When our wonderful dog Ozzie passed away last week, my partner Dan and I were in pieces, completely shattered and broken.
He was the third member of our little family unit, our team.
Ozzie came to us when he was already nine years old and I had no idea of the impact he would have on the lives of me, Dan - and indeed the very many people who met him - and loved him.
And yet somehow I knew he was special, that's why we chose him – or rather he chose us.
Not having set out to adopt a dog, we had nevertheless found ourselves one day visiting a couple of dog shelters and being moved, as one is in such places, by the sheer number of dogs needing a home. But it was only when we encountered Ozzie that we found our soul mate. And we knew instantly.
Not that Ozzie was going out of his way to appear desperate like some of his fellow homeless pooches, who pleaded with their eyes and whimpered softly at us as we wandered past rows and rows of cages filled with dogs of all shapes and sizes that had been abandoned or had otherwise arrived in this place through no fault of their own.
Too sad for words.
Ozzie, however, tried to appear unresponsive, he didn't want anyone to think he needed their assistance. It was clear that he had been fending for himself and was not used to much attention, let alone affection. But when I crouched down and asked him for his paw, he couldn't help himself. Dan and I looked at each other and knew. We hadn't intended to get a dog that day, especially not an old timer who seemed very aloof, and yet we knew we would be going home with him as soon as the paperwork could be completed.
And so it was that Ozzie, a nine year old Doberman Lurcher mix, became the centre of our little family for the next six years.
Ozzie was a perfect gentleman, he loved everybody and everybody loved him. He was especially respectful to children and older people. Gentle and well behaved, we could trust him implicitly. And, in spite of the fact that he had clearly led a chequered life (the dogs home had known him, on and off, since he was eight weeks old), he grew to trust us and love us more than anything else in his world.
We all travelled together wherever life took us. We shared quiet and beautiful holidays including a memorable trip to my beloved St Bees, a tiny coastal village in Cumbria which I had discovered in my troubled youth and which had, during difficult and lonely teenage years, eased my mind and spirit with the sound of the sea and the endless views of big skies. And Dan was the one who took us all there again, decades later, having persuaded me that it might be good to return to this little place which had been so poignant for me, to make new memories that were less tinged with melancholy. So, thirty years down the line, we went back, together with Ozzie of course, and the place was filled with sunshine. It made my heart sing to find that Ozzie loved it there. This magical little place that had touched my soul now touched Ozzie's too, proving to me that a soul is a soul, be it human or canine.
The three of us, Dan, Ozzie and me, walked together along grassy lanes in the fresh coastal air, making new memories to treasure.
So when Oz left us a few days ago, just two days after we celebrated his fifteenth birthday, we were shattered to the very core. And we haven't recovered.
Ozzie was for us the most wonderful friend, he cared for us, he loved us and he made us smile and laugh even when we were feeling anxious or angry at the world around us.
When we lost him that world fell apart and we didn't stop crying for days on end.
While we are still glimpsing him around the house in passing shadows, our home now feels big and empty.
I can't bear the thought of never seeing him again and so I have to believe that I will.
The loss is that of a beloved family member and the grieving the same. Laden with the same tears and heavy with the same sense of parting that makes the heart ache with pain.
Ozzie taught us so much about life and love, compassion and empathy. But above all else, I know, will be the legacy he leaves behind.
When other dogs need us, Dan and I will be there for them. And when other lost souls knock at the door to our hearts then we will welcome them in.
Ozzie taught us that opening our hearts to an animal in need is one of the biggest blessings in all of life. And that will be the driving force for us from this day forward.
Ozzie will live on, in the love that we will give to others who come to seek our help.
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