For Sandy

On the 12th July 2014 I had to make the dreadful but necessary decision to say goodbye to my best friend. Sandy Anderson was the best dog you could ever wish for. A permanently happy, bouncy, excitable, great big clumsy teddy bear. For a Labrador, she was remarkably dumb. The absolute anomaly in a breed that can do so many jobs better than humans, she was a right div, but my god was she happy. She lived better, and brighter, with more of a boundless energy than anyone I've ever known. She was my favourite family and for a long time, my life line and my main source of company. I miss that beautiful dopey dog more than words can say.

I'd never been in a situation before where I'd had to make THAT decision. You know the one. The one we all dread. The one we wish we'll be saved from by them drifting away in their sleep. I had no idea how to go about it and was so anxious about making sure it was the right time for her. That I was getting the balance right between not cutting her life short, but ensuring she wasn't suffering. I was waiting for her to give me a sign that she was ready to go. Sure, she had cancer but she was responding to treatment, and sure she had arthritis in her old age but she was eating, and still greeting people with the waggliest tail and loved going for her walks even though they were becoming shorter and slower.

I knew her time was reaching the end when she started to eat slowly. She was a Labrador. Eating slowly is simply not on their radar. They inhale their food like they've never been fed. Then from eating slowly, she started to eat around her medication. Then she started to leave food in her bowl. And in the last few days she didn't eat at all.

On what came to be her final morning, I woke up early to get ready to go to out for a friends birthday. But as soon as I came downstairs it was clear that Sandy had taken a turn for the worse. Her breathing had quickened, her eyes were wide and panicked, she was visibly distressed, disorientated and clearly in pain. She wouldn't eat her food. So I made her chicken. She would never refuse that, she would sit salivating by the oven. Then maybe, just maybe I could get the pain relief into her and calm everything down. But she clamped her jaw shut and stared into my eyes with such a definite knowing. She was ready, even if I wasn't.

We called the vets and they set a time which left us with two hours to say the goodbyes no one wanted to say. Our neighbours came round and they each took it in turns to say thank you to her for bringing them so much joy, for being the dog they never had, but had always wanted. It was heartbreakingly sweet, and gut wrenchingly sad.

You try to prepare yourself for that moment when your old faithful friend is growing older. I'd never seen a dog get put down before, my only frame of reference was the scenes in 'Marley and me' which I'd watched once with a tear drenched face.

I always thought that ending a life this way would feel wrong. I thought I would feel crippled with guilt. I thought I would feel like the Dot Cotton to Sandys Ethel, I thought I would hate the vet for "killing her". Christ, there's a glimpse into the melodramatics of my anxious imagination. 

But you don't feel like that at all. It is the kindest thing you can do. And after seeing my Grandparents die much slower and significantly more painful deaths, it is absolutely the better alternative that animals have that option. That luxury. To go peacefully and with dignity.

I held Sandy in the car as we drove to the vets. Sam Smiths "lay me down" was playing on the radio and I couldn't handle to hear those words of loss seeping out through the speakers, suffocating the air.

We pulled up. I picked Sandys weak and weary body up, along with my own, and we walked slowly into the vets. Sandy usually loved the vets, she would wiggle up to everyone and do the rounds to say hello as they always treated her with beaming smiles and a big "Good morning Sandy Anderson". They always full named her. Everyone did.

That day was different. We walked into sympathetic glances and hushed tones. She took a few steps through the door then turned to leave. I heavy heartedly had to coax her back. The receptionist was waiting and gave me the biggest hug as I was trying, and failing, to hold it together.

We went into the room where a pile of blankets were splayed out on the floor, like we were attending the worlds most depressing picnic. The vet had known Sandy since she was 9 weeks old and had helped save her life through her first 3 battles with cancer. You could tell he was emotional too. He explained the protocol and how as the medication kicks in, the muscles will relax, she might make some strange noises but just to look at him. If he's not looking worried, there's nothing to worry about. He then explained it might cause her to urinate or defecate. As he said those words, Sandy slowly started to squat with her wobbly, arthritic little legs, stared him square in the eyes, and pissed all over the floor. This continued to go on for such a ridiculously long time as we all laughed through our tears and shuffled away from the ever expanding puddle. Even in her final hour, her comedy timing was impeccable. Considering she was the kind of dog who had to spin around a hundred times before she found the right spot to pee, and would usually try to hide her face in a hedge to preserve her dignity, this was a bold move from ole Sandy Pandy.

Once Sandys dirty protest had been dealt with, it was time. I held her, a lovely nurse supported her and the vet gently administered the drugs. Sandy hated people being upset and I didn't want the last thing she was going to see to be my big sobbing moon face. But I couldn't hold the tears back. They were splashing off her perfect little head as they poured out of my eyes. She fell into my arms and immediately, I felt every ounce of pain leave her body. It lifted right out of her. I know it sounds silly, but she looked young again. She looked like little 6 year old Sandy, sound asleep, who would at any minute start her elaborate dream twitching. What I thought was going to be the most brutal moment, in a flash, turned into something strangely beautiful.

To anyone who's never had a dog, reading this you may be unable to know the depths of that loss. It's "just an animal". It's not that big of a deal. That assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

A dogs job on this earth is to love unconditionally, and Sandy did that every single day of her life. She was so loved, not just by us, but by everyone. People who were scared of dogs, were never scared of Sandy. Kids in the street would run up to her and shower her with cuddles when we'd take her for a walk. Or knock on the door and ask "is Sandy playing out?" like she was their little friend. When I was learning to walk again, going from lamppost to lamppost, Sandy was by my side giving me the courage to make those painful steps and the confidence to push beyond my fears and venture out into the world.

She was more than just a dog. She was a little fluffy superhero. Making the world a better place, simply by being in it. I'm so grateful I got to spend nearly fourteen years with her. She was a once in a life time kind of pup.

Losing a dog generates a specific kind of grief, quite like no other. It teaches you the capacity of which your heart can break, and slowly allowa you to experience the vines of love, growing, blossoming through the shattered pieces. It shows you how to value life’s simplicities and instills an unwavering gratitude. Dogs are magical bringers of joy, how lucky we are to get to call them part of the family.