Trigger Warning: Pet Loss

–Guest Blog by Cassy Turner

A Reason, a Season, a Lifetime

Ollie’s Arrival

Ollie came into my life around Labor Day in 2016, the sixth Golden Retriever I’ve had the honor of adopting. It soon became apparent that he would claim the title of the worst-behaved dog I’d ever owned, and that there was just a little more to the explanation from his previous family that they were “too busy” to care for him. Ollie would snap at you when he didn’t get his own way, and hump the couch, the bed, or any other random soft furnishings. He barked at us from under the dining room table, diving under there every time we tried to eat, interspersed with attempts to eat napkins off a lap, or take any momentary lapse in attention as an opportunity to sweep in and inhale food off of the table. He once ate two bone-in pork chops, raw, to no ill-effect. But that’s another story.

The Last Thing I Needed

His behavior was so bad, that within that first month, I questioned my sanity, and fully understood why he was no longer wanted in his first home. Yet…there was an immediate bond with my husband, who was six months out of rehab for his long-standing addiction to prescription opioid medications. The leader of the family therapy group I attended commented that getting a new dog “was the last thing” I needed, while navigating being the wife of an opioid addict teetering through his recovery. But the developing bond between Ollie and my husband gave me some hope, for both of them. It seemed to give my husband a sense of purpose, and Ollie certainly needed some constant in his life. Together, we did family dog training with a trainer who helped us navigate some of the most challenging behaviors. My husband progressed to taking Ollie for Canine Good Citizen training, and although he failed the test, he certainly developed some basic obedience skills. Somewhere along the way, we also recognized how nose-driven Ollie was, always picking up the scent of something, and lingering longer in spots on walks than Harley, my more senior Golden. Ollie became a star pupil in his canine nose-work classes, apparently acing the nose-work part, but still howling in his crate while awaiting his next turn.

Dog Co-Parenting?

In an ideal world, my husband and Ollie would have gone on to participate in some competitions, maybe even go back and pass the CGC test. The reality, though, is that my husband continued a slow but steady descent into his addiction. By Spring of 2018, I asked him to move out. We tried dog co-parenting. Ever wise friends would observe from the side-lines and ask me what I was thinking? In my mind, I thought that having access to Ollie would be a positive, and provide some mental stability. Dog “dad” even talked about getting his own place and taking Ollie. But he would no-show, like the divorced parent that forgets to pick their kid up for their visitation. July 2019 was the last time he ever had his act together enough to spend time with Ollie, but showing up 45 minutes late to drop him back off at the house.

Resentment and COVID

I had resentment over all of this. Resentment that I was left taking care of two dogs by myself, one of whom still required a lot of energy, all while I worked full-time, navigating a divorce, a PhD, and configuring my work and study schedule so I could be home to take care of the dogs. Finding every possible means I could to not be a burden on other people for my dog needs. Then COVID hit. I was lucky enough to have a job that allowed, well… now required, me to work from home. The dogs reveled in it. My students got a kick out of dog interruptions. Despite careful planning there were still plenty of opportunities for Ollie to disrupt class and demand to be let outside. Yes, sometimes to pee, but more often just to goof off and retrieve tennis balls, and stick his face into Zoom meetings. There were moments though, where I started to recognize just how much I was relying on the dogs to provide a daily routine and structure to my life. I had no idea when I would see my family again, and there were some very alone moments when I just hugged those dogs. Dark times, when I questioned all that I was doing, and knew that these two were helping me keep it together, one day at a time. Olllie, the goofball, would prance over and drop a ball, not in my lap or hand, but feet away and then nose roll it towards me. There were extra dogs walks for Ollie in an effort to tire him out before online class started. I even started hiking again, something I’d wanted to get back to for a long time, with six miles just about taking the edge off of his energy level.

A New Person

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I started dating again. After a few bumps in the road, I finally met someone special. What can I say? Ollie loved him too, and I started to joke that I might as well be non-existent. Yet again, Ollie was proving to be a man’s dog. I have more than one picture of Ollie curled up in his lap, taking full ownership of his new person.

The Wednesday before he moved in, Ollie got sick. He’d gotten into some kitty litter while a friend helped with some home improvements. I got mad and yelled at Ollie over the cat litter, while he continued to bark at us for ignoring him over the new flooring project. I figured his stomach was unsettled when he threw up some of his breakfast Thursday morning. That evening I made him some rice and scrambled eggs for dinner which he ate with no hesitation. On Friday, he had no interest in food, and seemed a bit lethargic. This was a dog who never turned his nose up at food. By Saturday, I took him to the vet, X-rays were negative, they ran bloodwork but results wouldn’t be back until Monday or Tuesday. I told them he looked a little unsteady on his feet but no-one seemed too worried. By Sunday, he could barely get up without help. Dread filled me that something neurological was amiss. I needed to be at work on Monday, but my amazing partner dropped Ollie back off at the vet while I called and expressed all of my new concerns. By that afternoon, the vet asked us to transfer him to the emergency vet so he could be supervised overnight for observation. Little did I understand that this would also include a full work up, and by the time we left the ER that evening, the word lymphoma was on the radar.

By Tuesday morning, I was in a phone consultation with the oncologist, still waiting on test results from the evening before. She patiently talked me through all of the possible treatment options, and I felt as if I was absorbing nothing. By noon, the diagnosis was official. At 3pm, she called to update me that he was not responding to treatment. While we were on the phone, the ICU paged her. He was going into cardiac arrest. The evening before, I had signed a DNR. Never in all my years of pet ownership had I ever seen a dog so rapidly deteriorate even before we had the diagnosis. In my heart and head that had seemed the right thing to do, perhaps it had been a premonition.

The vet was 30 minutes away, in rush-hour traffic. By the time I got there, he was gone. At 5 years old.

In the days following his death I struggled to put into words how I felt. Numb, shock, and sadness. The energy level of the house completely shifted, an indescribable vacuum, left empty with his missing presence. I was stunned by the depth of the loss I felt. I’d lost pets before, but this sense of loss was beyond anything I’d ever felt before. Was it because it was so sudden, or because he was so young? These were the kinds of questions I asked myself. My other Golden, Harley, is 10, and has been my dog since the moment we met. I’ve always reflected on how Harley seemingly arrived in my life at the time I now recognize things beginning to shift in my marriage. In my heart, I had always had a sense that Harley, who has now outlived all of my previous Goldens, would not leave me until I was in a good place. And then it struck me. Ollie came during the darkest hours, and even though I thought I had navigated through the most difficult parts, the forced social isolation of COVID made me realize that was not the case. In the days of numb grief after losing Ollie, it suddenly hit me: he had come into my life at the true beginning of the end of my marriage. A dog’s purpose? Perhaps his purpose and reason had been to help me navigate through that time and all that followed.

Ollie, who drove me crazy at times, stole those pork chops, chewed the comforter, locked us out of the house, ate my plants, barked incessantly, ran away from my pet sitting neighbor and thought it was a game, jumped all over the people he liked, made me laugh out loud, Ollie goofball, sh*thead, Olliekins. He had a special purpose for 5 short years.

A few weeks ago, I heard rummaging in the kitchen trash can. I yelled across the house “Ollie! Harley!” He’s been gone for a few months, but the troublemaker got yelled at first. Then I stopped, and laughed. He may not be physically here anymore, and I find less and less of his hairs, but he is in my heart, and still makes me smile now that most of the tears have subsided. And those of us who knew him, still talk about his antics. Although, I still can’t bring myself to clean the smudge marks off of the back door. That can wait a little longer.

Cassy and Ollie

Cassy Turner is a physical therapist and former professional dancer. She currently has three fur-babies, Harley, a Golden Retriever, along with Missy and Reggie, both Abyssinian kitties. When not picking pet hair off of her clothes, she enjoys hiking and traveling, and scrolling through pet rescue websites attempting not to succumb to adding to the fur-family.

Editor’s Note: Pet loss is excruciating and often misunderstood–both in terms of the depth and scope of how it affects us. Please follow us for an upcoming series on how to cope and grieve when our pets die, why it hurt so much, and what you can do to memorialize and honor the pets we have lost.

Published On: January 26, 2022|Categories: Dog Behavior, Dogs|