Twenty-four hours before my dog’s final appointment at the vet, I sat in the garden with his head in my lap and wondered if my neighbours across the fence could hear me saying goodbye to my 15 year friend.
On Sunday 29 April, my dog Jin Mao died. On Saturday 28 April, we made the decision to put him down. Which meant that I spent the worst 24 hours of my life sitting outside, stroking his head and crying and hoping he didn’t know.
Jin Mao was a very strange dog in that he hated other dogs. I’m not sure he understood he was one himself. He also hated eye contact. The day we brought him home, on my 8th birthday in 2003, he fell down the stairs and started limping and I cried because I thought we had broken him. He shook it off after a few minutes but would often whip out the limp whenever he got tired during long walks and wanted to be carried.
When he grew to be a full-sized Golden Retriever, he couldn’t be carried anymore but it didn’t stop me from thinking of him as my baby. His favourite thing in the world was being scratched behind the ear. Or perhaps it was eating boiled eggs. When I played piano, he would sing. We didn’t teach him that trick – it just happened. And only for scales – if you played him some Mozart, he’d get up and walk away. But if you played some chromatic scales, you’d have yourself a one-dog choir.
I’ve heard of a phantom limb before but no one told me it would happen when you lose a part of your family. I can’t step into the garden without thinking I can hear his collar jingling. I can’t eat dinner without believing I can give him the leftovers. I smell him in all of my clothes. And even though I know I will never see him again, it still doesn’t feel like that’s the case. It feels like maybe one day he’ll come home.
My mother is a superstitious woman with some wild beliefs. But there’s one thing she’s told me which I am choosing to believe with all my heart. It’s a Buddhist belief related to reincarnation, which says that after 49 days, a deceased soul will return to Earth. My family has already decided to get another dog – one born after 17 June. And that dog will be Jin Mao again. We’ll bring him home again. This belief has filled me with unexplainable relief. I have never been religious, but I understand why people need it. And I understand now that even if logically you know you can’t prove a thing, your heart couldn’t care less.
I talk a lot about loving dogs. Most people do. So it goes without saying that I loved my dog very, very much and he was with me for more than two-thirds of my life. All the clichés around grief apply: It feels impossible to let him go, it hurts to think about him, it feels surreal to believe that he’s gone, and it feels warm to be grateful for the time we had together. Rest in peace my beautiful boy, I hope you’re happy.