For the Love – and Loss – of a Dog

By on 11 September, 2015 in Lynne Burford, Pets with 6 Comments

photo(1)Last month, I had to let my dog go.

She was not just any dog, she was Anya. The most noble, graceful, selfless and innately kind dog I have ever known. She was a Greyhound, born ten years ago in a litter of nine. She was racing at a track near my home with a local trainer. He called her “pet quality.” She came to live with us on the farm in 2005, joining horses, other rescues and chickens. Oh, and a rowdy band of Chihuahuas.

Anya loved her freedom. She soared, she sped, she flew over those fields when I was on my horse. The hay bales in the barn became a perch from which she could survey her domain. She swam in the pond, cooled off in her own baby pool, and was the only big dog allowed in the house – because she had impeccable Southern manners.

I divorced, left the farm with Anya, my barn cat, and Chihuahuas in tow, and moved to town. Anya never missed a beat. She adapted instantly to her new digs, claimed an oversized chair as hers, and shared her space with the little dogs without fuss. We took long walks in the neighborhood. She went with me to the new barn when I rode, always taking a few laps around the field before a dip in the pond and a nap in the shade. She knew when I pulled out my riding boots that it was a barn day and would stand on her hind legs at the door in happy anticipation of the adventure ahead.

photoIn 2010, my granddaughter Stella was born. When she started trying to walk, it was Anya whose side Stella used for balance. Anya’s gentle patience was a window into her soul. She protected Stella from falls, nudged her when she moved too slow, and lay beside her when she played in the grass. When the baby was around, Anya stood watch. Anya’s back was saddled with towels and baby dolls were placed atop her, patiently carried as Stella led her around the house. We could not say “good dog” enough.

Every day at lunch, I went home to let her out. Every day I was greeted with her hopping up and down, happy to see me and happier to go out to relieve herself, since proper ladies don’t make messes in the house. She had a ritual – pee, stomp, scratch the ground, RUN. She would chase a tennis ball or toy, throw it up herself and catch it, and be ready to come in for a nap. No matter where we lived, her size XL memory foam filled bed was always there, in a place from which she could see the entire room.

Late last summer, at the dog park, she experienced her first real back pain. After a sweeping run, she suddenly sat down, legs trembling. I had to get help to get her to the car. At nine, she was paying the price for racing. Arthritis of the spinal muscles was diagnosed, and medication prescribed to help. For several months she got relief and was almost normal. The meds were working. She still had good days when she would walk with me almost down the whole street, with a sprint or two in the neighbor’s wide expanse of grass. At those moments, she had the look of sheer happiness on her face. But as this summer progressed, she had more not so good days, when she walked into front yard, looked at me with those chocolate marble-eyes, and said “not today.” She was devastated by the limits of her failing body. My heart was breaking.

On July 22, in the month of her tenth birthday, the dice rolled against her one last time. She came in after her play-break in the back yard with her front leg hanging. She was able to jump in the “way-back” of the car one last time. Radiographs showed no break, but spinal damage was confirmed. A disc rupture, a nerve severed, a bulge, an embolism … whichever it was, a life altering medical event that ended any hope of recovery was going to force me into making the second hardest decision of my life.

Anya gave me her whole self, without asking for an iota of anything back. It was my turn to give her the only thing that really mattered – enough love to set her free from the pain and failure of her earth-suit.

So I laid down in the kennel with this magnificent, glorious, elegant lady, who was by then heavily sedated, and repeated over and over into her ear, “you’re a good dog. You’re a Good Dog”. I breathed into her face; I stroked that long perfect nose; I kissed her ears; I told her thank you. She wouldn’t close her eyes, as I think she was afraid to let me out of her sight. My protector, my noble girl, even at the end.

How does one ever live with such a huge hole in one’s chest, where the heart grew so big with love for something that once that something is gone. The void is so huge that you can’t breathe. How will my sadness, my grief ever measure up to the love I had for her, and she had for me? Will I ever feel like I have honored her memory adequately with my grieving for her? I owe her so much, I honor her every minute her face appears in my mind’s eye. Did she know in life how treasured she was? Did she know how I wanted her life to be beautiful, and rich, and full of joy? Does she know now how deeply and completely she is missed? I will see sunshine on a pond, and think of her. I will remember her long body hanging off her dog bed, head on the wood floor, blissfully asleep. I will call “Ahn!” in my mind when I open the back door. I will dream of her, weep for her absence, and yes, I believe I will see her again on the other side of this life.

To really love an animal means seeking insight into that animal’s soul. I often looked into Anya’s eyes and saw hers. She was intelligent beyond belief. She knew over 20 words, many hand signals, and could read my face in an instant. Last month, I found a silk cord with brass bells that used to hang from the doorknob, the signal which over the years she used when she needed to go out. I thought to myself how happy I was not to have hung the bells in this house, because she only went out before bed and in the morning now.

And when the void in my chest swells, and the tears come, I will remember what an acquaintance messaged me, the morning after Anya was released from pain:

“I’m so sorry for your loss today, she is such a beautiful girl and I hope she has made friends with my Pearl by now. I have to ask, is there a grey-haired, maybe 5’10-6’ gentleman that you know who has passed away? It’s hard to explain, but he came to get her this afternoon, she wagged her tail and he picked her up. I see things, my Indian grandmother did too, and she always told me I had her gift. Your girl is happy.”

Thanks, Daddy. Keep my girl close, as she is special to me. Until we meet again, I love you both.

Lynne Burford is a lifelong animal advocate who has been rescuing since she was a little girl. From birds and snakes to raccoons and foxes, she has rehabilitated and released back into the wild many orphaned and injured creatures. For the last ten years her focus has been on fostering and volunteering with rescues to place dogs into permanent and loving homes. Aside from various sizes of foster dogs, she owns a small pack of chihuahuas.

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There Are 6 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Dogs are God’s proof to us that there is indeed such a thing as unconditional love. So glad you experienced it. She will be there waiting for you when you cross the Rainbow Bridge!

    • Jan says:

      After reading your beautiful tribute I felt like you were and are living my life as I lost my greyhound suddenly to osteo last year. He also went from place to place after my divorce. I never knew such deep love and there are days where I call to him too. Hugs to you.

  2. AJ Fischer says:

    Beautiful tribute to her. I lost my Chopper last week at 14 years old.
    He was my everything dog. Thank you for writing about your babies passing . I will love and miss Chopper every day

  3. I have had so many four legged children in my life,I have loved them all beyond belief my heart truly broken each time one passes and leaves me behind.God Bless you, for you have known unconditional love as some folks never get to know,the true love of a dog

  4. Gale says:

    So beautiful a story of the love of a loyal dog. I, too, had a wonderful love of an American Eskimo dog for 16 years. He was truly the love of my life and I miss him as much as I loved him. I adopted two more dogs, whom I love very much; however, Sunny (AKA Sundancer) was so much of a big part of my life while living in Alaska and also when we moved down here to Alabama. I look forward to the day I will see him again at the Rainbow Bridge.

  5. Twila says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a deserving greyhound.
    We helped our Flyer over the Bridge on July 22 too.
    It is such a hard thing to do but one that is best for them, which is all we ever want for our best friends and confidantes. There is a special place on the Rainbow Bridge for our Rancho On The Fly and your Anya, I think.

    I still have days when his memory comes to visit and I can’t help but cry. I know he would not want that. He’d say Mom, be happy for me for I’m no longer in pain and I can run and play and eat dog treats all day.

    Rip Miss Anya

    Bless your heart for adopting her, Lynn.

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