Sadness and grief affects everyone in different ways and there are many different things that generate sadness and grief. The most notable is that caused by family events and, for many, family can mean different things. For us, sadness and grief came about by the passing of our dear Labrador Jenna, who was just passed her 11th year. Jenna had been increasingly burdened by various lumps and bumps that kept growing and after undergoing several operations not long ago to assess and remove some of those lumps and bumps, for a short while she was rejuvenated and almost a new dog. However, she rapidly began to deteriorate some months afterwards, becoming less active, eating less and generally not wanting to do much at all. Then she became incontinent and she started showing signs of depression. It was only when we took her for her annual checkup, and to find out if there was something other than hormone tablets to alleviate her incontinence, that it was discovered that she had cancer. The photos that follow are a collection of Jenna (and her brother Tas) throughout her life in no particular order, to remember a wonderful dog.
Dogs are an amazing animal as they can disguise pain and discomfort in a way that few humans can and clearly Jenna had been doing just that. The signs have perhaps been there for a while, despite recovering quite well initially from her operation, as she became far less active and especially losing all interest in our daily park run. And what was most unusual and worrying was that her appetite began to diminish to the extent that she was barely eating. For a Labrador, not eating is a very worrying sign. So further investigation followed and after ultrasounds and other checks, cancer was confirmed, with a tumor on her body and clear indications of cancer in her liver and spleen. These were all a time bomb ticking away and, worse still, making her life increasingly difficult and I would guess miserable. After 11 years, you can read how your dog feels, just as they can read how you feel, and Jenna was very depressed by her state of health.
What followed was an incredibly difficult decision, but we didn’t want Jenna to go through what our previous Lab went through when her liver failed for some unknown reason. So when the final prognosis was delivered to us, we’d already discussed the possibility of what we faced and were as ready as anyone could be to make that most difficult of decisions. And when it comes to such a decision with a pet (really a family member) that you’ve brought up almost since birth, I believe that it’s infinitely more difficult as you can’t ask what to do. With a person, they can tell you how they feel and what they want and you can accept their decision. How do you really know what a faithful dog wants you to do? Some call me unemotional, but I’ll admit that I choked up several times that day when it came to discussing the possibility of what lay ahead of us and especially so when we went to see Jenna for the last time.
For some people dogs mean little, but for others they are something very special. I’ve always had an affinity towards dogs of all types, even though I’ve had some unpleasant experiences when I was a very young kid and later on in life. However, I’ve never feared dogs for some reason and, similarly, most dogs take to me in a positive way, I think sensing that I don’t fear them and mean them no harm. It’s for these reasons why I really hate it when I see dogs being badly treated or even when not treated as a family member when brought as a pet. There are still too many people that get a dog because they think it’ll be good for the kids or whatever, but before long becomes a burden and is then left in a cage somewhere in the back yard, out of sight out of mind, except for the yelping that’s heard throughout the neighbourhood. Why such people get dogs is beyond me.
When we got Jenna, as with our first Lab, we didn’t pick her, she picked us. What we’ve always done is just allowed the dogs to come and meet us and eventually one comes back several times and you know that’s the one that has chosen you. This was when she was about six weeks old, before she’d had her first vaccinations. When we went to pick her up at eight weeks, we were told that all the Labs had been taken except for one male that no one wanted, other than some dubious character. So on our way to pick up Jenna, we decided that we’d also take her brother, as we just felt sorry for the unwanted boy. I think that was the best decision that we could have made, as the two of them proved to be so good together and made our life easier in many ways while raising them into adulthood. There was never an issue of loneliness as they had each other for company while they adapted to their new life.
I think Tas knew that Jenna was not well and getting worse, and I know that he misses her and hasn’t yet adjusted to her not being around any more. We feel the same, there’s an emptiness in the home for the time being but, as with all things, time heals all wounds. The only thing that is perhaps a blessing is that her cancer was picked up before she because seriously incapacitated and/or in extreme pain. The decision wouldn’t have been any easier if we made it later on, but we felt that further suffering (I know she was suffering), would be an even harder thing to live by. And Jenna knew that she was on her last legs and probably welcomed the next life. She had been extremely despondent for some weeks now and more so in the last few days when she stopped eating, so I think she was just trying to hasten the inevitable. Maybe I’m rationalising and trying to ease the pain that our decision caused, but I do think she knew her time had come.
So there I sat in front of my computer after that fateful day, on an absolutely miserable, cold and horribly wet Spring week trying to get drunk and failing miserably, while attempting to write down how I felt. We’re all feeling a little better now, but there’ll be reminders for quite some time of who we’re missing. Ironically a few days after Jenna’s passing, a bird that I haven’t been able to identify, started to build a nest inside our veranda. It had absolutely no fear of us and I could come right up to it where it was trying to build that nest. Unfortunately it had picked a spot that could never hold a nest and the construction was failing, so I added a small piece of wood to the spot to help hold the nest material in place. The bird seemed pleased with this and my wife and I both thought that maybe this was the spirit of Jenna come back to let us know that she was now in a good place and feeling happy.
Update 1. I think this is why the little bird was so earnestly trying to build a nest: