21 April 2013
On Friday I said goodbye to Bronson, my friend and companion. I had forgotten how hard grief is, how heavy your heart feels in your chest, how every breath is slow and ponderous, and how the world feels harsh and intrusive in its very ordinariness. Everything looks the same, but somehow you feel isolated and apart from it, not quite comfortable in your own skin. Life isn’t the same without your best mate beside you.
I got Bronson when I was grieving the death of my father, and even on the first day I saw him, that loveable little pup taught me an important lesson. I hadn’t intended to get a dog – I already had a Boxer, a brindle called Mollie, but a friend told me her parents had brought home a new puppy, and she said there was one left in the litter. He was adorable, she said, and they wished they could have taken him too.
Did I want or need another dog? No, but going to see him was a good distraction from the grief I was feeling, and maybe a puppy would help with my heartbreak. It was Dad who taught me how special companion dogs are. It seemed fitting somehow, so my sister Sue and I drove up to see the baby Boxer. He was cute alright, a bouncing red boy with a black muzzle and white blaze. Cute yes, but not quite right. What I really wanted was another brindle, more like Mollie. I said goodbye and we drove away.
Five miles up the road, my inner voice was screaming at me. “What are you doing? Leaving this boy because he doesn’t have the right look? You’re shallow. Turn around and go back.”
I did, and Bronson’s been with me ever since. The lesson of that day remains with me. It’s what’s inside that counts.
Bronson was a dog with a huge personality and a massive love of life. Enthusiastic, rambunctious, and naughty, he stole my heart with his antics. In the early days, he snuck into a houseguest’s bedroom, and extracted her bra from her suitcase, then ran through the house with it dangling tantalisingly from his mouth. Tea towels were his favourite game – he’d snatch them from my hands as I was drying dishes, and run through the house and yard shaking it, always just out of my grasp. I don’t know how many tea towels I went through during his life – it was more fun to play his game than to admonish and train him out of this foible. Another weakness was toilet rolls – he knew the sounds of the roll becoming empty – and would batter at a half closed door to get at them, much to the chagrin of guests using the bathroom.
His appetite was legendary. He loved mealtimes – both his and mine – and had a particular passion for duck jerky treats, Smackos, oranges, grapefruit, and the occasional cordless phone. He’d often bury his favourite treats, and my garden is filled with holes to prove it.
He was the most loyal companion anyone could imagine. When I left for work in the morning, he’s stand at the end of the driveway, until my car was out of sight, and when I came home in the evenings he’d be waiting to greet me, his whole body quivering with delight. It didn’t matter if I was out for hours or only five minutes – each new meeting was rapturous, with the promise of a new game. He’d follow me from room to room, always making sure to guard any open doors. Same at bedtime – he’d sleep on the end of my bed, always facing the door in case someone came to kill me in the middle of the night. He’d slept on my bed for the past six years, since my first Boxer Mollie died, and Bronson had become my living, breathing teddy bear. We both grieved hard, and helped each other through the pain.
Bronson loved everyone, greeting family and friends enthusiastically when they visited, always believing it was him they’d come to see. He also loved his ‘doctor’. Last weekend his vet and I discussed his health, which had been declining for some time, after a major tumour was removed two years ago. We knew he didn’t have much longer, and I wondered if it was still okay to walk him, as his breathing was becoming laboured. The vet’s advice was to let him mooch around but not exert himself. Treat him like an old man lying in a sun lounger at a resort.
In that spirit I took him to the beach for a quiet walk, but Bronson had other ideas. I found a secluded spot on the beach with no other dogs, and not too many people. I took him off the lead, and he ambled beside me, staying to heel, unusual for him. As he shuffled along he touched my calf with his nose intermittently, to let me know he was there beside me.
As we walked along I listened to the water lapping against the sand, and stared into the waves, feeling at one with nature, then with a start realised Bronson was no longer beside me. I turned and looked down, and then across at the water. He was indulging his other love, and was swimming out with the tide, strongly and surely, towards a couple paddle boarding. He didn’t stop when he reached the man, but tried to clamber on his board, knocking him into the water. I cried out in anguish and embarrassment, but as he so often did, he ignored me, and continued on to the woman, who, alarmed at the fate of her companion, paddled quickly into deeper water.
Back on the beach, Bronson shook himself off and looked at me with pride shining out of his deep brown eyes. The dunked paddle boarder joined us and said what fine dog he was. Yes, I acknowledged, he was a fine dog. He might be old and sick, but he still had the cheeky spirit he had as a pup.
That was our last outing. Over the next week he deteriorated and I recognised it was time to let him go. As he died cradled in my arms, Sue beside us, I wondered how my own heart could keep beating.
I know the time will come when I forget, again, how hard grief is. But I’ll never forget Bronson.
Goodbye my good guard dog, my beautiful little man, my best friend, my baby. Thanks for walking alongside me the past ten years, through some hard times, through some pain, and through some healing. Thanks for filling my life with love, with loyalty and with laughter. I’ll never forget you and the joy you brought me.