A few days ago, a friend lost her beloved dog, Charlie, who was bitten by a snake and died within minutes. Her family are devastated. They had rescued Charlie from a horrible life and she became a trusting and devoted girl who followed my friend around like a grateful shadow and was much loved by everyone.
I’m old enough to have lost a dog or two in my time, and I know how very little eases the awful aching loss. Yet sometimes words have a power—written or spoken—to ease the pain where nothing else can.
The story below was written when my beloved Brando died. I offer it to Charlie’s family at this difficult time, and to everyone, everywhere, who is mourning a much-loved dog.
A Dog’s Life.
‘What a magnificent creature!’ I said.
‘He is,’ said the owner, ‘but I have to find him a new home.’
‘I’ll have him!’ I said. And that’s how it all began.
He was a three year old Poodle named Bran after the mythical Irish god of the sea. It was a very good name for a dog who loved swimming but when our children saw how besotted and just plain silly we were with him they called him All-Bran.
‘No way!’ we said and he became Brando with absolutely no connection to method-acting Marlon except for being the big star of our lives.
Brando was with us through all the happy times and hard times that come with second marriages and blended families and if he was sometimes wild and disobedient that was probably around the time my mother died and he needed a firm hand and I was grieving too much to be firm with anyone, especially him. And every morning he would swim far out to sea with his father, blue bathing cap and black poodle perm becoming smaller and smaller until they turned at the marker and swam back to shore. Then he became a hospital therapy dog and visited AIDS patients and the elderly and once a nurse lifted him onto the bed of a tiny old lady who almost died of excitement and we didn’t do that again.
When my grandson was born, he rode Brando like a horse and later dressed him in fairy dresses and tinsel and Christmas ribbons. We built forts and made him the baddie and locked him outside but he just waited patiently until the grandson went home and life could return to normal except for food droppings on the floor which were always much better when the grandson was around.
For such a big dog, Brando was the gentlest of giants. His eyes seemed to carry the wisdom of the whole world, almost as if his old soul and had been here before. He was regal and wise, funny and kind, and mostly we took him for granted and forgot that life always comes to an end—for dogs and for all of us—and how scary is that? But slowly and surely he became an old dog with stiff legs and grey hair and strange lumpy protuberances. He grew hard of hearing and lost interest in the ginger cat down the street, yet his big heart stayed brave and true: a publisher’s rejection guaranteed a thorough face-licking: dogs passing the house, still earned a croaky rebuke.
Then one day we looked into his poor suffering eyes and knew the time had come. We helped him into the car and drove twice round the roundabout on the way to the vet, delaying, weeping. At the hospital we stroked his fluffy ears and cried and watched him slip gently into bliss.
When he was gone, the grief was unbearable. Yet we knew without a doubt that he had come to us that day on the pier for a season, and for a reason. He had come to teach us the important things about living and dying that can only be learned by loving and being loved in return.
I know you have shared the same journey as me. This is for Charlie’s family and for everyone grieving a dog wherever you may be.