Losing a Canine Companion

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on August 29, 2012.

Last week my family had to say good-bye to an old friend.  Millie was one of two dogs my husband owned when I met him.  She was a pretty, medium-sized mut with long brown and black hair.  She was my husband’s first dog, and she helped him through a rough time in his life, so I know losing her was especially sad for him.

My husband loves to tell the story of how he got Millie at the Barrow County Animal Shelter.  She was one of a litter of puppies that someone had thrown over a fence.  (I will refrain from expletives here.)  Fortunately, Millie did not have injuries from that, though some of her siblings did.

When my husband picked her out, she was taken to the vet for a thorough examination, and it was discovered that she had parvo.  Parvo, or canine parvovirus, is a highly contagious virus that affects dogs.  It can be especially fatal for puppies that are not protected by maternal antibodies or a vaccine. Though the outcome looked grim for Millie, my husband told the vet he would like to wait overnight to see what might happen.

My husband’s gamble paid off because Millie quickly recovered while all the dogs at the shelter had to be put down to stop the spread of the disease. My husband took her home, and she became his little buddy.  It wasn’t long after that, however, that my husband thought Millie needed a friend while he was at work all day. So he adopted Samantha or “Sam” as we called her.

Sam was slightly bigger and a whole lot smarter than Millie, so Millie had to assert her authority in order to stay the number one dog.  Poor Sam.  She had to endure a lot from Millie, but she remained subservient and a loyal friend.  Despite Millie’s occasional growls, they became good companions until Sam died shortly after my first son was born.

Millie and Sam both had to endure the addition of my cat and me, though I think my cat would claim to have the raw end of the deal in this new house that we all moved to almost nine years ago so that we could call ourselves a family.

It was a sad day when Sam died, and Millie took it hard.  Sam was the adventurous one who took her on pilgrimages around our backyard everyday.  After Sam died, Millie just sat on the ground and did nothing.  So we didn’t waste much time in getting Banjo, our young dog who is now alone and missing Millie.  He kept Millie on her toes, and I believe his energy and companionship helped her have a good quality of life these past few years.

Unfortunately, life has its cycles, both good and bad.  Millie got old and sick.  We knew she was ailing, so her passing was not completely unexpected, though it did happen on our three-year-old’s birthday, which we weren’t expecting.  Fortunately, he was too young to fully grasp what was happening.

My six-year-old, also, was a little too young and lacked the memories of Millie that we have, so for him, the whole ordeal was one that elicited more questions than sorrow. Fortunately for my husband, he also wanted to help him with the process of burying her in our backyard.

My husband was proud of the six-year-old.  For the first time he helped his dad with a difficult project, and he stuck with the work until it was finished. The red clay was hard and dry, but they dug it together.  We were all together as we covered her up and said good-bye.

Marty Tousley, a bereavement counselor, writes, “With their constant presence, availability and devotion, pets are our best source of unconditional love, becoming for many of us the ideal child, parent, mate or friend. They listen without judgment or reproach, and never give advice. They accept us exactly as we are, regardless of how we look or feel or behave. They forgive us readily and never hold grudges against us. No matter how much change we must endure in our unpredictable lives, our pets are always there for us.”

We certainly feel a hole in our lives now that Millie is not here.  She was a sweet, loving dog, and we’ll miss her.

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