When Animals Have to Say Goodbye

A while ago, I wrote about the much-loved Internet celebrity Esther the Wonder Pig and a few of her friends. Among them was a gorgeous pit bull-type dog named Shelby. She was the unofficial “mother” figure of Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary (HEEFS), who eagerly welcomed all new arrivals with unconditional acceptance and love. On Friday, it was announced on Esther’s Facebook page that Shelby had suddenly passed away. Her devastated “dads”, Steve and Derek, wrote:

It’s with an unbelievably heavy heart that we announce the passing of our very best friend, Shelby.

Shelby joined our family 18 years ago. She had been purchased as a “guard dog” for a storage unit where we had a few things, when her owners saw us playing with her one morning. They asked us to watch her while they tended to some personal matters out of town for a few days, and that was the last time we heard from them. It was right around the time of a “Pit Bull Ban” that would’ve seen Shelby euthanized had she gone to a shelter too, so we decided to keep her.

She was the most affectionate puppy ever! From about the second week we had her, she started climbing into our bed at night, slowly slinking up towards the pillows, where she’d turn and dig right under the covers. All she wanted to do was be under the blankets (no matter the season), and touching you. Something she did every night since, without fail. It’s gonna be really hard to fall asleep without that warm furry furnace pressed up against our legs.

A few years later Shelby got a little brother in Reuben, and soon became a mom to two cats, Delores and Finnegan as our family continued to expand. She was such a mother to any animal she met, so when Esther arrived, Shelby was in her glory. She’d spend hours beside Esther’s bed, checking her crate, and following her around everywhere she went. They quickly became inseparable, and remained the best of friends for the rest of her life.

She was a beautiful soul, and the best friend any family could ask for. Her departure has left a ridiculous hole in our hearts. No matter how well you think you’ve prepared yourself, nothing makes the loss of a loved one any easier.

Sending Shelby a ton of love, lots of fresh fuzzy tennis balls, and a special belly rub from all of us. We hope she’s running her little heart out today, wherever she may be.

She will be so dearly missed.

We love you, Poot. See you soon.

Dads.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie the Pooh

The last photograph of Esther and Shelby together really captures the unbreakable love this pair had for one another – I still can’t look at the way Esther gently leans against her canine pal without tearing up a little.

EstherShelbyLastPicture

Esther the Wonder Pig/Facebook

I don’t know what it is about animals: how they can reach out and burrow their way right into your heart, even when you have never met them. Shelby’s death has touched not only her immediate family, but also everyone who knew of her through her regular appearances on Esther’s social media pages.

Her death has caused me to reflect on the wonderful non-humans I have loved and lost over the course of my life.

photoFirst of all, there was Choco: a beautiful Pointer/Labrador/springer spaniel mix who was adopted by my family in late 2000, when I was just ten years old. He was such a gentle soul: loving, affectionate, and extremely quiet (he only barked a handful of times over the course of his entire life). I have never in my life met another dog quite as obsessed with playing fetch as my beloved Choc!

When his slow deterioration set in over the course of 2014, it was agonising to watch. He kept experiencing setback after setback – recurring bouts of cancer in his paw, mobility problems, difficulty with controlling his bowel movements – until it finally became clear to us that we had to let him go.

On the 26th of January 2015 – when he was old and tired, when his limbs were too weak to carry him any longer, when we all knew it was time for him to go – we finally brought him on his final journey to the vet. We truly hated being the arbiters of his life and death, but we were aware that if we waited for his condition to deteriorate any further, his eventual death would be agonising. As heart-wrenching as it was, we had to do what was best for him.

One aspect of this awful situation that comforts me is the fact my family’s current pooch, Buddy, was also born on the 26th of January 2015.

rsz_buddyhammock

Buddy is a very different character to Choco. He is needier, louder, more demanding, and endlessly, incorrigibly mischievous. That fact seems to disprove one of my favourite theories (a theory that Buddy is, in fact, Choco reincarnated, and slipped straight into his new body right after he had left the old one) but I still love the fact that there is a tangible connection between the two: a date that links them together.

My beloved cat Candy was another animal whose sweet, affectionate personality deeply touched my heart.

Candy

Candy and I shared an exceptional bond that is almost impossible for me to describe. I know I will remember her for the rest of my life. I will remember the way she used to curl up on my pillow every night before I moved out of my family home: how she would settle down beside me, join her paws together in a way that made her look as though she were praying, and start purring right into my ear. I will remember the way she often woke me up by licking my forehead or cheek with her tiny, sandpaper-like tongue … often until the skin in that area had been rubbed raw! The sensation was uncomfortable, but I quickly learned to love it, because I knew it was Candy’s way of expressing affection towards me.

I will always remember the close friendship she shared with Choco, and the way she used to love sitting on his back. Her bond with Buddy was never quite as strong (because he only came into our lives in March 2015, not long before she herself passed away) but they were fond of each other nonetheless. After Candy had staked out her territory and made it abundantly clear to him who was boss, they learned to get along quite well.

Most of all, I will remember that in early December 2015, when she received her dreadful diagnosis – when I was absolutely distraught and could barely breathe through my sobs – she leaned right into my hand and rubbed her head against it a few times, attempting to cheer me up. This was typical of her. She was the most loving, good-natured cat I have ever known. She was my baby, my Candykins, my sweet girl, my angel … and she will be in my heart always. 

I was there for her a few short weeks later, on December 30th, even though it absolutely destroyed me to know that I would have to watch her die. By that stage, the aggressive, inoperable tumour in her mouth had rendered her unable to eat and drink. It devastated me to bring her to the vet for the very last time (reassuring her all the time that I loved her and would be with her until the very end), to watch the vet administer the anaesthetic overdose, and to hold my beautiful feline friend in my arms as her heartbeat faded and she slipped away. I knew, however, that no matter how anguished I might be, it was extremely important to be there for her.

Candy2A few nights later, she appeared to me in a dream. It was one of those extremely lucid dreams I have every now and then: where I can see and feel everything so clearly that when I wake up, I’m somewhat disorientated and shocked to learn that the dream wasn’t “real life.”

In that dream, I was carrying Candy through a tall, narrow house in which the entire bottom floor was flooded. Random objects and pieces of furniture were floating around in the water, but I knew that I would be able to wade safely through it all. I had to get Candy up to a richly decorated room at the top of the house, where a special bed – adorned with sumptuous, brightly coloured fabrics that I knew she’d love – had been prepared for her. I knew that this room would be a place of total refuge and sanctuary for her, despite the strange goings-on in the rest of the house.

As I carried her, I could sense her anxiety and feel her claws dig right into my arms. I looked down at her several times (trying to reassure her that she would be alright) and saw that her eyes were wide with fear. Once I set her down in the special room, however, she completely relaxed, padded right over to her bed, and curled up on it with an air of great contentment. At that point, I had to leave the house, but my deceased grand-aunt (who was in the room as we entered it, ready to welcome us with an enormous smile) assured me that Candy would be well-looked after.

I hope that this dream was Candy’s way of telling me that she understood why the decision to euthanise her had been made, and that she really would be okay until we met again.

The heartache of saying goodbye to a beloved animal companion can scarcely be described. Anyone who has ever loved and lost an animal will know only too well how deeply moved we are by their innocence, their goofiness, and their capacity to whole-heartedly enjoy every single moment of their lives, devoid of the complicated agendas and mental barriers that we humans so often carry around with us. This post is my way of paying tribute to them and acknowledging just how amazing they really are.

I am grateful for every single moment I ever spent with Choco and Candy. I am grateful to have heard of Shelby, Esther, and every other animal I follow online. They have all touched my heart, despite the fact that we have never met. I am grateful for Buddy’s continued presence in my life, and I know I will be grateful for every other animal who grants me the honour of allowing me to be their friend in future.

What a wonderful world it would be if every animal were loved and respected in the way they deserve to be. We can always dream…

EstShelby

Esther the Wonder Pig

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