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Saying goodbye to an older friend

How we say thank-you, thank you for everything.

Today, I had to say goodbye to our lovely Gucci. Gucci came into our lives when her lovely mum became very poorly. She arrived 10 months ago as an emergency foster from The Red Foundation, I had absolutely no intentions of having another foster stay. No room at the inn!

But after her mum passed away 4 days later I found myself with my arms wrapped around this kind gentle soul mourning her loss with her.....and well, there was room after all!

See.... this gentle, quiet, kind soul just slotted in easily aongside the excitable loons already here, like she had always been here. Her first kiss she raised her lips showing her teeth which had me moving backwards rather quickly anticipating a bite to the nose, but instead her tongue whipped was her way of saying I love you. Her dobby ears would whip you like a leather glove across the face and neck and she seemed to have perfect aim every single time! Her little excited zoomies when she went outside in the garden and of course the most wonderful snuggles, usually found perched on my left shoulder!

With all the sadness in March, I missed her 15th birthday (and mine), but we had a delayed celebration of her favourite foods and a lovely dry walk across the fields. She loved to have a sniffle and a romp. Despite having a grade 5 heart murmur, she had no symptoms and was a happy little button.

And suddenly at the end of April that changed, she developed Glaucoma in her left eye. Glaucoma is a painful condition where fluid builds up in the eye and doesn't drain away. We tried to treat with medication and pain relief as the only 'fix' would be eye removal, which at 15 and with a significant heart murmur wasn't really an option, and long term, recovery, for a sensitive mite like her - well, it wouldn't have been for her benefit, only mine.

We managed the condition successfully for several weeks, it was holding steady but on Sunday I noticed a change...not for the better.... but she also suddenly started eating like she once did and seemed a bit more upbeat. Hindsight now tells me, it was her last dance. I knew the decision was coming, but hoped she might just pass in my arms whilst she slept.....a rarity in reality. A lengthy trip to the vet confirmed my suspicions that she'd developed an ulcer and potentially a hole had lead to a release in the pressure - bizarrely giving us a small bit of hope and a reprieve, although the pressure was also then raised in the other eye. At this point I knew the next trip in was likely to be her last if the ulcer had not improved.

It hadn't, and so, after careful consideration with the vets today, weighing up the options we made that decision to say goodbye.

I walk the line with many of the dogs in my care, I will always give them a chance to live a happy and full life, even if it is a bit different, but pain has always been a hard line for me. Its one thing if it can be managed whilst the cause is treated, but another thing if its likely to get worse or the pain medications don't work, or just take the edge off. When an older pet is faced with any type of disease, weighing up the treatments and remembering at the end of the day it is always their best interests that come first is incredibly hard, putting aside our own emotions and remembering their's really hard! I only had Gucci for a short time, but she had a HUGE impact on my whole family. But it is always better a day too early than a minute too late.

I am incredibly grateful to Ben, at Swaffham Veterinary Centre for carefully talking through each issue and weighing up the pro's and cons, it was not a clearcut decision but ultimately we knew we were only buying time, there was not going to be a fix and ultimately I didn't want to say goodbye because she was in pain, but rather accept fate and let her go calmly and with dignity and without a fuss, as the beautiful, gentle, kind girl deserved. She did, she went quickly, incredibly quickly, in my arms as I calmly kissed and nuzzled her face. She was safe, she was loved, and she knew it.

The question remains, why am I sharing this in such detail with you? The answer is two fold:

1) Don't say no to a golden oldie, don't begrudge a rescue for offering you an older dog, its an honour! Yes the heartbreak comes sooner, but in the short time you have them, they give you a lifetime of love in the time you share with them.

2)People don't talk about the end, and we should. Its just as important as the journey. Yes, its devastating but its part of the privilege we have of owning these guys. At some point you will face the decision to say goodbye to your old friend, whether or not you've had them since they were a puppy or like me, just a short moment in time. The decision will feel impossible, and hopefully you will have time, like us, to prepare for it, but it is the only way we can show our thanks for the love they give us throughout their time with us, whatever our flaws, they love us without question. When that time comes, and I pray you have many many years with your dogs, don't dwell on the end, focus on the love and memories you shared together. Hold them until their hearts stop beating and mourn them, but don't ever regret helping them cross over the bridge. Gucci isn't my first loss, but it hurts just as much as it did the first time, I know she won't be the last I say goodbye to, but I have no regrets!

Actually, there is a 3rd point here, by sharing this part of Gucci's journey, it helps me grieve her loss, and if the end to our little story helps just one person with theirs.....then its worth doing.

Run free Gucci Goo. Thank you for loving me. Run to your mum now, she's waiting for you.

A big thank you to:

  • Her family who made sure her owner had the peace of mind she would be loved and looked after.

  • To the Red Foundation for taking on this beauty so quickly and paying for her medications and treatment.

  • To all those who donate and support the rescue making this possible. Whether its a donation, a share or a kind word, it helps keep a small rescue going forwards.

  • My wonderful veterinary centre, who always make sure our dogs are looked after - the whole team are wonderful.

  • And to my own family for putting up with me bringing home the dogs with extra needs and for always chipping in, I couldn't do it without you.

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