Almost 11 years ago my wife Claire and I found an ad in the local paper advertising “Pure Bred Labrador Puppies”. They were priced at $250 each, which for pure bred dogs at the time seemed underpriced. Claire was very excited but I cautioned her that we may not find the right puppy and cautioned not to be too excited.
The owners lived a short drive over the river and we arrived to find a very tired human grandpa, a very tired mummy dog and 4 little puppies remaining from a litter of 14. They were all very fat. The poor mum had needed some help, so grandpa human had been assisting with formula. This explained the haggard appearance as he’d been up all hours feeding them.
Of the 4, 2 puppies cowered in the back of the pen as we approached, indicating a timid personality. The other two walked up, gave us both a sniff and ran into the garden. This indicated a dominant personality, neither that appealing to me. Claire also seemed unsure, however for some reason I was drawn to one particular pup with a white stripe on her chest. She was snuffing around on the grass and I picked her up and sat her down between my legs for a pat. She didn’t mind this and I was beginning to think there was something to her. Then her furry mum walked over to me on her own accord while I was holding her daughter and gave me a gentle lick on the face. I am sure she was saying, yes, she is the one for you.
I’ve never forgotten that moment, it is still crystal clear in my mind. I looked over to Claire who said, “I not sure if I want one”, to which I replied, to her surprise and joy, “Let’s get this one.” So after a quick trip to the bank we collected our puppy, Rosie, who we’d named after her mum who had given to me her blessing.
And that moment was the beginning of 11 years of love, fun and unerring companionship. Rosie was our furr baby from day one. The connection I felt from her is something I will always cherish and never ever forget. She was the most beautiful animal, so much more than a dog, and on the 25th of December this year we had to make the most devastating of all decisions.
For the part year Rosie had been battling cancer, to the extent that in November 2017 we had to have her front left leg amputated. Rosie had osteosarcoma, a highly aggressive cancer in her bones. For months, perhaps years she had hidden this from us, only finally showing signs of lameness when the pain was too much to conceal. Our vet Holly was honest with us, in saying that often the cancer will have spread by the time it is diagnosed.
Amputating the front leg in a large breed is not great, as they are so heavy. But Rosie was healthy, and only 10 years old and we thought that she at least deserved another summer, that we got an extra 12 months with her was a blessing.
You see Rosie had been through so much with us, nurturing us through so many things, that we couldn’t not give her the chance of a longer life. We’re not rich people, the vet bills wiped away years of savings, but we don’t regret any of it.
My wife and I went through 5 years of struggle to fall pregnant and whenever the struggle overcame either of us Rosie would sense this and place her head on our lap and sit there quietly, comforting us.
Rosie was also a absolute weapon. She would run all day, loved the water, to play and jump and chase the ball or chew a stick (to the point where her teeth were wearing out and we had to ban them). She also gave the best doggie cuddles, and would grown with delight when we stoked and rubbed her belly. She was also intelligent, loyal and a willing student. Rosie didn’t need to walk on the lead, I could walk, run or ride a bike and she would stay beside me whether on a track or by a highway. She was also a great office dog, happy to sleep away the hours until it was time for a wee break and a short game. I could go on and on about her, but I know the words I can form will never truly paint her picture.
We decided to put Rosie to sleep because a soft tissue mass had formed over a few days and had ended up blocking her nose. In the end she was unable to sleep because she was unable to breath except through her mouth. It all happened so quickly. A week earlier she had had her nose inspected by Holly and placed on drugs to unblock the passage as we hoped it was an infection from a grass seed. It wasn’t, it was the return of her cancer.
I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready. When are you ever ready to decide to end the life of a being you love without end. The answer is you aren’t, but your humane side grabs you by the shoulders, stares into your eyes and says, “Andrew, now is the time to do what is best for her, as hard as that will be.”
Rosie sounded like a pug with the flu. Her nose was so blocked that the air she was managing to get in was being forced out of her mouth. And she was exhausted. I lay down next to her and gently held her head and asked her, “what do you want to do darling, are you tired?” And she lay the full weight of her head in my hand, she was exhausted.
It was 10pm on Christmas night, the vet couldn’t come to our house, we had to take her to the clinic, a short 4 minute drive away.
Claire couldn’t come as our toddler was asleep in the house. Holly was amazing, we talked though everything and from that point I felt certain that it was the right thing to do even though my heart was breaking and a flood of tears was running down my face.
As Holly administered her I held Rosies head in both my hands and we look at each other. Guilt and pain and sadness and uncertainty and certainty and heart break and, and, and… my beautiful girl, she just looked at me with the same deep connection and trust we had had from the very beginning. And then her eyes glazed and her head went limp and she was gone, and so was I. It was without doubt the single hardest thing I have ever had to do… I had to put my little girl to sleep. She is gone and we are still here.
Its the reality all dog owners must accept, but nothing can really prepare you for when it does happen.
Such trust and unconditional love.
I know we did what was best, but in truth there is very little comfort to be found in that. I wasn’t ready, I had said to myself that one more summer would be a blessing, but in my heart what I really wanted was another 4-5-10 years. I wanted her to grow old with me, with us, I never wanted to say goodbye, and I didn’t want to have to decide when that would be.
I think though that perhaps we didn’t decide, I think we were lead to the decision without realising.
You see, I was supposed to be in Sydney but had cancelled my trip. A few days before we had gone for a walk and had noticed her nose was a bit blocked. Holly put her on some drugs and we crossed our fingers and the next day we went to the block for the day. Rosie played and swam like she loved too down there. Her nose didn’t get better so Holly had a better look under anaesthetic. That’s when we found out about the soft tissue, and the drugs were changed. The next day I bought her a pigs ear from the market. The day before Christmas was hot so we went to the beach and on Christmas morning we went for a walk on our favourite track before all the family arrived. Rosie spent her last day with us, amongst my family and cleaning up the scraps of food from the Christmas feast, perfect.
Looking back we realised that we had actually done all the things we would have planned to do with Rosie if we had known we were about to say goodbye. And that gives both Claire and I great comfort.
There was no really purpose in me writing this, other than I wanted to do it for Rosie, while the feelings were fresh and clear. Now perhaps there is a message, and it’s an old one, make the most of every minute because you never know what life will throw at you.
For all the dog lovers out there.
And to Rosie, rest, play and chase as many sticks as you want my darling little black pudding. I love you.