Grief, Life and Anxiety

On the 28th of July we said goodbye to Cadel. The cancer spread from his bone into his bloodstream, where it tore through his body. Saying goodbye was, I think, the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. His body was ravaged but his mind was the same as ever. Happy, enthusiastic for life and full of love. It felt wrong to euthanise a mind that still sought life with so much passion. But of course it was the right decision. We made the decision as soon as we received the cancer diagnosis that we would not let Cadel suffer. I’m grateful to say that we ensured he never did.

It’s taken me this long to write to you about Cadel’s death; I tried several times to write this post but every time I did I only got a few sentences in before having to stop. I couldn’t find the right words; in many ways I still can’t. How can I write about a dog that changed my life dramatically? Words don’t do his life justice.

Born to breeders in another state to mine, I paid to have Cadel flown here. It took two flights across the better part of a day, but eventually he made it here. He was terrified. 10 weeks of age, shut in a cage, shunted from airport to tarmacs and into planes. His toys were stolen by a baggage handler, leaving him alone with nothing familiar. There was a delay in me being able to collect Cadel, as the person authorised to pass him into my care was late to work. When I was finally allowed to go to him, he did not want to get out of the cage. I crouched down, trying to encourage him out. Eventually I pulled him out. As I stood up he gripped me in a bear hug and that was that. It was love at first sight for the both of us.

Over time Cadel became aware of my anxiety and did everything he could to ease it. Mostly that meant being by my side at all times, or being in the same room as me, watching me and making sure I was ok. Even when he was asleep he was aware of my movements, waking if he felt I was moving about anxiously or perhaps I’d begun crying.

If I had a bad day I’d sit with him, he’d hug me and encourage me to pat him. If I cried, he licked my tears away and nestled into my body, calming me. His presence was often enough to lessen the anxiety I was feeling.

Our relationship wasn’t all about anxiety. He loved life passionately, both his own and his life with us and was always a happy dog. We’d laugh together, over his antics or mine, run around the backyard throwing a rope toy over and over. Every morning at 6am he’d wake me up, encouraging Zena to get up too, and the three of us would go for a walk. I’m not a morning person but I cherished those walks. Sometimes it felt like we were the only people in the world as we watched the sun rising with every step we took.

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Adjusting to life without Cadel has been difficult. I feel like I’ve lost a limb. No longer is he there to greet me at the door, tail wagging, excited to see me again. No more hugs whenever he or I wanted them. No more food stolen from the bench when I wasn’t looking (an entire birthday cake I made for myself last year for example), no more trilling when he wanted something or drool whilst waiting for food. So many no mores. Most days I’ve felt lost, unsure how to proceed with life. So many things feel pointless without Cadel.

Eventually we made the decision to get a puppy. Zena was lonely, perhaps as much as I was, and we didn’t want her to become depressed. With that decision, Theo entered our life, bringing with him an incredible amount of love, energy and joy. He is settling in nicely and I look forward to seeing what kind of dog he becomes. He has reminded me that there is much to love in this world, starting of course with him.

Whatever you do, hug those you love dearly. Cherish your moments. You just never know when you will be called upon to say goodbye.

Taking Each Day As It Comes

Knowing that the time we have left with Cadel is limited is both a blessing and a curse. It has reminded us that life is short, even more so when it comes to dogs.

Cadel, happy after a walk

We are trying to do things with Cadel as often as we can, things we know he loves. Walks in the bush, where he can be off lead, have become our favourite. On three legs he runs from bush to tree to patch of scrub, inhaling the smells and urinating on anything he considers worthy!

We’ve dragged the spare bed into our room, pushing it against our bed, allowing both Cadel and Zena to sleep close by. Cadel loves to cuddle and all to often he spends the night lying alongside me. Waking up to his nose on mine is a pretty good thing. And a lot more food treats are given out each day. I cannot see a reason not to.

Yet knowing each day could be his last is difficult. Living with anxiety has given me an outstanding ability to catastrophise. What if he’s broken his leg and is in pain, I think as I’m at work. What if we wake up and find the cancer in his right front leg? Or somewhere else? It’s highly likely, because the cancer has moved from his bones into his blood stream. So many what if’s to take me out of the moment of enjoying the time we have.

Along with all of this is an increased desire to remember Cadel through the use of a camera. I’m finding myself trying to capture his personality, so in future I can look at a photo and immediately be transported to that moment, to remember him as he was. Setting aside the technology aspects of photography, capturing the personality of a dog who is incredibly important in my life is difficult. Moments are fleeting, and although Cadel is very good at posing on request that doesn’t always guarantee the type of photo I’m after. I’m grateful for the digital age for its ability to allow me to take hundreds of photos if needed, in order to get one decent one. But I’d like my success rate to be higher, so I’ve enrolled in an online dog photography course. It’s a multi month course that begins with photographic foundations, building on that each month with more technical skills. I’m excited by the challenge and the skills I’ll gain, but a little disappointed i won’t have long to use these skills when photographing Cadel. But I can’t dwell on it. All I can do is take each day as it comes. Continue to show Cadel love, continue to take photos to capture his likeness, and always always remember him.

Life Really Is Hard Sometimes…

Cadel enjoying a ute ride

On the 17th May we received news that one of our dogs – Cadel – has bone cancer. He’d had leg pain in his lower left leg for a couple of weeks. The first vet I took him to thought it was a soft tissue injury, based solely on observing him walk. Hindsight has left me disappointed in myself for not pushing the vet to actually feel his leg or X-ray it. I suppose that’s what happens the day before Easter holidays when vets are busy and like everyone else wanting to have a break.

Once the pain medication Cadel was prescribed wore off it was apparent that there was more going on. A visit to our preferred vet determined that something more than a soft tissue injury was going on. Cadel cried out in pain when his leg was manipulated slightly – he tolerates uncomfortable and even painful situations well so we knew there was something seriously wrong. As I was having surgery a week later, which would see both Cadel and Zena stay at our vets kennels, we decided he could wait another week, with more pain killers in the mean time.

So it was, that on the day I was discharged from hospital, we received the horrifying news that Cadel has bone cancer. David and I are devastated. The youngest of our two dogs, Cadel is only 7.5 years old. Granted, for a large breed dog he is considered to be in his old age, but his personality belies this. His personality is almost puppy like. He is happy and cheerful and the most comfortable when all four of us are together. There is no sign of old age in him, aside from the cancer that has caused his lower left leg to bulge and be slightly twisted.

There is no cure. Removal of the leg would require follow up chemotherapy but still leaves a low rate of curing him. All we can do is ensure his pain is minimal, that he is happy and comfortable and mentally stimulated. So far this is successful.

It is incredibly difficult knowing every day may be the last day we have with Cadel. There have been many tears and there will be many more. I strive every day to be a better person because I see in Cadel a belief in me that I don’t hold. I believe that dogs are a better judge of personalities than humans are, so maybe he is right?

I don’t know how I will survive without him, but for now I’m concentrating on enjoying every moment I can with him. That’s pretty much all I can do.

Yes, I Celebrate My Dogs Birthdays

Zena, as captured on her birthday

Yesterday was Zena’s 11th birthday. Zena is the eldest of my two dogs. It almost feels impossible that she is already 11 years old. I remember vividly the day we met her, as if it happened only moments ago. Even then as a small eight week old puppy she was full of sass. We took with us our dog Zeus to meet her because we wanted to make sure that the two of them would get along. Meeting a fully grown adult male Rottweilor did not phase Zena. She ran to him at full pace, her chest out and tail up, daring him not to be impressed by her tiny presence. There was no fear; instead she was curious and determined to follow him everywhere. She was already aware of her place in the world & expected everyone – animal or human – to be impressed by her.

In the ensuring years Zena has become a crucial part of my life. In recent years she has become incredibly in tune with my mental state; it was because of her actions that I realised I needed to seek help for my anxiety. I became aware that Zena was anxious every time I was anxious; or actually she would become anxious before my anxiety hit. She was aware that I was becoming anxious before I was & at the time I wasn’t aware that she was trying to calm me but I wasn’t recognising her cues. As she became more anxious as my daily anxiety grew I decided I had to do something about my mental health, in the hope that improving my mental health would improve hers. Thankfully as my anxiety treatments began to work my improvements were reflected in Zena. She hasn’t lost her ability to recognise an anxiety or panic attack before I do however now I recognise her cues and act on them. I allow her to calm me if needed or simply to shadow me as she makes sure that I’m going to be ok.

Despite the positive impact Zena has in my life (and also Cadel, my second, younger dog) I have always felt uncomfortable publicly recognising the importance of my dogs. I’ve often felt ashamed that I am the owner of dogs, or to put it in popular parlance, a dog mum. Almost everyone I know, particularly those of my age or older, are mothers or fathers of children. You know, humans. They’ve done what society expects and what people have done for millennia which, at its core is to reproduce in order to maintain the existence of humans on Earth. For reasons I’m not yet ready to share here, having children was not and is not for me. But having pets, especially dogs? Well of course I had to. My life would be bereft without them.

So now, I’m willing to own my reality. I am a dog owner. No I’m not going to call myself a dog mother. I honestly hate the description although I’m happy for others to refer to themselves as that if it truely makes them happy. And in that owning of reality I will happily confess to celebrating my dogs birthdays. I haven’t actually made a birthday cake or cupcake for either Zena or Cadel yet, but its on my to do list for a future birthday. Instead I give them some kind of food treat (which they both get because you can’t spoil one dog without spoiling the other!). For Zena’s birthday I shared my souvlaki with them. I wasn’t hungry enough to eat it all so Zena & Cadel got to enjoy my leftovers. They were thrilled to eat something different and tasty and I was thrilled not to throw away food.

So this is me, stating to the world that I’m a proud dog owner and I’m never going to not bring it up. Its a major part of my life and I’m happy with this fact.

Oh, one more thing. I’m also a dog owner who runs an Instagram account for her dogs. Yep, I’m one of those! If you’d like to check it out search zenacadel on Instagram. Hopefully you’ll enjoy their page.