A dog’s life

A few weeks ago, I lost one of the greatest loves of my life. He was blonde; not usually my type at all, but I fell in love with him instantly. He was six weeks old when we met; a furry bundle who ran straight for me the second I laid eyes on him. His tongue seemed too big for his mouth, his ears too big for his head and legs too long for his body. His owner warned us off him, saying he wasn’t a good example of his breed, that his more aloof sister was better looking. That made me love him more. He was perfect. We called him Jackson, after the late, great and recently departed Michael. My son Finlay was a HUGE fan of his at the time, and he chose the name. It suited him, so it stayed.

Jackson sat on my lap all the way home in the car, nervously shaking and politely licking my hand. It was a characteristic that would stay with him until the very end, and something that we had in common – politeness in the face of all things, always wanting the other person to feel good, trying to please, just wanting everything to be nice and everyone to be happy. He was a yellow, four-legged version of me. 

My daughter Amy was two, and she and Jackson became inseparable. She barely registered that he wasn’t human, and he didn’t seem to care that she wasn’t a dog, they were the best of friends. She played with him all day long, laying on him to watch TV, throwing anything she could her chubby hands on for him to ‘fetch’, shouting at him to “drop it!” when he ran off with her favourite bunny. She even started wee-ing in the garden just to be like him, something I had to put a stop to, much to her annoyance. 

When I became a single parent, Jackson was three, and took it upon himself to become the man of the house. He barked at postmen, delivery drivers, visitors; anyone who dared to walk up to (or sometimes even just past) our new home. It drove me mad. Introducing a new man into the house two years later was nerve-wracking; what if Jackson didn’t like him? What if he didn’t like Jackson? Unthinkable I know, but what if…? The day Nick first rang the doorbell I was nervous. Jackson rushed to the door as he always did, desperate to see who was on the other side. I smoothed my hair in the hall mirror and opened the door. Jackson looked at Nick, sniffed him, and then I SWEAR love hearts came out of his eyes. He looked at Nick like he had been waiting for him all his life (I knew the feeling) and fell in love with him on the spot. A year later when Nick moved in, I was officially side-lined to Alpha Number Two.

I didn’t mind. Well, I eventually didn’t mind, it took a while to get used to being nudged out of the way mid-cuddle by my own dog, who wasn’t jealous of Nick, he was jealous of ME! I grew used to him rushing straight past my side of the bed in the morning to say hello to his favourite human, eyes brimming with love. It was OK because Nick loved him back. He worked from home, so Jackson spent his days either sitting at his feet under the desk, nudging him every morning at 10:30am to remind him that it was ‘snack time’, or out on our porch with his front paws dangling over the step, his golden head raised to the sunshine. 

Two days before our wedding last year, Jackson collapsed. We rushed him to the vets, who rushed him to a local animal hospital, who ran some tests. He needed an urgent operation, from which we were told he might not survive. It was scheduled for our wedding day, and we begged them to hold off for 24 hours, and they did, calling us early in the morning of our first day as man and wife to tell us that he had survived and could be brought home. 

To be honest, Jackson was never quite the same afterwards. He aged. He seemed slower, and more delicate. He was still his usual happy, loving, friendly self, but he slept a lot more, and couldn’t handle going for a long walks – much to Finlay’s joy, as he was chief dog walker. He became a real ‘home dog’ and going anywhere else stressed him out; he liked his own bed, his own routine, and being surrounded by his own family.

The end, when it came, was mercifully quick. He hadn’t been himself for a few weeks and we’d been keeping an eye on him. I had to go away with work for a week, and it was while I was away that he went downhill very quickly. Nick to him to the vets and found he had a tumour, and that there was nothing that could be done for him other than make him comfortable until the time came. That time was only a few days later, as I was on the phone home. Nick hung up, and fearing the worst, decided to take him to the vets right away. He called Finlay and Amy into the kitchen, and told them he was taking Jackson in, and it didn’t look good. They held him and cried, and said their goodbyes, just in case. An hour later, my beautiful boy was gone.

Nick called me, sobbing, from the car. Thousands of miles away, in a different time zone, I sobbed with him. He put me on speaker phone when he got home so that we could all be together as a family to talk about Jackson, and I could comfort the children from afar. When we finally hung up, I was destroyed.

That feeling hasn’t quite left me. Coming back home from my trip, opening the front door and not having a big nose snuffling at my fingers as I pulled the key from the lock… His empty bed, his favourite spot on the porch, no bedtime tickles under the chin and a final “Night-night Jackson”, something I’d said and done for nine and a half years. Gone. Done. Finished.

All dogs are special. But Jackson? He was more special than most. He was by my side during my worst of times, and my best of times, and under my feet the rest of the times. I loved him with all of my heart, and I am so, so sad that he has gone. The only comfort that I have is that for him it was quick, and he didn’t suffer. I like to think that he came into my life because I needed him, that he was given to me to help me. And he knew that I am ok now, that I am being looked after, and it was time for him to go and help someone else. It is the only thing that makes me feel a little less heartbroken, to think that somewhere in the world, Jackson is leaning into another human, looking up at them and loving them, and helping them get through whatever it is that they are going through. Whoever you are, you are blessed. Wherever you are Jackson, we love you. Night-night.

11 Responses

  1. Very sad and moving piece.. I cried all the way through.. The bit where you say you barely recognise they are not human. I got Bunty during a really awful year last year.. she has been my little ray of light and sunshine..always pleased to see me and go with me everywhere… I cherish her and her unconditional love enormously. I am sure the house will seem empty and the heartache and grief sometimes overwhelming.. Sending love Andrea… xx

  2. This is absolutely beautiful Andrea and totally catches the essence of being a FurMama to a dog! What a lovely piece about your gorgeous Jackson; it moved me so much to read how you had to go through being away from him when he passed. We’re dog owners. Actually, we don’t own Buddy, our springer, he’s just another member of our crew. Like you, I have a son & daughter, and they have been there with him from day one. Originally, we had gone to look at one of his siblings, but there was something in the way he held back from the others, quietly contemplating our arrival. It was when he climbed into my daughter’s lap and settled down for a snuggle that we realised that we were the ones who had in fact been chosen!

    Buddy is only 7 but already my 15 year son has wondered where he will be when the day comes – he can’t imagine being apart from his mate when he needs him. We’re currently missing him like crazy as he has gone for an extended stay at my parents while we renovate our home. His absence is palpable and each day we come through that front door, it’s a reminder of how much they hold a place in our hearts.

    Only pet owners can appreciate both the joy & pain of having them in our lives. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful dedication to your Jackson. I am sure he’s up on the rainbow bridge chasing butterflies and sleeping soundly.

    Karen x

  3. Oh my, my heart breaks for you, I have 3 golden retrievers who quite simply have saved my life through difficult times and who I love with all my heart. I cannot bear the thought one day they won’t be there but when that time comes I will hope that the joy and happiness they have given will see me through. Sending you my heartfelt condolences and I hope in time your memories will comfort you and your family ? xx

  4. So sad. My son lost his beautiful dog Ruby recently and we are all absolutely devastated. She was so lovely I still cry when I think about her. My son said he is lost without her as she was his best friend. He scattered her ashes on her favourite field where she loved to run. Such a sad time.

  5. This made me sob. I am so sorry for the loss of your beautiful boy but I am sure in some way he is with you. I have felt this heartbreak from losing fur babies. I dread losing my 3 cats who are all sisters and as I read your post Daisy came to sit with me and her eyes looked up at me as if to say "I love you don’t be sad". That’s what Jackson would want to say to you. Over the Rainbow Bridge dear Jackson. X .

  6. Lost my Cocker a week ago. Tears rolling down my face as I write. Through tough times and good she was there. I miss my cuddles, I miss your warm golden fur, I miss your kind face.
    My friend has gone. Tears roll.

  7. What a lovely story! I can totally relate to this. We lost our border terrier last year. We all adored him but he had a special bond with our son and I wrote this poem for him after he had died. It’s amateur I know but I thought I would share it.

    Bailey the border was 13 years old
    But he looked much younger than his years,
    Well loved, deaf and a bit blind
    And lots of old grey hairs

    His legs they were stiff and his teeth gone and rotten
    His very short illness, aww gone, but not forgotten

    Remember the days when he was a cheeky little pup
    And would pinch the tea towels when I was doing the washing up.

    We’d say to him “who’s a little fat pig?”
    And He’d scoot around the room tucking his bum so he didn’t look so big

    I’d open the front door and he’d take himself out,
    Round to the flats each night till I gave him a shout.

    When Mabel came along he was in a total huff
    For a long time he’d ignore us as if he had it real tough.
    Then eventually he mellowed, settled in and would relax in his bed
    And began to protect her, then did so fiercely when she was carrying Ned.

    He loved that little pup and was such a gentle Dad
    It’s such a shame that they only had that one little lad.
    But I’m pleased he got to experience having an offspring in life
    And had Mabel too like his own little wife.

    A loyal good friend he was to all of us, that perfect family pet
    And he loved nothing more than when we made a fuss
    Until that fateful day I took him to the vet.

    I swear he waited for you to come home,
    I’d worried he’d pass before then
    But he’d showed he was fit up until this time
    Though he’d slowed down a lot by then

    You lay our Beau in the ground and served him one last time.
    He’d loved us all back until this day but was now past his prime.

    So we lost that old dog on that very sad night. He would’ve never done anyone harm.
    And you loved him so much you had his name tattooed on your right forearm.

    So long farewell our little Bailey Beau you really are a miss
    If we could have just one moment more I’m sure it would be just bliss

  8. I’m sitting here in the hair dressers covered in hair dye, tears streaming down my face. We lost our goldie girl years ago but her hole is still there.
    We have a new rascal in the shape of a rescue cat. Vincent ! He has filled a new space. Sending hugs x

  9. Omg I just read your piece about Jackson, and had tears in my eyes, I’m so sorry for your loss, I also had to have my dog put to sleep this yr she was 18 such an empty space in our hearts

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