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In the UK in 2017/18 45 percent of us owned a pet, half of those being dog owners. Animals are an important part of our lives and families, but when they die our grief is treated differently than if we had lost a human family member. In my experience the grief is no less and the impact no less great.
Troy first came into our lives in 2011. I saw his picture on a post on Facebook, he was in kennels and if he wasn’t re-homed soon he was going to be put to sleep. Anybody who knows me knows that I am action first, thinking second. I sent the message “I’ll have him” and that was that. I didn’t think about how big he would be or what his temperament would be like, how he would cope while I was at work or most importantly what he would be like with my kids. My daughter was three years old at the time and my son was 11. Nor did I consider what the little dog and the cat we already had would think about it. It was one of the most impulsive and, as it turns out, best decisions of my life.
Troy had belonged to an elderly lady who had been in hospital for a considerable amount of time, and as none of her family could home him, he’d been in kennels for the same period.
The family drove him to my house from Manchester and arrived in a Land Rover. I watched from the doorstep as the man went around to the back of the car and let Troy out. When the biggest German Shepherd I have ever seen (to this day) got out of the back of that car a tidal wave of reality crashed over me and I thought “Fuck. What have I done?”
The family explained that his owner had broken her hip and he would not be able to return to her when she was discharged from hospital. Prior to living with her he had spent over 12 months in Manchester Dogs Home until she had rescued him. The RSPCA had seized him from his owners and his skin was covered in cigarette burn scars. The name on the paperwork that came with him was “Detroit Blue” and he had been used a “status dog”. When he was rescued his name was shortened to Troy. I decided in that instant that this dog needed love and stability and I was going to give it to him. He was perfect. Pushed from pillar to post, mistreated and unwanted, he was my soul brother. I put him in the back of my car and we headed off to West Wales for a fortnight.
If I had any anxieties about the nature of this huge hairy beast he soon erased them, he was patient and loving, a gentle giant. One minor detail we hadn’t been told him was that he had chronic separation anxiety accompanied by stress incontinence which meant he left puddles of urine everywhere. I accepted this early on in our relationship after all I’d had two large babies naturally, so what was little leakage between friends. We accepted each other’s faults without question. I was so proud of him, he was tall, and his coat was beautiful, but people found him intimidating. I was walking him on my own one evening when I was approached by a man who was drunk. Troy growled at him. The man asked me if he was nasty to which I replied “Yes, very” the guy backed off and left us to it. I loved him even more after that.
The kids were over the moon at his arrival. The little dog and the cat were not. The cat took one look at him and moved out for a fortnight. The little dog gave him derisory looks and ignored him. The cat eventually got over the arrival of this huge interloper and begrudgingly moved back in. It was little dog and cat versus big dog. They joined forces to make sure that big dog knew his place and that he wasn’t welcome as far as they were concerned. In the meantime, however, he had taken one look at the cat and fallen irrevocably in love.
When the cat would go out he would sit in the garden and watch the garden wall patiently waiting for the cat’s return and when the cat finally did return he would over enthusiastically follow him everywhere either bumping into him or near trampling him. The dog would spend hours staring at the cat not moving but just watching him sleep. The cat thought the dog was tiresome, but tolerated it. It wasn’t until 2015 when the cat finally let Troy sleep next to him and once, only once, let Troy groom him. This ardent unrequited love affair continued for five years up until the cat’s death in 2016. Troy pined so hard for the cat that at one point I thought we were going to lose him. It was heart-breaking.
In the first year of his new life with us he suffered continuing separation anxiety which led to cupboard and fridge raiding. Troy was big enough and strong enough to open the fridge door and help himself to the contents, which he did, frequently. On one occasion he ate two tubs of Utterly Butterly, a bog of deal in the local co-op, six eggs including the shells and the cardboard box and a packet of ham. On a separate occasion he somehow managed to get my 5kg tub of protein powder down from the top of the fridge get the screw lid off and eat the lot. I telephoned the Vet for advice and he said if he wasn’t panting he would probably be fine. As time passed he learned that our home was his home and the barking, and the raiding stopped. The stress incontinence was still there but very much improved. I mopped the floor twice a day and although some days our living room smelt like a Vets waiting room we all loved him so much and he brought so much love and joy to our lives that we didn’t mind. Troy was our big smelly gentle giant. The stress incontinence meant we had to have him groomed regularly otherwise the urine soaked through his fur and burned his skin and our lovely dog groomer loved him just as much as we did.
In 2012, I had to take six months off with severe depression and Troy was my constant companion he spent every moment of every day by my side. Troy was a big dog and more suited to long walks than the little dog who just liked to pootle along the river in the evening. Troy and I walked the valleys. Our favourite place was Pen Y Fan mountain. At one stage we were walking Pen Y Fan together twice a week. When I returned to work he struggled to adjust but had nowhere near the stress and anxiety he had experienced when he first arrived, and we continued to do the Pen Y Fan mountain walk regularly.
I tried to take Troy running with me, but he was a shepherd by name and by nature constantly running in circles around me to make sure I stayed with him which meant I had to keep on stopping or was tripping over him. When I got pregnant in November 2016, I couldn’t walk him anymore because he had become too protective and would bark at everyone and everything, he went from being calm and sociable to stressed out when it was just the two of us, so my brother took over walking duties. Troy was six years old when he arrived and as he aged it showed in his legs but not in his enthusiasm. Troy’s love of a long walk masked his aging for a long time and it wasn’t until we moved to a new house the degree of his decline became obvious. We moved in May 2017, six months after losing the cat, and Troy was showing signs of a serious deterioration. We decided to get a kitten in the hope that it would perk him up.
Blodwyn the kitten was one of a litter of eight, small and white, from a local rescue centre. When we brought her home, Troy was hysterical. I have never seen a dog so excited, he shoved his big snout in the cat box and cried. The poor kitten must have shit herself. We put a baby gate between the kitchen and the living room so that she could retreat to a safe place as she got used to the giant lumbering German Shepherd who was behaving like an over excited toddler. Then something amazing happened. Blodwyn, our little white rescue, fell in love with our huge German Shepherd. The kitten groomed him and used him as a safe place to sleep and he both guarded and stalked her. Our Troy was back, for a moment.
In July 2017 I gave my birth to my third child. Troy, little dog and Blodwyn were all curious and protective. We were a happy dysfunctional, covered in fur, not great smelling family. Then somebody poisoned the kitten. Blodwyn was eight months old and had only been allowed out a few weeks prior when someone had put down antifreeze for her. The vet told us the toxicity in her blood levels was too high for her to recover from and she was euthanised that day. Troy broke his heart all over again. The stress incontinence worsened and so did the families stress levels. The smell and amount of urine on the floor was getting worse and so was his ability to carry in his own weight. To placate everyone and to try and alleviate the problem I ordered a dog nappy, but he just soaked through it. Even though we had two spares we couldn’t wash them as quick as he was going through them and he was getting sore. Every time he got down off the sofa his legs would give way and he would collapse. If he had been laying down for any period, he would struggle to get up and there would be a pool of urine where he had been laying. It was time to let him go. I made the appointment at the Vets and the kids and I took him for his last walk.
In February 2018, at the age of 11, seven years after coming to live with us Troy laid down on a blanket on the floor of the Vets examination room with his paw across my legs and his head on my lap. The Vet gave him a lethal injection and I stroked his beautiful coat as he faded away. I held onto him for about an hour. That was one of the worst days of my life. I’m sobbing as I type this because I know I will never be able to convey his true personality to anyone, what an awesome person he was or how much I loved him. I miss him. I miss him so much it makes my chest go tight and it hurts.
I took his ashes and scattered him on Pen Y Fan. When I want to see my big dog, I go to my favourite place and spend time with him. I’ve told my husband that when I pass on I want my ashes to be scattered there too so I can be with my big dog again in our favourite place.
Five months after losing Troy we thought the best way to honour him was to give another rescue dog the chance of a safe, loving home. Then we met Mabel. The local rescue place asked us if we would consider taking in an 18-month-old Lhasa Apso Cross. Mabel had spent her life so far living in a crate and her owners wanted to surrender her to the rescue centres care. What to say about Mabel, she’s small, she’s fluffy, and she’s totally incorrigible. Mabel has been with us nearly two months now and it’s safe to say she’s settled, and she feels at home. Mabel will never replace Troy, but I know for certain that had he met her he would have loved her, like we do.