Last year, on this day, our family dog died.
We knew it was coming. She was diagnosed with cancer in May. It was one of the three main cancers that pure bred Retrievers get, but it was the ‘nice one’ in that, had my family caught it early, she had a high chance of being cured. They didn’t catch it early, and the tumour was rather large by the time they took her to the vet. The vet removed what he could, and we hoped for the best. Had she been younger there could have been the option of removing her front leg, but at the age of 11 and a half, she would not have coped. There was a 20% chance that the tumour would grow and spread.
They grew back.
You would never have guessed Tia’s age when meeting her. She was by definition an elderly dog, yet she still acted like a puppy. Her teeth were in excellent condition, her coat never gained that sort of woolly curl that older Retrievers tend to get. While she wasn’t as fit as she had been (more due to lack of walking than age), she would still run and jump through the fields the way she had when she was younger. And when you came home, whether it was after months of being away, or just after half an hour of being at the shop, she would greet you as if she thought she’d never see you again. Her whole body would quiver with joy. She had the joyful whine that Golden's make when they’re happy, and she’d rush off to pick up her favourite toy of the moment and bring it to you, tail wagging furiously. If you’d been a way a while, she’d do a little dance in front of you, bottom wiggling on the floor, front legs doing a little two step, as she gave you a huge smile. If she was really, really happy, once she’d calmed down a bit, she’d give you a quick lick on the hand. Just the one. Her hearing was obviously fading a little, but beyond that she was the same eternal puppy we’d always known.
The last time I saw her she looked old. She moved slowly, not in any obvious pain, just in a tentative uncomfortable way. Her left leg was twice the size of the other leg. She greeted me with the same amount of joy, but her energy levels had very obviously decreased. It was clear that it was a matter of a few weeks, maybe a month at the most before we’d have to say goodbye. I spent as much time with her as I possibly could, giving her snacks and treats she wouldn’t have usually been allowed, sneaking her food under the table. I took as many pictures as I could with my phone, hating the fact I hadn’t brought my proper camera. Before Corey and I left, I asked my parents to please let me know, if they can, before they put her down, so that I could come home and be with her.
They hoped to go on holiday with her one last time. The first time she went was in 2014, when we went to Italy. Tia had very little idea about what was going on, although she loved sitting in between my youngest brother, Jamie, and I. The first night she refused to eat her food, pulling on her lead to go back in the direction of England. She barely drank any water. We realised the next day she would drink, but only out of the cups you get from fast food restaurants. I don’t know if it was because those were what we were drinking from (obviously not the same ones!), or because we held it up to her so many times she just gave in, but that was how we gave her drinks during the drive. However she absolutely loved being on holiday with us, and we all had a much more enjoyable time with her around. The following year she went again. My parents were due to drive over to Europe for a two week holiday on the 19th August, with Tia coming along. She didn’t quite make it that long.
Just after lunchtime I received a call from my father, letting me know that he’d had to take the dog to the vet to have her put down. His tone was matter of fact, but I could tell he was upset, I could also tell he regretted that he wasn’t able to let me know with enough time to say goodbye to her. I left my office and stood outside for a bit, sobbing. I probably should have gone home, but instead I came back into my office and sat at my desk, staring at the screen. I’m not entirely sure what else I did that day. I’m sure I barely did any work.
I found out from my mother later that evening that Tia had been ill that morning. Mom left for work, not thinking to tell Jamie, hoping that it was just something she’d eaten. Instead my father came home around lunchtime to find her still outside, covered in flies, barely able to move. She still tried to greet him, though. She still tried to get up and say hello, still happy to see him, even though her body was obviously shutting down. My father, who quite possibly adored her more than anyone, picked her up and took her to the vet without having the time to tell anyone else. He had to make the decision on his own. From what my mother told me, once she’d been put to sleep he walked straight out of the vet, forgetting to sort out payment arrangements.
I’d never gone through the five stages of grief before. Along with family members, we’d said goodbye to pets over the years. It was always sad, but felt a part of the process of life. Tia’s death was different. I can barely remember the following few days. I know Corey texted me after I told him the news. He asked if I was ok, and I told him I wasn’t, but that he didn’t need to worry about me. I couldn’t stop crying, often having to go into the work bathrooms to cry away from others. I was angry at my mother for not staying at home that day. She had thought about it, but not done so, and I was so angry at her, even while knowing how devastated and upset she was. I hated the thought of Tia outside, all alone for so long. I was angry at myself for somehow not sensing that she needed me. Amongst that was me wondering if maybe the vet had got it wrong, that perhaps she had just eaten something and just needed some medication. I’m not entirely sure I went through denial, but for a few months afterwards I definitely went through anger, bargaining and bouts of extreme sadness. I couldn’t see another Golden Retriever without crying. At New Year’s I wondered if watching Marley and Me would help. It obviously didn’t.
I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. My mother feels incredibly guilty that she left Tia. Jamie feels guilty that he didn’t check outside when the dog didn’t come to sit by him as he ate his breakfast. He, too, was angry at my mother for a while not telling him. I had made a calendar up for my mother for her Christmas present, with a different photo every month, either of the family or of the family pets. Christmas’s picture was Tia in a Santa Hat. Every time you came downstairs you’d see her, looking at you with her gorgeous face. Her death left a massive hole in our lives. The house, while no longer covered in dog hair, is quieter without the sounds of her following us about. I’m not entirely sure any of us realised just how hard it would be to say goodbye.
I hadn’t been able to write any of this until fairly recently, because it still hurts to think and talk about it. It still hurts to think that she was alone for all that time, then to think that my father had to go through saying goodbye to her by himself, afterwards having to ring my mother and I up to tell us the news. She was such a massive part of the family, and it still feels wrong that she’s not around. I’ve written this, partly to process things, but also because I wanted start blogging again. Yet so much happened last year that it’s been difficult to put pen to paper, so to speak. I’m planning to do again, although once again I’ll be breaking the rules and not writing a novel. Instead I want to write about Tia’s life, before the memories I have of her start to fade.
Since this has been a rather sad post to write, I'm going to finish off with a (not best quality!) video of Tia. It's from a few years ago, when I was looking after her. I had been watching older videos I'd taken of the animals, and the noises my laptop was making really confused her.