• Lou Devine

The bitter yet best contract you sign when you bring a dog into your life

It’s been a week since I had to say the most painful goodbye to our darling boy Barney, who had lived to a grand (but not nearly long enough) age of 14 years and 8 months.

If you choose to bring a dog into your home, you may acknowledge that it’s a finite contract that you’re entering into but the reality is that when the excitable, loveable pup (or older dog) enters your life it’s impossible to truly consider the void they will one day inevitably leave. This is even more true in the case of Barney who entered our lives predominantly to fill the massive hole created by my mum’s death.

When I sent a pleading email to my husband, Gary, asking if we could go and see this gorgeous bundle of brown fur (with a white chest) I think we both knew our lives were going to change forever. Barney was the perfect way to reposition the love and care that I had up until now given to my mum in the last few years of living with secondary breast cancer.

Not that it was all plain-sailing at the beginning - Barney had attitude by the bucket load from the get-go, and I still wonder if Gary gave the puppy school leader a back-hander to ensure he’d graduate! But he also had a beautiful soul and was the epitome of unconditional love.

When I got pregnant with Jacob, I was so worried about the effect it may have on our little puppy that I paid a tenner for a CD (yes, I’m that old) of baby sounds aimed specifically at dogs to reassure them before the real thing puts in an appearance – that online shop saw me coming!

Jacob arrived and of course Barney’s Labrador/Springer Spaniel traits came into force - “I want to please everyone so I’ll lick the baby, accept the baby and hope I get an extra gravy bone if I let the baby pull my ears”.

Lucas arrived and our family of five was complete. Anything we planned, we considered Barney and his needs. While dog-free homes may have lost routine during lockdown, that was wonderfully impossible to do with our old boy. If we had dared to forget it was dinner time or if it had gone past his lunch-time walk, he would clip-clop over to one of us, sit as close as he could and rather unnervingly stare without blinking until he’d got his message across.

Barney was so integral to our family dynamic, we miss his all-encompassing welcome when we return to the house, the same welcome whether we'd been out a few hours or just popped to the Co-Op. I miss the smell of his paws. I miss my 4-o’clock cuppa and cuddle with him. I miss him nudging me while I work at my desk. I miss his nightly pleading for a bone.

I read this recently (author unknown): “There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals. It is a cycle unlike any other.

“To those who have never lived through its turnings or walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible.

“Only we know how small a price we pay for what we receive; our grief, no matter how powerful it may be, is an insufficient measure of the joy we have been given.”

And while my grief is raw right now, I know in my heart it will one day be outweighed by the incredible fortune of having Barney in my life.

Run free, my boy, I love you so much.

[A huge thanks to go to all the wonderful people who have let me cry on them this week, delivered flowers and gifts, dropped everything to come and see me and many lovely people who have sent messages. It means so much].

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