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Yesterday was a tough night for me. Dan, our little rebel, was the first of our three puppies to leave us because of old age. He was 13.

I guess it was always easy for us to see them as babies. His father was my dog, his mother, my sister’s. No matter how long they stayed with us, we saw them as pups because we literally saw them enter the world.

Dan was one of the nine in the only litter we had. We sold five, and kept four – and that was more than enough to keep our hands (and hearts) full. He was one of the four that stayed with us.

There’s probably no graceful or easy way to lose a pet. Dan isn’t the first of the four to leave us. Our little Spikey, the runt of the litter, died when he was just three in the most dramatic fashion due to medical complications that we still do not fully understand. That was my first encounter with death. I’ve had many between then and now and it’s really gets no less difficult, I’m sad to say.

Dan deteriorated pretty quickly over the last week or so, and I’ve seen many a pet go, enough times to know the signs when it is time. When I got home for dinner yesterday, one of the rare occassions where work actually permitted, I almost knew immediately that it was his last night.

He was suffering so much. He couldn’t stand, and could barely breathe, with thick mucus coming out his mouth. Yet he still found the strength to walk to us and lie beside us. He was never a very affectionate dog, but I think he knew what was happening and wanted to be close to us in his final moments. Watching him was painful, and it was such a challenge to find someone that could help him at that point. By help him, I really mean put him down.

We finally did, and believe me, doing so at 10pm when most vet clinics are closed, was no easy task. All clinics are hesitant when it comes to euthanasia, and rightly so. Some will not do it for an animal they have not treated. Others are careful to make clear that it works on a case by case basis. But I was sure that it was time and it was the only thing left I could do for him. In fact, I would have delivered the injection myself if I had to.

So we loaded up the car, and carried him in. His brother and sister were going mad – almost as if they were not ready to see him go. He raised his head up as he lay in the back seat, and then set it down on my mum’s lap as we set off. Then just as we pulled out of the house, he slipped away. I guess while I wanted to make sure he didn’t suffer any longer, he just really wanted to die in the place he called home.

Death itself is quite a bitch, but really, its the aftermath that is where everything really sinks in. More often than not, it is because the emotions need to take a back seat. This is especially true when you have a 25kg carcass of a golden retriever lying on the floor. We didn’t really know what to do next, but I’m glad that everyone I spoke to on the phone was massively helpful. In 10 minutes, I was sitting down, waiting for cremation services to arrive.

We chose a common cremation – thats when your pet is cremated with others and the ashes scattered into the sea. I guess we’ve never taken their ashes back simply because there would be a ridiculous amount of urns in our house by now if we did that – and that’s just kinda freaky. But I thought I’d share some useful contact numbers and details for those that ever find themselves in this kind of situation.

Animal Recovery Veterinary Center (Tel: 6252 2623) – They were prompt, professional and helpful. Euthanasia on a case by case basis, clear communication on after-hours pricing, and they were the ones that advised me on what to do next when Dan passed, which I really appreciated.

Mobile Pet Cremation (Tel: 9455 6355 – Alvin) – They are a 24-hour service, and arrived an hour after I called. Alvin was really patient with explaining what our options were, and also explaining what he was doing when he arrived, for example, why the carcass needed to be bagged – its because the fluids come out of the body after death and it’s more for hygiene than anything. He was really respectful and gave us our time and space to say our goodbyes.

Last year, we lost Dan’s parents within 24 hours of each other. They were very close, and I guess they just couldn’t be apart all that long. I know that Dan’s brother and sister knew the pain he was in, and what was happening to him. If anything, this was a reminder that they’re not puppies anymore, and unfortunately, the time for Hunter and Teddy will likely come sooner rather than later. Many people have told me that all dogs go to heaven, and I do believe that this is true, just by the sheer pureness of their hearts. At least, it makes me feel better to believe that all the dogs we have loved are together with each other again, happy, young and carefree.