It doesn't matter how much we think we are prepared for our dogs leaving us - it still hurts like hell when they do. Sometimes we have a long period of decline during which we can say goodbye - old age or illness does gives us that opportunity, although the downside is watching our friend slowly become less able to enjoy life until the time comes when we must make the decision. We can stop the suffering for them, bring an end to the decline, allow them to leave this life with dignity.
On the other hand, sometimes we lose them suddenly, and the shock can be something that consumes our minds and our thoughts.
I guess when Tussock left me, I had the best and worst of both worlds. I knew she was slowing down, I knew she was tired, I knew she had mammary tumours, laryngeal paralysis, a weakening back end - but all these things seemed to be kind of under control - not so bad that she couldn't still enjoy life. Indeed, the supplement I put her on in the last month of her life had given her a new lease of life - she was playful, trotting along on walks, more able to get into the back seat of the car. I really didn't see it coming so soon.
Our early morning wander into the wooded area over the road from the house is just that - a wander. Okay, so the youngsters tear around and chase one another, but of late, Tussock and I just went as far as she needed to go to have a pee and a poo. This was a wander we had if I had to leave them for a couple of hours in a morning. That Saturday was such a day. We wandered over, I saw her poo, then she had a long, long pee, kicked up the leaves, looked at me as if to say "can I go home now?". I nodded yes, and she set off on the path to the gate. I shouted the others to come, and as I walked back, they shot past me, and round the bend in the path. I came round the bend, and Tussock was laid out flat. My first thought was that the others had knocked her over. I reached her, she took a breath - but then I realised that breath had just been her body closing down. I don't actually know if I reached her before she died, but I hope so - in time to tell her I loved her, to tell her to go free, to tell her I will see her again one day.... I was lucky in that I had told her I loved her many many times over the years, and certainly over the last few months. But it still doesn't seem enough.
It's amazing how much emotion and how many thoughts can be in your brain and mind at a single moment. At that moment in time I felt peaceful and I felt grateful - for her long life, her good health, her rapid exit, at not having to make a decision further down the line, for her not having to go through pain and loss of dignity. I felt immense sadness, concern about the others, and a bizarre train of logical and practical thoughts which enabled me to function.
I had to find someone to help me carry her home - a passing friend came to my aid. I laid her on the sofa in the conservatory, arranging her so that it just looked as though she were sleeping. Then I just sat with her, and cried. At some point I pulled myself together enough to phone the pet crematorium to arrange to take her there. That evening, I put on the radio for her, and lit a candle, and we kept the door to the conservatory open, despite the cold. The candle burned all night, and the radio played until we left for the crematorium on the Monday morning.
Skara kept approaching Tussock's body, have a sniff, and look at me in puzzlement. She seemed to be processing it. River wouldn't go near her, and I realised she would be the one who would need the most support in the coming weeks.
The journey to the crematorium was stressful for a whole load of reasons. But we got there. We said our last goodbyes, and then we had to leave her.
A week on and we are beginning to adjust. Skara is very clingy, and River is looking for reassurance from me. It is as if she knows she is boss-dog now, but she doesn't know how to be. It will come in time, I'm sure. Her respect for Tussock was immense. She came along when Tussock was in her prime, and got flattened on many occasions. But it wasn't just respect - there was a love there, too. I would catch her quietly and gently washing Tussock's face on many occasions. The whole dynamic has changed and is still changing as River and Skara find their feet.
And me? I miss her nose in my hand out on a walk. I miss feeling her eyes upon me, watching my every move, and that intensity of her eyes. I miss helping her in and out of the car, and up the stairs. I miss her suddenly sitting down in front of me and tripping me up. I miss her coming for her morning bum scratch, her excited voice when I came home from somewhere. Today I missed her at work - carrying her blanket into the cottage where we were working and having her under the table. I miss her stretching out beside me on the bed. I feel as though I have lost a part of me. Yes, I still have River, and Skara, and Talulah some of the time, but - they are their own "people", not Tussock, and I wouldn't have it any other way. All our dogs are special in their own particular way.