Dogs are the four-legged family we choose…

When I first met my husband, nearly fourteen years ago, he shared his life with two blondes. One had the long, gangly legs of a teenager and although beautiful, was very, very dumb. The other took on the motherly role to the dumb blonde, being the older, more mature of the two. They both had beautiful brown eyes with the longest eyelashes I had ever seen, four legs and a long, plumey tail – Bailey and Bodhi – Jason’s Golden Retrievers.

Bailey was only six months old when Jason and I started dating, and Bodhi nearly two years. They clearly adored Jason and as much as he referred to them as ‘the knuckleheads’, he loved them too. And as our relationship grew, ‘the knuckles’, found a place in my heart as well.

Jason was sent overseas for four months, leaving the dogs and I together. Because I was a late addition to their family, Bodhi believed that the hierarchy of the house was as follows:

1. Jason
2. Bodhi
3. Bailey
4. Me

He wasn’t receptive to my suggestion that it was time to go outside at bedtime, or the following morning as I tried to leave for work. He would bare his teeth and growl at me as though he was about attack. I had never heard of a Golden Retriever attacking, mainly because I think they are too lazy, but I wasn’t about to risk it. He was a big dog and I was alone. So, he won the battle of wills each day.

Eventually, I got sick of it. Why should a bloody dog run the house? I was a responsible, university educated woman in my late twenties – why the hell was I letting a dog boss me around? Filled with determination, I told Bodhi that it was time to leave the garage and go outside for the day. He snarled and bared his teeth. Undeterred, I bent down to his level and let out a roar that would rival any king of the Jungle.

His eyes widened and nearly popped out of his head in surprise. He looked at me and I looked at him, not budging an inch. My heart was pounding, not knowing if this was about to become the first recorded Golden Retriever attack in history. Slowly, he retreated backwards and out the door into the backyard. Victory! I’d had a major victory and from then on the hierarchy of the house was as follows:

1. Jason
2. Me
3. Bodhi
4. Bailey

The dogs loved the beach and although Bodhi knew, instinctively, not to drink the salt water, Bailey wasn’t as wise. He lapped at the water and was then stunned to find water literally shooting out of his bum like a fire hose. I finally understood the term ‘go through you like a dose of salts’.
Bailey also had trouble chewing bones – he would often get them caught in his molars and was unable to close his mouth for hours at a time, until we found him and dug them out with our fingers. It was gross because his saliva had thickened to the consistency of custard and clung to anything it came into contact with, including fingers and clothing.

The two dogs were together all the time. Bodhi doted on Bailey and Bailey needed Bodhi to look after him – to mother him. It was all he’d ever known.
Ten years and three children later, Bodhi made the mistake of eating some rope that got tangled in his bowel. Jason rushed him to the animal hospital and they performed three surgeries on him. Eventually the vet rang, in tears, to tell us that there was nothing more that could be done for him. He was in terrible pain and the kindest option was to put him to sleep. So, tearfully, we did, because we loved him enough to let him go.

Bailey went into a depression for the next six months and would search the backyard several times each day for his friend. He would cry for Bodhi regularly and there was little we could do to comfort him, other than love him and bring him inside with us. But we knew that we couldn’t fill the void that was now in Bailey’s life, no matter how much we loved him.

Eight months after Bodhi’s passing, Bailey was struck down with lethargy and a sore front leg. A visit to the same vet revealed that Bailey had an aggressive form of bone cancer in his shoulder that could not be treated. Again, the kindest thing to do was to put him to sleep.

We all flocked to the vets and gathered around Bailey to say our goodbyes . He was in terrible pain, but was still his cheery, vague self. We all cried together; the boys cuddled him and told him how much they loved him, that he was the best dog ever and that they’d never, ever, forget him. My heart shattered, watching them say their farewells to our beautiful friend of so many years and so many memories.

I took the boys home while Jason stayed with Bailey as the vet administered the injection. He held Bailey in his arms until Bailey’s heart stopped and then he came home to a teary family and a home devoid of four-legged family members for the first time in thirteen years.

Some people say that dogs are just dogs. But I think that they are so much more. They are the four legged family we choose to love and share our lives with. They love us unconditionally, comfort us when we are down, and always brighten our day with their enthusiastic greeting. I’d never had anyone so excited to see me – and it wasn’t just once a day, it was every time I stepped out the back door.

I’ve read that dogs to heaven when they die, where they run in fields and on beaches all day before returning to the bedside of their loved ones to sleep each night. I think that’s kind of nice.


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