What A Stupid Dog Taught Me About Regret


[I hadn’t originally planned to publish this post. I actually wrote it partly to capture my memories of these events and partly to help me make sense of my thoughts and emotions.

While this is not strictly ‘business’ related I do believe we would all enjoy greater success, fulfilment and quality of life if we learned to appreciate what we have before it’s gone…so please, read on and leave your comments, good, bad or slightly neurotic…]

 

“Stupid dog.”

How many times had I said that these past few years? Certainly more than I can now remember, sitting here wishing I hadn’t said it even once. Two days ago we laid Asha, that ‘stupid dog’, to rest in our back garden. Underneath 3 feet of soil and some pretty little violas. The vet wasn’t sure if it was a stroke, or epilepsy or some other cerebral failure. Whatever it was happened quickly. So quick that I didn’t even have time to get home before my wife had to make the decision all pet owners must dread…

It’s funny you know. I never thought I’d be one of ‘those’ dog owners. I always thought I’d be a bit upset for an hour or three and then get on with life. After all, we all know the cliche about death being a mere fact of life.
The reality for me has been somewhat different and while I was grateful my wife brought Asha home from the vet for my final goodbyes, I regret not being there when she ‘went to sleep’.

Asha was one of those dogs who was crazy from the moment we saw her at just 6 weeks of age. Tackling and biting her litter mates, she was one of the smallest of her brothers and sisters. Small in size perhaps but certainly not in stature. The breeder had told us Asha’s lineage was bred for ‘tenacity’. If only we knew what that would mean for the coming 10 years. Not that we’d choose a different dog in hindsight but we might have invested in some less destructible toys, shoes, furniture, pot plants, clothes pegs, dog collars and hose fittings!

What began as a decision to get a companion for our existing 6 month old dog, Cooper, became a life filled with destruction, dismay, disbelief and the associated vet bills! Along with that though, came an affectionate, sweet, loyal and perceptive friend who grew on us like ivy on a wall – eventually you can’t even remember what the wall looked like when it was bare.

We always knew Asha was special. She had an incredible terrier instinct and would regularly descend our back stairs, literally touching less than 7 of the 14 steps on the way down, to chase the possums that came to steal the bird seed we put out for the local lorikeets. Asha also had a tendency to wander. Living in a rural area meant this wasn’t too much of an issue as she’d usually come back after a quick dip in one of the many small dams that dotted the neighbouring properties. About 5 or 6 years ago though, she wandered off again and despite me driving the local streets for an hour and calling incessantly, Asha didn’t return. We posted flyers, notified the pound, advised the local vets and kennels but after several weeks we figured she’d either been stolen, poisoned, shot or just found a more exciting place to live. Either way, we grieved in a fashion and accepted that Asha was gone.
That was until a phone call 7 months later from the owner of the local boarding kennel informing us of Asha’s whereabouts! Long story short she’d been picked up by a local that day she went missing and rather than hand her in,they’d decided to keep her. We got Asha back and life went back to (a slightly crazier version of) normal.

The last couple of years saw Asha’s health decline. The vet thinks she had a couple of damaged discs in her spine, perhaps from launching herself at breakneck speed into anything between her and the tennis ball. Either way it meant she had a bit more trouble getting around and was starting to struggle with our back stairs. With medication and a few other changes we were prepared to help her enjoy her remaining years with us and Cooper, especially since she was now one of our 2 1/2 year old daughter’s best friends.

That was until Thursday. I’d not long left home when I got a message from my wife saying ‘There’s something wrong with Asha’.
‘No kidding’ I thought. I figured it would be another case of the stupid dog having found a toad or a dead wallaby to dine on or perhaps a scrap with the local goanna. Maybe she’d eaten some gravel this time, or taken the stairs too quickly and injured herself.
In any case, I arranged for our local vet to pick her up from our home (our other car was at the mechanic for the day) and told my wife not to worry. I found myself cursing the stupid dog for creating yet another large vet bill, one of many throughout her life!

I went about my afternoon of client appointments, going into my last meeting about 4pm. I normally leave my mobile phone in the car but on this occasion had it on ‘silent’ in my pocket. During the group interview I was running for my client I could feel my phone ringing in my pocket. It rang again. Several minutes later another vibrating call.
By the time I finished it was 6pm and I pulled my phone out to see the missed calls were all from my wife.
“Damn, that can’t be good.” I said to my clients. “Sorry, got to go!”
I called my wife from the car as I left [hands free of course]. No answer. Called again. No answer. After the 5th attempt I suspected she was at the vet with a very sick dog and our 2 1/2 year old daughter in tow and probably couldn’t answer her phone…yep, that’d be it for sure. The 35 minute drive home felt like an eternity. I was just 10 minutes from home when my wife called.
“I’m sorry honey, I had to make the decision” she said. I could hear the restraint in her voice.
She didn’t need to say anything else. “I’ll see you soon honey. I love you” was my reply.
That’s when I realised, too late perhaps, that Asha had meant much more to me than I realised.
Not only that, I started to wish things were different. I started to feel regret.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever felt regret in your life. It’s not something I can say I’ve really experienced, at least not on a significant level. I might have regretted not stopping for fuel earlier or not wearing a warmer shirt but I can’t say I’ve every regretted anything ‘big’ in my life.
Until now.
As I pulled into the driveway I could see our other car parked in front of the house. I went inside to the sounds of our daughter protesting about cleaning her teeth ready for bed. It felt surreal but my wife and I both did the usual thing of reading a story together with our daughter before tucking her in for the night. As we closed our daughter’s bedroom door and walked down the hall my wife told me that Asha was on the back seat of the car. That the vet had been wonderful and placed her inside a nice calico bag for the trip home.
As I carried Asha’s body into the garage she felt heavier than I remembered. Then I realised I hadn’t really held her like this for a long time. More regret. I laid her on a blanket on the garage floor and stroked her still-warm face as I said goodbye.

Like I said, I never thought I’d be one of ‘those’ dog owners. What the hell does that mean anyway? That I didn’t love and appreciate a pet who gave love unconditionally? That’s certainly not the case. If I’m honest I’d have to say I took Asha for granted on occasion and certainly didn’t treat every day like the last I’d see her…until it was too late. I regret not being there when they put Asha to sleep. As much for the chance to say goodbye one last time as to be there to support my wife and daughter. I regret the times I got frustrated, angry or impatient with Asha. I regret calling her stupid. I regret shouting at her when she clambered into the open car door and all over the leather upholstery, looking for the tennis ball that was sitting in the middle of the driveway.

The greatest regret that I feel though is not loving Asha and all those around me, both canine and human, the way that Asha loved me.
Without prejudice. Without qualifications. Without expectation and without limits.

I’m grateful for our time with Asha and, although she didn’t make it past 10 1/2 years, she managed to teach me some lessons that many don’t learn in a lifetime.

'Asha' the English Staffordshire Terrier

See ya later Ash, wait for us at Rainbow Bridge… xx

 

4 Comments on “What A Stupid Dog Taught Me About Regret”

  1. Bought a tear to my eye mate. As you know we lost Sierra in May 2011 and your blog mirrored my thoughts at the time. That old saying still rings true : You don’t appreciate what you’ve got till it’s gone. It will get easier Wah but you never forget. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Gary & Del.

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