What I’ve learned from my special companion
The last 2 weeks have been challenging. It’s made me consciously practice what I preach and in a strange way it’s reinforced much of my own thinking.
My beloved dog and companion, Tawny (Llannddona Tawny-Owl) passed away last Wednesday, aged almost 15. It’s a long time to have a pet and one that was really fit and well right up until a week or so ago.
Tawny, my Bearded Collie was such a laid back dog and took everything in his stride — except for two things…
His internal time clock told him that we went for a walk as soon as I got out of bed and again anytime after 4.00 pm (he never made allowances for daylight saving!) This meant that he’d start grizzling as soon as I was out of bed and again about 4.00 pm. After all – this might be the first day of his entire life that he didn’t get his morning or afternoon walk!
The second exception was food.
If he found a scrap of bread that a bird had dropped he could move as quick as lightening. This was a dog who stopped to scrape chewing gum off the footpath with his teeth! Following our morning walk, Tawny received a dog biscuit. The evening walk was followed by his dinner and then a small dog chew when he bought his bowl in from outside. Then he was content. The rest of the time he was completely undemanding – oh, except if I stood talking to someone for too long on our walks, then I could expect him to bark at me to ‘hurry up’.
He was extremely patient with Asian tourists. We’d often see them walking from the Kingsgate Hotel around Cornwall Park, cameras in hand. And they would ALWAYS want to take photos of him. They were besotted with him to the point that they never even noticed any other peoples’ dogs – just Tawny. He would patiently pose with a look that said, ‘Why can’t we just have a normal walk like all the other dogs?’
Loved by cats
Even the cats in the neighbourhood used to come out and cuddle up to him. When it first happened I was as shocked as Tawny. Having never owned a cat, neither of us quite knew what to do. There were usually three or four cats that would come up and smooch around his face. They obviously sensed a very gentle being.
When Tawny died I began to realise just how much impact he’d had on other people’s lives. Not only my three closest friends who have looked after him for periods when I’ve been away from home or overseas and who have been involved with him regularly but many, many others.
The day after he passed away I decided to send an email to a few people who knew Tawny to let them know of his passing. I must admit that my intentions were twofold; firstly to let them know what had happened but secondly so that when I talked to them in the future that they didn’t automatically ask, “And how’s Tawny and Shaggy?” Because then I’d have to explain to them at that point what had happened. A purely selfish reason, I suppose.
So many people
So I went through my email address book adding people to the BCC file to be notified. I expected there would be a dozen or so. I ended up with over 70. These were just people who knew Tawny in some way, not the hundreds of others who have heard me talk about him or seen me walking him.
Lesson number one
I sent the email. Then I started getting emails back from people, reminding me of special times they had spent with Tawny. What a lovely dog he had been and what a great life he had had. It confirmed for me that we’re all part of a larger whole and we often have no idea what impact we have. We all belong to systems, each part of that system influencing and having an impact on the other parts of the system. I’d had no idea how many lives Tawny’s life had touched and the impact he’d had on them.
Lesson number two
My second lesson this week has been to allow myself to be supported and to grieve. I’ve had some really miserable hours but I know things will get easier and I thought sharing some of what’s happened might help you, now or in the future.
In clearing up, washing, drying and putting away dog beds and bedding, bowls, giving away dog food etc I felt, at times like I was ‘getting rid’ of Tawny. It seemed distressing, but practically I knew it had to be done.
There was the realisation that this is the first time in almost 30 years that I’ve been without a dog, having always had a least one and usually two. There seems to be a lot of extra space in the house now – a disproportionate amount – and it’s very quiet.
There have been lots of tears – and not only mine. But also many laughs and many people have reminisced about some of Tawny’s quirky ways and how, because he seemed so soft and laid back, that he’d have people wrapped around his little finger (figuratively speaking!).
For example, whenever anyone looked after him, he’d bark (just one very loud bark) and get them up in the middle of the night to be let outside. Even though I warned them beforehand that he would try out this tactic and that he didn’t really need to go out. After a couple of nights of not sleeping, they would ring me up and say they wondered if something was wrong. I’d tell them that he was just winding them up and that next time he did it to just tell him, in a very firm voice, to “get on your bed”. It worked every time and after that they’d have no more problems. He was just testing the boundaries of his caregivers!
The things that have been reinforced for me this week:
- You really don’t know how much of an impact you have in the world. Like dropping a stone into a still pond, the ripples can extend a long way. This applies to animals as well as humans. If a dog can have this much impact, just how much do you think you have?
- Every one of us is needed because we all impact the systems of which we’re a part. The world is never the same when one goes.
- It’s OK to be sad. It’s just another emotion and it’s our own judgment that determines whether we experience the emotion as good or bad.
- Friends are priceless.
- It’s OK to ask for help and support; most people will give it unconditionally.
- It’s important to treasure your pets, then you’ll have no regrets when they go.
- The loss will get easier to bear.
- Dogs keep you fit – if you let them!
- Some vets are very caring of pets and their owners.
- Dogs should be so well trained that you can take them anywhere and be welcome to take them back again.
- Dogs don’t worry about the weather. So you get wet, you get dry and life goes on!
It was only a few weeks ago that we were asked to do some promotional photos for the TV programme, Downsize My Pet. I asked the woman on the phone if she realised Tawny was almost fifteen and that he wasn’t overweight. The response was, “Yes, but I’ve been told that he’s a lovely dog and we’d really like him to do it if you don’t mind. It’s to promote the series so we don’t want an overweight dog.” Of course they also wanted Shaggy, my parrot, so the 3 of us drove to the set to do the photo shoot for TV3.
Tawny was no stranger to fame
Tawny has done several advertisements and still photography shoots. He won first prize in the National Dog Obedience competitions — but it was all quite a few years ago. When he was a puppy I was running a dog training company with a friend and Tawny attended every puppy training class for the first 2 years of his life. He’s the best-socialised dog I’ve ever met.
Eyesight not great
At his age, Tawny’s eyesight was failing. Nevertheless on the Downsize My Pet set, Tawny’s total focus was on a packet of biscuits which had been placed on a chair at the side of the set. He was so intently focused on these that he didn’t even see the miniature horse he was sharing the set with! When the horse sniffed his face, Tawny leapt about 3 feet in the air!
Want to know more?
I found this poem and it seemed so appropriate. I hope you enjoy it.
When God had made the earth and sky, the flowers and the trees,
He then made all the animals, the fish, the birds and bees.
He said, “I’ll walk this world of mine and give each one a name.”
a little creature followed Him until its strength was spent.
the little creature said, “Dear Lord, there’s not one left for me.”
I’ve turned my own name back to front and
called you dog, My friend.”
~~Author Unknown~~Dedicated To Tawny 9-01-93 to 24-10-2007