your family. I held you close and cried a little in the dark. My tears fell down across your grey muzzle and we both knew, it was time.
I couldn’t let you live out your days in fear and confusion. I had to let you go, and with you a huge chunk of my heart.
The kids stayed home from Uni and school on that last day. I told school that there was a family bereavement. It wasn’t a lie. We sombrely lifted you into the car and drove you the 200m to the beach – the beach you once used to run along, you mad, mad puppy. You sniffed the sand and the seaweed, taking it all in. There is nothing more mindful than a dog experiencing her environment. And then, you were in the water, your old joints were buoyed by the salt, and you swam.
As you swam I thought about all those years when you were my faithful friend. How you licked the tears from my cheeks, and snuck up onto my bed to lie at my feet. How you used to stick your muzzle into my ex mother-in-law’s crotch at the front door when she came to visit. How you would always give me a sense of who was alright and who was dodgy. You tolerated my dating days, and even provided a good litmus test for me, clueless as I was reeling after my marriage dissolved. If you didn’t like him, then I shouldn’t. It was as simple as that. You were right (of course) the one you loved, I married.
We let you eat the sausages on that last day, in remembrance of that fateful car journey down to the beach at Whangapoua, when you ate all the BBQ provisions stashed in the back of the car alongside you. We forgave you puppy – fish is better for us than sausages anyway.
When it was time we lifted you into the car once more and drove you to the Vet. They laid down a blanket for you to crawl onto and let you have as many liver treats as you could eat, as the anaesthesia slipped into your veins and stopped your heart.
It’s been a month, but here I am still crying as I write. There’s only one way through grief and that’s to go through it. I’m still on that journey. But for now, my house is quiet. I still look for you in corners and hear you barking for a meal when it’s only the dog next door. Are there dogs in heaven? I honestly don’t know, but there bloody well should be. You taught me so much about loyalty and the purest kind of love.
I went running the other day without you. I haven’t been since. It’s too hard, it brings back too many memories. I had to let you go puppy, forgive me for leaving it so long for my own selfish need. I let you go, but I miss you, still.