Something that is distressingly bittersweet & bizarrely beautiful.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.” – Josh Billings
This blog post is a detailed discussion about the sudden and heart-breaking death of my dear pet Tyson during the Covid-19 lockdown. My experiences as a loving dog mother, navigating the loss of him under the most unusual circumstances.
I want to start this blog post with an incredible video by English Comedian and activist Russell Brand. I was sent this clip by a family friend who of course thought it would give me some solace while grieving Tyson’s death (and of course it did and much more). It really captured the special relationships that some humans share with their pets and the strangely organic process of their death. I would encourage anyone who has a pet or who has lost a pet to watch it in full. I loved it !
I also want to start with the most sincere of thanks to each and every person who has reached out to me in some way. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the kindness and love I’ve received. There is many people I still need to get back to and thank personally. Just know your effort has helped me massively in this process. The most special thing was hearing how obvious my love for Tyson was, how important he was to me and how people loved watching our adventure’s online together. Again Thank You !
“Dog is God spelled backward.” – Duane Chapman
For those who have come along for the ride with me since my days on Reality TV and Modelling with Skysports will know that Tyson played a huge role throughout as my right hand man. For those who don’t; Tyson was my dog/child/soulmate (Its hard to find one singular descriptive word for the relationship actually) I rescued Tyson with an EX on the 1st of June 2010 from The DSPCA https://www.dspca.ie/. Technically you could say he wasn’t even my dog to begin with, but through life’s strange twists and turns he eventually became mine (YIPEE). An accidental pairing that blossomed into something so lovely and meaningful. Somethings are just wrote in the stars and that was one of them.
Tyson unfortunately and suddenly died of cancer four days before my 31st birthday on the 21st of May 2020. It was unexpected, sudden and more than anything shocking. Loosing a pet in normal circumstances is HORRENDOUS and loosing a pet in lockdown is filled with the usual grief you would expect plus more.
Plenty of people have pets and their own beliefs around having an animal. I also have VERY specific and strong opinions about human animal relationships (I don’t like the word ownership BTW) I always had this draw and connection to nature and animals, which is unusual considering I never had pets as a child. This makes me believe I was truly born with this unusually strong connection, empathy and magnetic interest for animals. Since I was very young girl I had an encyclopaedia based knowledge of dog breeds, their characteristics their temperament’s. Every opportunity I got to rent a book about dogs from the library, I did. I took up horse-riding. I even remember in primary school doing a school project about dogs which was elaborately showcased in a scrapbook with pictures, drawings etc. I also owned a ridiculous amount of plastic animals and also enjoyed to pretend I was a horse (As you do when your a kid who loves animals).
The reason this is all important as it helps to understand why my relationship with my dog Tyson was so special. He wasn’t just my pet he was my equal even in death. With Tyson’s death being comparable to the death of anyone in my close family unit. He was an integral part of my inner family, if not the most important. They are like a river in your life, slow, steady, constant. Always happy to see you, the best listeners and more than anything they help you become better. They teach you about responsibility, the importance of exercise, affection and especially patience. I know for certain I am a better human being because of Tyson. We had ten amazing years together and I probably wouldn’t be here without him if i am being honest. He was there during my hardest days when i didnt want to get out of bed or leave the house. The only thing that kept me grounded was knowing someone needed to look after him, walk him and love him. I remember a time when I wanted to run away from Ireland and move away but no matter how hard I tried, having a dog just made it complicated, so I stayed. To be fair it was never a good idea for a 21 year old to solely get a dog but it happened. My life was then shaped by having him. People never think really the consequences of having a dog, you cant immigrate easily, you may struggle to rent. Its roughly 10 years or more potentially. You also have to assume training, feeding, vet bills, daily exercise.
Tyson had his quirks, but hey who doesn’t. We adopted an almost fully grown boxer dog (1 – 1.5 years old) that was abandoned. Of course he was going to have issues. Wouldn’t you ? He was hyper, loved to play nibble with hands and more than anything HATED other dogs. There were times it tested me beyond all belief but I learnt patience and acceptance. I mean would you give your child up just because it had some behaviour issues, absolutely not ! Lets be real, dogs are a reflection of the people in their lives. It takes time and Tyson with all his quirks improved. He never gave up on me and I wasn’t going to give up on him. Through hard work, love and dedication we both grew together. We loved each other and all our imperfections. Tyson matured into one of the biggest boxers around and its something people stopped in the street to comment on. He received so much attention and lapped up every second. He was strikingly handsome, a major softy, loved to play, run, jump and of course snuggle. He hated the sound of pots and pans smacking off each other, dogs, getting his ears cleaned and not being allowed on the couch at a whim. Although he came up with a clever technique to melt the rules on that one, a simple paw on the leg. I could read his mind and in those moments I knew he was saying ‘look how good I am’ and before I knew it he was taking over 2/3 of a 10 foot sofa. More than anything he just liked to be with me and enjoy my company, so of course I took him anywhere I could.
I was very lucky in many ways but mostly that Tyson lead a very uncomplicated life in relation to his health. He was strong, full of energy and healthy until almost the end. I took huge pride in the care I gave for Tyson (even when I had very little money myself) I always made sure to buy Tyson top quality food even using my own hair product’s when we went anywhere to make his coat shine and mostly bags of love. I like to think that thanks to this care we had very few visits to the vet, except the usual small bits like injections etc.
Animals are perfect, innocent and godlike. Tyson was my connection to nature which is embedded in every fibre of my body since childhood. The love, care and time that was built over a ten year period. With all of this in mind you can now start to imagine what it’s like to say goodbye to him or the pain that is felt by anyone who shares my feelings towards their beloved pets. Its not LIKE loosing a human; its the same as loosing a human. Many people don’t understand that.
Its not a surprise to me that people these days seek out counselling services to overcome the deep and painful grief after loosing a pet. I would encourage anyone who is struggling after the loss of their companion to seek support and talk. You shouldn’t feel any sense of shame or embarrassment because the bond is real and meaningful. Writing this blog and sharing my story is part of my process.
Like most people in Ireland and around the world Covid-19 had a direct impact on my weekly life. The biggest change of course was that my job was temporarily closed for almost 11 weeks off. Some people may have struggled but I ABSOLUTELY loved it. How often do you get an opportunity to completely slow down, rest, think, breath ? I read, painted, created, drank way too much, ate way too much and mostly lay in the glorious freak Irish weather where I discovered my first real tan. What was the best part above all else ? Spending every single day and hour with my doggie Tyson.
The hardest part of this whole thing and others will agree is that your pets cant tell you that there is a problem. You only have signs. Its difficult to see these major signs when your dogs demeanour is strong, proud and full of life. I almost think Tyson wouldn’t have wanted to showcase weakness as crazy as that sounds. I knew Tyson inside out, like I said I could read his mind. Its devastating to think I missed a sign with all of these connections. Was there any signs of Tyson being sick at the beginning of my lockdown ? absolutely not. That’s the crazy thing about his death, it was the most unexpected blow you could have imagined. Were there any signs in general that there may have been a change with him ? Of course he was old (he would have been 12 roughly this Christmas which equates to almost 84 human years) but still an ox of a dog who enjoyed good health throughout. He was getting very grey like the George Clooney of Boxer dogs, a little bit slower, more chilled but never ever sick. I honestly believed he would be one of those exceptional boxers that lasted until he was 15 because he was invincible to me.
In 2019 he started to gradually loose a little weight and very subtly. During a routine visit to the vet we highlighted this. The vet wasn’t concerned and in fact was blown away at the amount of muscle such a senior boxer still maintained. ‘He has the face of an 11 year old dog and the body of a 5 year old dog’ she says. We were well accustomed to Tyson receiving compliments and we accepted them as proud parents do. We were investigating a skin problem that Tyson was suffering with on his tummy – black scabs to be specific. Tyson started a dose of medication and a topical daily cream, we also went on to do blood tests. The blood tests came back inconclusive and the scabs went away, so naturally we put the case to bed and thought no more. Fast forward to 2020 we continued to notice a small amount of weight loss but no change in his eating, behaviour or energy.
The lockdown was where I really had the chance to spend a significant amount of time with him, and the weight loss was something I was still concerned about but not panicked. The vet encouraged me to increase his food and that’s what I did, he was delighted. I even wrote a day in my google calendar for a routine vet appointment.
We continued to enjoy many beautiful days together during lockdown in the sun. A week before he passed the signs started to show, but never could I have imagined his death (I think its important for me to be specific for other dog owners) The first sign; Tyson urinates excessively during the night all over the hall, kitchen and his bed. It was odd but not unusual, I thought he forgot to go to the bathroom before bed. Again I thought no more.
Two days later the second, third and fourth sign; Tyson didn’t wake up in the morning to say hello, didn’t eat his breakfast which sat in his bowl for a half day and also had a swollen strange eye. Tyson has never missed breakfast and he has never ever missed a morning greeting. I was convinced he had an eye infection and felt very poorly. I cleaned his eye with luke warm water and picked up the phone to the vet. As the day progressed his eye started to improve and he was back up and running again. The following day he was back to 100% and I called the vet to give them an update and I took the opportunity to book a check up appointment for the fist week of June. We headed out for a local hike and Tyson enjoyed every second.
The last sign; The following day we decided we would go for another hike and it progressed to be a particularly hot day. I noticed almost immediately how slow Tyson was walking, it was very out of character but the heat did continue to rise. Out of no where Tyson falls to the ground on one side, I couldn’t make out if he was experiencing heat stroke or a seizure. It was so frightening to watch. We sat in the shade gave him as much water and his favourite snack ever a big juicy Banana. When he was ok we made our way down the hike taking a shaded path, he seemed to perk up. I was 100% sure it was heat stroke and felt guilty for taking him out under the conditions.
Safe at home Tyson started to show more signs, he was slow, lethargic and out of no where a swollen tummy. I called the vet and they encouraged me to get in ASAP and I did.
What happens during a visit to the vet in Lockdown ?
Its no surprise that vets are going to do everything necessary to stay open and offer their services during the Covid-19 Pandemic and the only way to do that is to protect their staff and implement measures accordingly. On arrival I was prompted the new measures. 1) We were to pull up outside the vet and then have a detailed discussion over the phone with the vet on duty. 2) We were then to drop Tyson at the door of the vets where he would be brought in for a full inspection while we waited in the car.
The vet encouraged us to do detailed blood tests as he was very concerned about the swelling and also his very white gums. The results came back and it highlighted an extremely low red blood count. The Vet was keen to get Tyson back in to do X-rays, Ultrasounds and then he dropped the big bomb – a potentially operation. There was a mention of his spleen and severe blood loss. We were to take him home and get him back in the next morning for further investigation. That evening things continued to deteriorate, I was so worried. The next morning he was a ghost of himself and somehow he still dragged himself out of the bed to say good morning to everyone but he struggled. The vet highlighted in our pervious nights conversation that he was extremely sick and of course a night of Dr Google didn’t help my nerves. I was sure that this was the beginning of his demise but I never believed for one second it was the end.
We dropped him off at the vet following the COVID-19 steps, we kissed and waved good luck to him and headed home. Little did I know I was never going to see my little baby ever again, not even once. With suspense we awaited the call and it wasn’t good news. It wasn’t his spleen as suspected (which could potentially have been removed) it was cancer of the stomach and prostate. It was bad and he was sick, it was time for him to go asleep.
The shit thing about loss in lockdown is that your not gifted the same steps in saying goodbye that you usually are in normal circumstances . I wasn’t even allowed to see the body, I was inconsolable. My child, my soulmate, my baby is dead. The world crumbled under my feet. He was fine a week ago.
The beautiful part
My brother said two things that really hit me and helped me to take a step in a different direction with my grief and confusion. I had been crying for days at that stage and it was also my birthday. His thought’s were this;
I may not have been able to see his dead body and say goodbye to him, Covid-19 took that away from me. However I did spend almost 9 weeks with my precious boy during lockdown with him every day living, which I wouldn’t have enjoyed ordinarily if I was in work. A beautiful dichotomy actually. Which was better ? Enjoy him living or say goodbye to him dead. I know a lot of people have faced tragedy as a result of Covid-19 but for me it was one last gift. Our sunny lockdown goodbye.
His next bit of advise was to remember the life and love I gave Tyson. Not to forget also that my ultimate and true calling above all else was my unusually large and incomparable love for animals (especially dogs) An unwanted, discarded rescue dog ended up being the centre of the universe for me and that there are others out there waiting for me.
My summary about Loss in Lockdown
Like all loss its life changing, heart-breaking but more than anything the gift of time together was written in the stars just like our pairing. Tyson was strong more than anything in my eyes and even in his death, which was short and quick embodied that. I never saw a slow deterioration of my strong boy, that was his gift to me probably.
I miss you Tyson and will see you in the future.
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
By Henry Scott Holland