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My Angel in White

It's his birthday today. He would have been eleven and not for one moment did it ever cross my mind that he wouldn't be here for it. I bought him a giant bed a month early and am so glad he got to use it. Even if only for a short time. It's taught me that sometimes surprises need to come early.

Today marks his one-month passing and it still feels so surreal that he has gone. It's been a month of unrelenting grief entwined with the deepest guilt imaginable. Having to make the decision to put him to sleep still undoes me and I suspect always will. My logical self knew it was the best decision for him yet there is a part of me that feels I didn't give him the chance to prove me wrong when I suspected he was nearing the end.

He deteriorated quickly over a couple of days. Became neurologically dull, sleepy and withdrawn. Kept putting himself outside despite the bitterly cold weather. He refused treats, which for him was unheard of. I'd noticed he'd started stumbling in the previous months. Nothing major but for such an agile dog, it was noticeable. His thirst had increased, evidenced by his water bowl refills but all in all, he was Sam and I never expected anything more than him aging. Until the last two days. His behaviour became unrecognizable.

Sammy came to me as an eight-week-old bundle of fluff. He was an unexpected gift given for helping a friend through the end-of-life process for her beautiful dog named Sam - his namesake.

Sammy came along when Moo was eight. They were best mates pretty much from day one but when Moo passed, the delicate balance of our little trio fell out of whack. Sammy and I struggled for the alpha role and his aggression became problematic.

He bit me numerous times over the past seven years, always without warning. And every time it happened, he looked at me like he had no clue what had just happened. It was heartbreaking. After the first event, we landed at the vet clinic ready to do the unthinkable but I couldn't bring myself to end his life. It didn't seem fair. 99% of the time he was the sweetest most affectionate dog. It was this unpredictable 1% that was hard to manage. But I learned to manage because I had to. I signed up to give him the best life possible and that's what I remained committed to.

I brought in an amazing dog psychologist who worked with us and I slowly learned how to read him, how to be with him, what to do to keep me and him safe and also how to keep those around us safe as well. He started on medication to take the edge off his anxiety. It worked for the most part but he was always an anxious dog. And I was hypervigilant on his behalf. This combination was a prison of its own making. I couldn't leave him with anyone, and I wouldn't kennel him. We just learned to manage. Together.

When I looked at houses on the island, he picked this one. He fell asleep in it and I remember thinking how peaceful he looked curled up on the carpet. We had the best year together this past year. I've never felt closer to him and once I would have said I could never love another dog the way I loved Moo, but in the end, Sammy had won my heart as completely as she had done. He taught me so much about life and love and having fun - as our animals often do and I am so grateful I brought him home from the vet that day and gave him the last seven years and chance after chance after chance. It was worth it. He was worth it.

But it was getting harder and when his aggression escalated in the last 24 hours, I felt myself running out of choices. I could see he was in pain but couldn't get him in to see a vet. Eventually, I called a mobile vet to the island and we talked. He greeted her with a wagging tail and took treats from her hand. And as difficult as it was to do, I am comforted by the fact that his final moments with us were as they were and not in some emergent situation where his suffering may have been far worse and prolonged.

It was likely he had a brain lesion that was growing and while I will never know for sure, what I was sure of was that he wasn't happy and he was in pain. It was almost like he had already left. I sat with him for hours that morning before he passed. I told him over and over how much I loved him, what a great dog he was, how much he taught me and how sorry I was he was dealt this horrible glitch that had restricted his life.

A while ago, I bought a second-hand wedding veil to repurpose and dressed him in it and took a pic because...what a beautiful bride he made. When I covered him up in winter, he would often catch his rug around the curl of his tail and he would walk around with his blanket trailing behind like a wedding veil. I always told him he made such a beautiful bride.

When I look at that photo now, it was more like I was dressing him in his angel wings - preparing him for his big adventure back home. He really was my angel and I miss him and grieve for him every single day with no end in sight.

About two weeks before he became unwell, I remember looking at a photo of Moo and I realised after seven long years, I was no longer grieving her. All I felt was love and not sadness. I have to wonder if he stayed long enough to see me through the profound grief I experienced over her and that perhaps his job here was now done. And so he left as unexpectedly as he had arrived. A gift I will always be so grateful for.

As he traverses the spiritual realm, on what would have been his eleventh year on Earth, I wish him the happiest and healthiest birthday ever. He was my dog. I will never stop loving him. Because that's what I signed up for. And he was so incredibly worth it.

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