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Hope after heartbreak

A year ago today was one of the saddest days of my life - we had to say goodbye to our faithful companion, Samuel. Raised from an 8-week old puppy, he had been with us through some tough times, but always had a smile on his face and a happy tail wag. He loved life, no more so than when he was out on his 'walkies'.

We had known Samuel wasn’t well for a while, but nothing could have prepared us for the devastating blow we received at the beginning of September 2015. He had an appointment that morning to see the vet about reverse sneezing and occasional bleeding from the nose, which we knew couldn’t be good. While I was getting ready in the bathroom, Samuel sat with me as usual and I noticed a lump on the front of his head for the first time. Even before that, the ‘C’ word had entered my mind and I began to think about how I would afford costly treatment.

At no point did I think all would be hopeless. At just 10 years old, how could this be the end of the road for my beautiful boy? Cancer is treatable, right? It just would have meant the likelihood of some major sacrifices in order to pay for what needed to be done and we would have managed; we always do.

The prognosis was that Samuel’s condition was terminal. There may have been a course of action we could have taken, had it not been for the appearance of the tumour. We were advised quite bluntly that no good would come of such a growth and that we were best to make the most of the time left. While he could not give us a definite time frame, it was clear time was short.

Each day that followed we tried to make count, but there was such a mix of emotions. On the one hand we were grateful for the time we had with Samuel and wanted him to experience and enjoy the things he loved most. He went for extra walks, we took him to the beach, even bought him new toys. All the while though we worried about his condition and couldn’t help but think about the fact we would be losing him.

It didn’t help that we were told by the vet ‘You’ll know’ when we asked the question of when the right time would be to say goodbye. How would we know? Someone said to me that there’s no such thing as too soon when it comes to making that tortuous decision about your animals, but there is a too late. Wise words, but it didn’t help me understand how to do the right thing by Samuel. Of course I didn’t want to end his life prematurely, but at the same time I didn’t want to be selfish and keep him alive for longer than was fair to him. What should I do?

The tumour grew at an alarming rate and on one of the visits to the vets we also found out Samuel had cataracts. Gradually he stopped playing with his toys, but still managed to get excited about his walks so we carried on. By some cruel twist of fate, while our attention was so focused on Samuel, our eldest cat Monica died. She was 15 years old and the vet suspected she had an age-related stroke. It was heart-breaking, such a sweet girl and the last remaining member of what we called our ‘original’ cat family i.e. the three cats we had in our first house together.

Strangely enough, Samuel had a fantastic day that Thursday. He’d been given a steroid injection and some antibiotics the previous evening, which had perked him up immensely. We had also been given 3 weeks’ worth of tablets for him, so were feeling hopeful that time wasn’t as short as we first thought.

That was the last of Samuel’s good days and where he’d been picked up on that Thursday, he crashed the following day. He still managed an excited tail wag for his walk and even wanted to come down the road with us in the evening when we popped to the local shop. But the walk home was difficult and he really struggled to make it back.

The following morning, I went downstairs to find that Samuel couldn’t open one of his eyes. The tumour had developed to such a point that it was seriously impacting his face. I tried to keep my spirits up for his sake and put his breakfast in his bowl. He only managed to eat half of it before walking away and lying down by his bed. Food was second only to walks on his list of favourite things so this was a significant indication that we had reached that dreaded moment.

We rang the vets as soon as they were open and they told us to come in at 10.30 once some of their earlier appointments were out the way so it would be quieter and we’d have more time. Taking it in turns we laid with Samuel on the floor. Another tell-tale sign was that he didn’t even flinch when the post came through the door. Normally he would be up and barking, but whether he didn’t hear it or just didn’t care, either way he was in a bad place.

Any pet owner who has been through this knows how agonising it is. We couldn’t have asked for any better from our vet, who along with the nurse showed incredible patience and compassion. Samuel slipped away quietly and I hoped we had done our best for him, but I couldn’t bear to leave. I knew as soon as I walked out of the door that would be the very last time I’d see him. I just wanted to sit on the floor and hug him forever.

For the next few months we got used to being a cat-only household again. It was very quiet, too quiet. We talked about the idea of getting a new puppy, but didn’t want to rush into anything. As much as anything it wouldn’t be fair on the newbie to be comparing him to Samuel the whole time. The plan was to look at getting a puppy the following spring. In the meantime, we thought of names and enjoyed a few little trips away and dedicated the rest of our time to the cats.

While away over Christmas we looked online for puppies and came across a few adverts. One in particular stood out, so I sent an enquiry. We wanted another boy and this particular breeder had one left. She sent a picture of this funny looking little pup with a black patch over one eye. Straight away he was known a ‘pirate dog’.

Two days after Christmas we went to meet the little guy and fell in love straight away. He was so tiny and loved cuddles. We gave a deposit and then had a long month ahead of us waiting for him to be ready to come home. There was a lot to organise in that time though. First off was getting Sydney’s crate and playpen set up in the kitchen. We hadn’t had this for Samuel so it was a new concept for us, but everything I’d read was positive providing it was introduced properly.

Of course the most fun part was buying all the new toys. We went a bit mad in the pet shop, but we didn’t want him to get bored. We also bought enough so that we could rotate them each day so he felt like he was always being given something new and exciting.

Everything was gradually set up a couple of weeks before his arrival so it gave the cats a chance to get used to things before a crazy puppy gate-crashed their peaceful house. We went to see Sydney once more during that time and the breeder was fantastic in sending us photos regularly so we could see what he was up to. He had a great little family around him and it suddenly dawned on us that we’d be taking him away from all that.

When D-day finally came we were so excited. Everything was ready, I had a few days booked off work to spend with him and we were just eager now to get him home. He was running around with his brother and sisters when we got there. It was a beautiful, fine day, but understandably cold being the end of January. On the way home, my husband sat in the back seat with Sydney who seemed so unsure of what was going on. He was leaving behind everything he knew to start a new life with a couple of strangers and I wondered how he must be feeling about it all.

As soon as we were home we gave him lots of attention and played with him to keep him entertained. We didn’t leave it too long before letting the cats meet him. They were a little unsure, but actually very accepting, especially our youngest, Kenya, who very quickly became a play pal for him. It would be another three weeks before Sydney could go outside for walks, so it was important that there was plenty to keep him stimulated indoors.

The crate and playpen did turn out to be a fantastic idea. Sydney had his meals in there and it was his little space. From the outset we tried to make it a positive place for him to go to and this seemed to work really quickly as when he wanted to go to sleep he’d find his way there himself. Even now it’s continued to be his little space and he is used to a routine of going in there at certain points during the day. For example, after his morning walk he’ll go and have a little rest and do the same after dinner in the evening.

For the first few days we tried to keep him awake as much as possible so he would want to sleep more at night. I can’t say if this actually worked, but we only had two nights of howling. After that he was as good as gold. He even held his toilet all night. We didn’t shut him in his crate at first so that he could go outside in the pen if he needed to, but he never did.

We'd established a nice little routine and the first three weeks went quite quickly so before we knew it, we were taking Sydney out on his first walk. He was so unsure at first, I had to really encourage him down the road, then ended up carrying him home! This didn’t last long and soon we struggled to keep him under control on the lead. As he grew he got stronger and more forceful at pulling. None of the recommended tricks seemed to work and we were at our wits end with it as walking was becoming more and more of a chore. Thankfully, we stumbled across the solution, which was a slip lead that went over his nose. It worked instantly and we’ve never looked back.

One thing we were determined to do while Sydney was young was to introduce him to as many new things as possible. There is a window when puppies are very open to new experiences and after that the fear kicks in and it becomes more difficult. We were thrilled when our vets said they would be running puppy socialisation classes and these did wonders for Sydney’s confidence with other dogs as well as his perception of the vets itself. Straight away it was a good place and not one where only bad things happen.

Sydney is now approaching 10 months and what a cracking little guy he is. He’s always been amazing and we’ve loved him from the moment we met him, but it was a shock to the system when he first arrived; we realised how we had actually come to like the peace and relative calm in the house, even the freedom of coming and going when we liked. All of a sudden we couldn’t go out anywhere; our weekends were planned around Sydney. He had to be let out to go to the toilet frequently so we couldn’t be away from the house for more than a couple of hours at a time. It was hard work at first and we couldn’t take our eyes off the ball for a second. Puppies learn so quickly, but if you’re not careful that can just as easily be the wrong things as the right things, so you have to constantly be teaching them good behaviour.

A year ago I couldn’t imagine reaching the anniversary of Samuel’s death. I still get sad at times thinking of him, but I smile more as I remember the good times and the silly things that he did. Having Sydney around has really helped, but while there are similarities with Samuel, there are also many differences. It has been a joy to see his own personality develop and to nurture him through his first few months. I look forward to spending many years with him.

If you like this post please share it and feel free to come and share your thoughts with me on Twitter or Facebook.

Catherine x

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