This is Luna.
She was my partner’s dog. We’ve been together for two years. She’s been with him for 12, right from when she was a tiny puppy.
A few weeks ago we took both of our dogs out for a walk. We drove, which we often do even though it’s just up the road. We’re lazy, but also Luna would get herself so worked up she would bark and bark and bark, and pull on the lead so much you’d think she’d choke herself. She looked like a little tan-and-black seal, pulling ahead and weaving. So we drove, and the dogs ran around the leash-free park having their usual furry-fun dog-tastic time. I can’t say there’s ever been a walk which did not make us smile or laugh at least once.
We got home. It was starting to get dark. It was raining.
We opened that back door of the car and Luna raced out.
It all happened so fast.
She got hit by a car.
My partner ran to her side. She bit the hell out of him. He patted her and sheltered her.
I panicked and tried to call local vets, but I couldn’t get his phone to work. He took the phone. He was much calmer than me, but he must have been sick to his stomach.
I got on the ground and stroked Luna ‘you’ll be ok, you’ll be ok, we’re here’ I said over and over.
The driver came back. He was sorry. I said ‘it’s not your fault’. He had his grandchild in the back of the car, the little face pressed against the back window, staring out. I remember thinking ‘that kid will remember this for the rest of their lives’.
A woman pulled over. She ran up with her own red shawl and gave it to me. I looked up through my tears and said ‘I don’t know what to do’. She said kindly ‘pick her up. She’s dying’ and gestured for me to use the red shawl. I pulled off my paint-stained jumper and wrapped her up in both.
My partner found a vet.
We drove there.
I ran in and they took her straight through into the surgery. It was freezing but I didn’t feel cold even though I was standing there in an old thin Snoopy t’shirt.
I looked around at the other people in the clinic, there for usual reasons: check-ups and immunisations. Another small child, staring up at me, another memory.
My partner came in. We were led to a more ‘private’ waiting area (I remarked darkly that they must have this other area to keep people like us away from the regulars). He was quiet. Shaken. Scared. Waiting.
The vet came out and took us in another room.
“We did everything we could, but she didn’t make it”.
I was crying. My partner was still but he looked like his very breath had been taken from him. Head bowed.
We were told she didn’t suffer. We think she died fairly quickly, in the arms of the person she loved the most.
It was all quick. Just an hour ago everything was completely normal. We’d returned from a weekend away, rushing about to get ourselves settled back into home and get ready for work the next day. We just picked up our dogs who’d had their own little holiday.
Now Luna was gone.
I made arrangements. We left. We saw family. We cried. We had some drinks. We ate. We sat and stared. Eyes filling with tears.
You know it’s pointless, but you play the whole evening over and over in your head. You’re wondering ‘what if we’d done something different HERE or HERE??’
Would she still be with us? Could we cuddle her again?
She was a noisy creature was Luna.
When anyone came to the door she raced up to them barking. We had to pick her up and apologise. She was only little, just 6 or 7 kg. She didn’t really like being picked up, but we did it all the time anyway- who can help it with a tiny little furry bundle?
Every single day when we came home she would run up to the door with a toy dangling out of her mouth, wriggling and yipping with excitement. Even if we only went out for a couple of hours, she’d be just as pleased when we came home. My dog Ella- who was also 12 years old- followed her and stole the toy out of her mouth.
If you were really lucky, you’d get the ‘royal run’, when Luna would tear up and down the house at top pace. I think she just loved being out of control. My partner said he caught her once standing in the hallway, just barking at herself, wagging her tail, pleased as punch.
Everywhere we went as a family, people would say ‘Big Dog Little Dog!’ They’d delight in pointing them out to each other or their children. Luna would pelt out in front and Ella would follow her. Luna wouldn’t even look back she was so intent on chasing all the smells. Sometimes she would lose us completely, and then run around in a panic trying to find us amongst all the other canines and human legs.
We were proud at having dogs that were so good with children.
We used to jokingly fight over who was boss, but truthfully it was Luna. When we take Ella out now, she walks behind us… like she was trained to do. Without Luna to lead the way she follows the humans again I suppose.
Ella’s lost some of her spark.
She’s never been a dogs-dog. Most people say that she thinks she’s a people too. But Luna somehow wormed her way into Ella’s affections.
Luna little body gets cold easily, so she would sleep right next to Ella’s big warm body. We would find them both sitting or standing next to each other, looking at us expectantly for some reason or other. We used to wonder if they made plans together. If ever there had been an incident when we were out: the bin had been rummaged through or the Smacko’s had been found and eaten we’d assume it was Ella, but I’ve always wondered if Luna was the mastermind. We’d catch Ella throwing shade at Luna: giving her some real side-eye, but we’ll never know what they were really thinking.
It’s quiet around our place now.
Luna did bark, but she also chattered. She talked a lot. She had an entire repertoire of noises. When she’d really carry on my partner would say ‘Luna, only Nicole is allowed to be that noisy’. But i’m not really as noisy either.
People don’t really know what to say.
No one says ‘Big Dog Little Dog!’ anymore.
Non-animal people stare blankly and say awkwardly ‘oh, that’s bad news’. Others give massive hugs and tell you how sorry they are. Close friends, animal people or not, know how much we loved Luna and sympathise. Some animal lovers say ‘I can’t imagine if i lost mine, especially in an accident, that’s so awful’.
It’s not just me and him affected. Luna touched a lot of people over her life. She grew up with a bevy of affectionate owners who are also grieving.
It helps when people understand, when you don’t feel like you have to explain why you needed time off work or why you had to cancel on them or why you don’t feel like talking about it.
And when I did talk about it, with a friend who I knew would understand, she sat across from me, crying alongside, knowing what it would feel like.
It’d a gift to be heard and held and understood without the other person ‘losing it’ themselves. It’s what counsellors do, and her actions reminded me of the preciousness of that connection.
And, also, she knows the truth about dogs.
It gets said a lot, but it is true. There is no comparison for unconditional love like that of a dog.
Dogs adore you, no matter what you do.
Even when we didn’t meet Luna’s expectations, she still loved us. She’d get really edgy when she decided it was time to go for a walk, or time to be fed. She’d jump up on us. She’d stand across the room in front of the door, staring intensely on the verge of a torrent of barking if we didn’t get up immediately and do what she wanted. But if we didn’t, she’d forgive us every time. She never gave up.
She used to sleep on the bed, but when we decided dogs sleep out of the bedroom she begrudgingly agreed.
She began a new mission of sneaking in early in the morning. Sometimes she was cold, but i’m sure she was relying on our tired ‘yeahs….’ as we’d scoop her up onto the bed.
If she was cold, she’d be under the blankets in a heartbeat.
And we’d always let her.
I miss her. A lot.
We had her cremated. Walking back into the vet to collect her ashes was incredibly hard. I parked out the front, then walked into every shop on the street before going in there. I don’t know what we’ll do with them, but i’m glad she’s home with us now.
We still cry.
My partner has lost his companion of 12 years.
Can you imagine what it’s like to lose someone who you have fed, watered, walked, cuddled, talked to, loved and been loved unconditionally by for a huge chunk of your life?
I don’t think dogs are people. They aren’t our babies, I don’t treat them like children (most of the time).
But what they give is so profound it is hard to put into words.
Dogs bear witness to us.
They see things we would never allow another human to see- not even the closest people we love with all our hearts. They don’t judge. A dog would follow you into a gaping chasm with certain death in front of you without even hesitating. I have cried into the fur of my dog many times. I have danced in absolute freedom with her jumping around my feet. I have allowed myself to express the deepest shame and regret with her. She has seen me naked in every way.
This entirely other species we share our lives with. They carry all of our secrets. They know us, in some ways, more deeply than we know ourselves.
I used to scoop Luna up, hold her in my arms, and demand that she ‘be the baby’. She would wriggle and squirm, but she was so small I could hold her anyway. My partner would say jokingly ‘don’t pick on her, she’s just a little girl’.
One time, when he wasn’t there, I picked her up. For some reason I pressed my head on her chest and listened to her little heart beat. So much faster than a human.
Then she wriggled free and barked at me, demanding to be taken on a walk.
So I took her.
That’s how i’ll remember her.
If you are grieving the loss of a pet, or just want to get in touch then please email me directly or fill out my online counselling contact form here. If you would like to receive free posts on ways to approach any number of heartfelt subjects then sign up for monthly updates, and of course do feel free to leave a comment or share your own experience. Thank you for reading.