For Gunner, With All My Love

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Some of you already know, but I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make on Friday 10.30.15. I made the decision to put my sweet boy to sleep and set him free from his old body.

I had been struggling with this decision for quite awhile and everyone told me I would just know when it was time. I prayed they were right. I prayed Gunner would tell me when it was time, though he was such a stubborn, crotchety old boy that I knew he probably wouldn’t. There were a few moments during his last days where he would  lick my hands clean, then lay his head on my lap and I knew it really was time. It was such a faint feeling though, because I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want it to be time yet and I kept my doubts strong.

His accidents grew more frequent and he almost couldn’t get up the ramp anymore to go outside. The nerve damage in his rear end had made it so hard for him to move around. The length of our boat was about as many steps as he could take before he would lay down and rest again. When he stopped eating his food, I knew his body was shutting down.

My sweet boy was 14.5 years old and his poor body just couldn’t keep up with his mind anymore. I know in my heart it was the best thing for him and it would have been selfish of me to keep him here any longer. Still, I wonder everyday if I made the right decision. I’ve lost loved ones in the past, but losing Gunner hurt so much more. He was my baby. I took care of him like he was my child.

I still can’t believe he is gone… I never knew my heart could hurt so much.

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I want to share the story of our time together.

It was the summer of my Senior year in high school, 2001. I had been wanting a large-breed puppy and had always grew up around dogs. My mom called me one day to tell me about this Weimaraner that needed a home. The breeder had just died of a heart attack and no one had found her, the momma dog or the puppies for three days. The breeder’s friend owned a kennel in Snohomish, Washington where she took the puppies in to find homes for them. Four whole months later, all but one had found homes.

This little boy was lanky and shy. He timidly came out to greet me in the parking lot. I was told that he was the last to get picked because of how big his feet were, meaning he was going to be the biggest one of the litter. How big could he really get? His floppy ears went past the end of his little nose and his little butt was so skinny. His legs were long but he was still so tiny.

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I just couldn’t leave him there! I just couldn’t bare to see his little sad face turn away from another stranger that didn’t want him. From that moment on he was glued to my side. I crate trained him early on but it only took a few nights for him to melt my heart enough to have him sleeping under the covers with me. Everyone knows weims are like velco, and that he was.

I left this little ball of energy with my grandparents for my first year of college at Western Washington University while I lived in the dorms. I would come home on the weekends to do laundry and see my sweet boy. He was so mischievous! His weim-crimes were frustrating but so loveable at the same time. He chewed a hole in the drywall once. I got him the toughest chew toys I could find and did what I could to train him and get him the exercise he needed. He loved to swim, chase the geese in our backyard and play with his toys. Most of my pictures from the early days are in photo books back in California but I have hundreds of pictures of him snuggled up in piles of clean laundry, on the couch and on my pillows. If you’ve ever been around Weimaraners, you know just how human they think they are. He loved popcorn and Cheetos, especially when my grandpa would sneak them to him.

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During the remaining years of college, I lived in houses with roomates and Gunner came up to Bellingham, WA to live with me. I remember there was this one lake we would go to and he would swim for hours retrieving sticks I threw for him. He loved every minute. He was like a small pony galloping around. I always felt safe with him by my side. It was a lot of responsibility to have him while working and going to school full time, but I think it was good for me. He kept me in line, as I did for him.

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After college we moved out to the countryside in Blaine, WA and lived on 20 acres. At one point we had a total of 6 dogs, 21 puppies, and 9 goats. Gunner loved his brothers and sisters – Magnum, Ayla, Missy, Aaron, Gage, and temporarily Remmi and Boone. During these years he learned to hunt and went for several-week long training camps with some other hunting dogs. He got a taste for what he was bred to do. Running through the tall grass and open fields chasing birds was what he loved the most. He could run so fast! He was so lean and shiny and muscly back then.

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A series of circumstances brought us down to Huntington Beach, California in the summer of 2008. Him and I soon found a little studio apartment in Costa Mesa where we grew to love the warm weather and sandy beaches. Another move to San Diego allowed us to finally meet Peter and Betsy in April of 2011. Ever since, it has been non-stop adventure!!

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We’ve taken several trips to Baja California, Mexico. We went camping in the Eastern Sierras where Gunner ran wild through the cow patties along the riverbed and roamed around near the campsite. We took a road trip up to see my family in Washington. We took the dogs through an Old Gold Mine and Peter had to carry Gunner up a tall rickety ladder. He’s gone swimming in the SoCal surf with his daddy and he went to the office with me to work on the weekends. He always loved going in the car, wherever we went. The adventures were endless.

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He was 12 when Peter and I decided to buy a boat and sail through the Caribbean. We knew he was getting old and that eventually the day would come when we would have to say goodbye, but there was never a doubt in our minds that he would come with us on our biggest adventure yet. We sold and donated most of our belongings, packed up the rest and drove across the country to our new home aboard a sailboat in Punta Gorda, Florida. It was that year that I first remember noticing his back feet drag a little during our evening runs. I found this amazing harness that made getting him on and off the boat a breeze. After four months on the dock we untied the lines for good and headed to the Bahamas!

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We sailed through the Bahamas, past Turks and Caicos, along the North coast of the Dominican Republic, South coast of Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI and all the way down the Eastern Caribbean island chain to Grenada for our first hurricane season on the boat. We returned to the Virgin Islands that winter, back to Grenada this year and back to the Virgins again just a few weeks ago for a total of 5,000 nautical miles. Gunner got to run and swim on so many beaches and he smelled so many good smells on all the islands we visited. He ate fresh sashimi on many passages with us, said hello to some turtles and iguanas, and lived out his retirement by our sides 24/7 as we sailed around Where The Coconuts Grow.

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Luckily we were able to get him back to USVI where it feels most like home to us. We made a few trips to the vet and finally I decided it was time. For Gunner’s last dinner he got to eat fresh Mahi Mahi and sleep on the bed with us all night long. We stayed at a dock where we could run the air-conditioning all night and I swear he didn’t move a muscle. I cuddled with him the whole time.

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In the morning he got a bacon cheeseburger and fries for breakfast. I was so glad he had enough of an appetite for one more special treat. We had rented a car and drove him to a nice grassy place by the water where I let him walk around (only about 20 minutes) until he couldn’t take another step. He sniffed every single bush and tree. Then he rolled around in the grass before eating three mini cheeseburgers and some more fries for lunch. He knew something was different this day. I could finally see that he was ready. Staying was just too hard.

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We climbed back in the air-conditioned car, made a stop at a peaceful place by the beach and drove to the vet’s office. Up in the trees where we parked there were yellow and white butterflies everywhere! It was almost magical. Though I knew in my heart it was time, nothing could have prepared me for how much my heart would hurt from that moment forward.

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Everyone tells me I gave him an amazing life filled with love but it’s so hard to focus on the love when the pain is so thick. I didn’t want him to suffer anymore than he did already so I keep reminding myself that it was because of the love that we had for each other that I made the decision when I did.

Betsy is sad too. Her brother was her partner in crime and cuddle-buddy. She loved him so much. In the last few days I’ve found her sleeping in Gunner’s spot on the bed and even sleeping on the ground by the bed where he liked to lay. Just yesterday she was in the galley just standing there facing the corner. I don’t know what she was doing but that was his favorite place to be, probably because it felt like his crate. We are giving her some extra attention, knowing she is just as sad as us.

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Most of our sailing adventures are catalogued here on this blog, but there is still so much I haven’t posted yet. Eventually I’ll get around to posting all the pictures, but in the meantime I’ve put together a slide-show gallery of some of my favorite photos of Mister, my sweet, sweet boy:

For Gunner, With All My Love…

Thank you so much to everyone that has reached out with love and support. It truly does help to hear your stories – to know we are not alone but also to give us hope that someday our love for Gunner will help the heartache fade away… Even if we don’t respond, please know your words and prayers are appreciated during this hard time for our little family.

 

54 comments

  1. elschwieb says:

    Jody, We are so sorry for your loss. We have had to make that decision several times in our family’s life and it always seems unbearable. Our animals have been special (and some folks just don’t get it). Our last was Amber, our 14.5 year old Golden. She had cancer, as so many Goldens do at the end, and she could not eat or ambulate. We took her to the vet’s office and the vet came out to the car, because we did not want to disturb Amber. She wagged her tail as the vet approached. After we all, including the vet, said our final good-byes, the vet administered the medicine and Amber quietly drifted away. We thought we never would get over that, and to a degree, we have not. However, after some healing time, we got a new Golden, named Taz, now approaching 12. We can see her slowing down (although she still acts puppy crazy at the announcement of a walk) and know the time will come when we may have to make the same decision again. As hard as it is, we know that it is easier and more fair to the animal than the contrary decision to prolong their lives, suffering, loss of dignity, and poor quality of life. We know how you feel. Van

  2. Brittany says:

    My heart aches with yours and this was a beautiful post. Our sweet vizsla is only a young 8 years young but has battling lymphoma for 10 months. We know now that her days are limited and my heart is so heavy wondering if I will know and be able to embrace doing what is right for her when her time comes. Reading your love for Gunner really resonates with me, as only a pet owner knows how much like family our dogs are. Thank you for sharing and I will pray that you can find peace in knowing what a great life you have him and that you had the strength to treat him so well all the way to the end. <3

  3. Melissa says:

    I can’t stop crying. My own boy — a curly coated retriever — turned 14 last month, and I know our time is short. He is my heart, and I don’t know how to breathe without him. You are part of our story, because without the Help ‘Em Up, which I learned about on your blog, we would have lost him two years ago. So thank you — and thank you, Gunner. Your tribute was beautiful, and you two were very lucky to have each other. I’ll light a candle for you both. Take care of yourself — and know he’s not far away. Truly.

  4. Jody, your tribute to Gunner is so beautiful. I hope he and Zoe are finally getting to meet in heaven. Two boat doggies free of their earthly leashes and pain. Prayers to you. I wish I could tell you it gets easier, but I will always miss my doggy babies.
    s/v YOLO
    Matt and Courtney

  5. Pamela G. Hart says:

    To Gunner’s Family, I am very sad for your tremendous loss. I know what it was like for me to go through this with Maxie #1, #2, & #3. It will be just as devastating when it is time for Maxie #4. Weims are very special. It is obvious that Gunner, as well as Betsy, have had some very amazing jouneys. To your credit, they are part of your family and life and couldn’t be left behind. I commented on your first FB post regarding the great harness you had purchased and feel that, because of this, you were able to extend Gunner’s adventures and his life as well as make his senior days quality ones. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I wish I could have provided such great adventures for my boys. RIP and God blesh Gunner and all my Maxies!

  6. MWhite:LittleCunningPlan says:

    That’s the hardest decision ever. I’m very sorry. May you find peace in knowing you did the right thing for your beloved Gunner. What a beautiful dog.

  7. mike says:

    So sorry for your loss. Having dogs that are close family is bittersweet as you know someday you will need to say goodbye. We leave in less than a month to move on to our new to us boat in Grenada with our two labs who are 12 and 8. I know their time may end while we are on the boat and we will be in your shoes. My heart goes out to you.

  8. mel says:

    Thank you for sharing about the love of your paws-n-tail, Gunner. I found later in life the than I should have, the joy of raising and nurturing a child we call Molly. Our wonderful old Lab, Molly, is showing signs of departure each day. Looking to getting the harness you found so useful in helping Gunner.
    Your well told story would surely touch millions of dog owner the world over if it appeared in “Readers Digest”.

  9. Carly says:

    To choose to lay your dog to rest is about the hardest thing I have ever done. We had a boxer and she was just beautiful but there comes a time when you know that they are so miserable and in pain that you have to be the strong “mumma” and do what is needed. I just hope that when my day comes someone will be as kind to me. Bigs hugs to both you and Peter and Betsy – who lost her best friend.

  10. Jen says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your sweet boy! I remember times with him like it was yesterday. Your love for him was something so special- I’m thinking about you and your little family, sending my love to you-near or far! love you George

  11. smithharia says:

    I am so sorry. I was one of those who said you would know and you did. That doesnt make it any easier. Nothing makes it any easier. I have lost so many pets of various kinds and there are 1 or 2 who are just special. My sweet Sadie is getting up there and know her time will come before too long.
    I started crying reading your beutifully written posts. Thank youo for sharing. There are many of us out there who wish we could be there to put our arms around you and give you a big hug.
    Much love to you and Gunnar
    Anne

  12. Patrick says:

    Jody, Peter, and Betsy,
    Stacy and I are so very sorry to hear of your lose of Gunner. No words can express the heartbreak that accompanies the passing of such a wonderful family member. Jody your beautiful writing of Gunner’s life brought the beauty of your love for hi out wonderfully as well as a cascade of tears from us. May the memories of thefun and adventurous times you all had together bring you some comfort
    Our love thoughts and prayers
    Patrick, Stacy, and of course our “kids”

  13. Sharyn Noakes says:

    I’ve had Weims all of my 67 years, but non were as special as my beautiful blue Weimaraner Baron. My Baron was 5 when we found out he had Lymphoma and although my husband and I are senior citizens we were determined to spend as much money that was needed to give Baron and me more time together. Baron made it to his 6th birthday on Aug 12, 2015, and all seemed great, but he found himself with a new and young Oncology vet and it was down hill from then on. My husband and I finally took him to the University of Florida where he spent 4 days being cared for for 24/7, but it was just to much for him. Yes, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life and allow the love of my life to cross that rainbow bridge. My pain doesn’t seem to get any better and I miss him so much. I fully understand the pain and love you have/had for Gunner. I don’t know if the pain you and I are feeling will ever go away, but be happy that you had that much time to show him the love you gave. Many people would say, “He’s only a dog”. They really will never understand the connection you and I had/have with our boys. They aren’t just a dog, they were and are our children. My thoughts and prayers go out to you my dear and to your beautiful companion Gunner. I only hope that your Gunner is now running and playing with my Baron. I know they would have been such good friends.

  14. Greg H says:

    “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” Winnie the Pooh

    One of my favourite quotes and whether it is a child or a pet they both take up that special place in your heart. As only a mom can truly understand the grief of losing a child I think that only pet owners can truly understand how much space our pets occupy in our hearts. They only know how to give us their unconditional love, all in return for the simple tasks of throwing their ball, playing tug of war with their rope or a simple scratch behind the ears.

    You have started the journey and time will bring with it only the memories of Gunner’s fun times and the love that you gave each other. Be happy that you were his best friend for his entire being.

  15. Jim says:

    The love is obvious. The heartache goes on for longer than I thought would be possible. Remember the good times and the smiles, it helps.

  16. scotth777 says:

    bless your heart….loss and grieving, sure wish it wasn’t part of living. as I read the post, I was helping in celebrating his life! dogs are so loveable.
    hoping your heart heals quickly. blessings to you and yours. scott

  17. Jody, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. What a beautiful tribute to Gunner & the wonderful years & adventures you shared. He had a great life with a beautiful family to love him & incredible travels. I know how hard it is to lose a beloved pet, they are our family too. A few years ago just after my dad passed away his sweet dog, Greta, began having health issues. I knew we were going to lose her, but every day I asked myself ‘is this the right time’? It’s a huge responsibility and no matter how hard you try to prepare yourself there is no way to know just how painful those last moments will be. I asked myself over & over if I did the right thing. But I know that one of the greatest kinds of love is to be able to say goodbye when they are suffering & need to go. Sending love & all the best to you, Peter & Betsy.

  18. Katie says:

    What a beautiful life he had. The really shitty thing about having a dog is that they don’t live forever and whenever you say goodbye it is always too soon. You will look back and see that you did the kindest thing as hard as it all is now.

    Big hugs from across the pond x

  19. Lisa Miller says:

    thank you for sharing the story of your life with gunner & where the coconuts grow with us. i could barely read through the tears filling my eyes and streaming down my face. i saw your post on FB recently about Gunner… i hoped in your travels you would have discovered the fountain of youth and would have different news to report, this saddens me. Rigby and our pack (rhodesian ridgeback, weimaraner, & yellow lab) are very sorry for your loss. many years ago i had to make the same terrible decision for my two year old rottweiler….i still don’t like to speak of it. i understand your pain. i can’t say that over time it has gotten easier, but just know you are never alone. you have many fb weim friends that know your pain and understand your feelings. also my sebastian (my rottweiler) had cheeseburgers and rode around in a red sports car before his journey to the bridge. i am very sorry for your loss and will keep you and Gunner in my prayers. there is a song called Miles Away by Years Around the Sun…if you haven’t heard it before check it out. it would fit Gunner & Where the Coconuts Grow perfectly.
    Godspeed Gunner!
    sending prayers and thoughts your way,
    Lisa, Jerry, Rhori, Rigby, & Chloe Eleanor Miller

  20. Jodi….I can barely see through the tears as I read your post. Gunner enjoyed a life and adventures many other dogs (and humans!) could only dream about. Know that many of us share your sorrow as we shared your joy in his stories. Also know that Gunner’s legacy includes extending the lives of other dogs with his condition thanks to the information you passed on about the harness. Loving them is so easy…letting go is so hard, but the most loving and the most unselfish gift you could have given your precious boy. My heart hurts for you all. Christine

  21. Sandy Horn says:

    Big Hugs Jody, A friend just posted this link and I think you might enjoy it. Our animals are definitely like our children! Between our family dogs and the ones Brit and I have owed I have six majestic animals that continue to wag in my heart and have helped make me who I am. May your wonderful memories and pictures make you smile and keep Gunner ever close to your heart!
    You may like this link,

    Sandy

    • Pamela Hart says:

      Sandy, that was so nice. Thank you. My heart is very full and beating with all that sleeping and wagging in my heart.

  22. Wayne Roberts says:

    I feel your loss and your story is amazing I’ve cried from the first sentence. I lost my handsome man GIRTH in June and the pain and emptiness is so unbearable sometimes I cry myself to sleep. My heart hurts for you and the lose you are going through. Maybe someday it won’t hurt so much but it will never go away completely. Sending prayers and thoughts to you…. Wayne from Nashville

  23. Mark & Cindy - s/v Cream Puff says:

    A beautiful post for Gunner. You gave him the best life any doggy could wish for.

    So sorry.

    Mark & Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

  24. Byn Always says:

    I am so sorry for your loss, but what a beautiful life he lived. It is so wonderful that you had him and he had you for all those years, all of those adventures and journeys. Your writing really conveys your emotions so well, I was literally reading through tears for most of the post.

  25. Ron says:

    So sorry Jodi, Gunner was blessed to live his life with someone as caring as you. You gave him a great life. One of the most painful day of my life was April 25th 2014, the day my black lab had to be put to sleep.
    I hope your pain fades soon.

  26. Oh my – I’m so sorry for your loss of sweet Gunner! I dread the day that I have to go through what you have gone through and continue to go through during this sad time. Our babies (pets) truly do have a special place in our lives. I absolutely love your how you tell the story of his life – it brought tears to my eyes…Bless his little heart <3

  27. A true cruelty of nature is the life span of dogs. Please know that anyone (like us!) who has loved and lost canine children through the natural way of the world, feels your loss and, though strangers we are, sends our deepest sympathies. Time does heal all and happy memories stay forever!! Sail on! From part of your PNW liveaboard blog fan club… Jamie D. & fan. Seattle. s/v Boondock & m/v Awesome.

  28. Mark Roope says:

    Jody, As a dog owner having had to do the same twice I know exactly how you feel. There will always be an empty space where gunner should have been and nothing anyone can say diminishes that. You know you both gave each other love, respect, affection, wonderful memories and a lifetime bond. I feel for you.

  29. Paulie says:

    So sorry. I’ve been where you are now twice. Know that over time the memories that now trigger deep heartache will one day trigger smiles again… Sweet Mister says thank you.

  30. gbroming2013 says:

    Oh Jody, So so sorry. What a wonder life you gave Gunner. My heart goes out to you and I share your pain. I had to put my sweet Sammy down a year and a half ago and my heart still aches, though less. Tears help, as I read this beautiful love story, my tears again run down my face, and again the healing begins. Know you are not alone my prayers are with you durning this oh so painful time. Love Gloria

  31. Wendy Klein says:

    So sorry for your loss. When we had to put our Great Dane, Kali, to sleep I didn’t think I’d ever get over it. I cried and cried for weeks. It does get better though.

  32. Alan Gilmore says:

    Very sad, indeed.

    Sorry for your loss.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your story during this difficult situation.

  33. Your story made me cry like a baby. I too am very close to letting go of my best friend. Like you, I will know when the time is right. I’m so sad he will never see the boat or be able to share new adventures with me, but we have had many other just the same. My heart breaks for your loss as it will for mine when the time comes.

  34. My heart aches for you … and my throat is literally in pain trying to hold back the tears. So sorry that you had to go through such a difficult experience! I’ve had many dogs throughout my life, and my heart still aches for them. They truly do become a part of the family, and no one can argue with me on the fact that they have feelings and emotions .. I know they do!

    As you said, your love for him drew you to the decision to end his pain and you did the right thing. I’m sure Betsy is suffering, so glad you’re giving her some extra attention.

    Gunner had some amazing experiences .. right up until his last day. He had a wonderful family and I know he felt your love. We all now know Gunner, and he won’t be forgotten!

  35. Lola says:

    Hi Jody,
    I’m so sorry about the loss of your Gunner. My 11 year old Wein went down the same day, as she had been having all the problems that your Gunner had. Tears are fresh here too and my house is so quiet without her. Your tribute is beautiful, Gunner was a beautiful pup and you were both very lucky to find each other so many years ago.

  36. Karen Cook says:

    That was such a beautiful tribute to your Gunner. My tears were flowing so hard by the end. I have been through the same experience with our 2 Golden Retrievers about 20 years ago. The pain is gone but the wonderful memories of having them in our lives for 15 years is a constant. They were our babies. Sounds like you gave him an awesome life as well as him giving the same to you. You both were special. Smile… you have done good.

  37. Alan Stabler says:

    Gunner was truly a lucky dog to have lived and loved such a great life. His tribute was perfect. I am so happy to have stumbled on your website. I was searching “sailing with dogs”. We have two labs, one 12 and one 8. Our first lab loved to sail and is buried at Mobile Bay Lighthouse, in Mobile Bay. Your site is an inspiration for get the most out of life. I envy you and your memories. All dogs go to heaven, I hope Gunner meets Jake and they can watch Dauphin swim with the bow waves.

  38. Helen on another Whitby says:

    This was one lucky dog. Always remember the wonderful times you had together. Soon the dark sadness will move farther away and your memories will fill your heart with gratitude. Know that what you offered Gunner, right up until his last day, was the best life a dog could ever have.

  39. Richard says:

    I know your loss as having lost my Panda Bear 0f 17 years and then my Bowti of 13 years. it is so hard but we know that it is far better to let them go instead of suffering….You will ever hold them in your heart and years later you will see something to remind you of them. Just know that they have crossed the Rainbow Bridge snd they will be there waiting when its your time.
    Richard
    s/v Gypsy Soul

  40. Danielle says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful, relatable and very timely story. I had to put down my 16 year old dog on 10.15.15 who had been by my side since she was 6 months old. I cry each time I read your story yet in some way it eases my breaking heart to know that others experience this same sad part of a dog owner’s life. Your words struck a cord with me and are all too similar, thank you for sharing your story and I hope Gunner and Shadow are running free together and keeping each other company.

  41. Terysa says:

    Hi Jody, I’ve been reading your blog for a few days now and just came across this post- I literally had tears running down my face. My heart aches for you. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do what you did and recognise that the time had come. Losing a pet is so hard, I’ve been there as well although thankfully I didn’t have to be the one to actually take my dog to the vet. My partner and I rehomed our cats last year (so we could go sailing), and that was tough enough!
    Now that 6 months has passed, I hope the pain is starting to become more bearable. Betsy is so gorgeous, she must be such a comfort to you.
    I’ll be sailing through the BVI’s next season, I’ll keep an eye out for you :-)

  42. Tammy from Dos Libras says:

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your beautiful boy. I only hope I have the strength to make the right decision when my fur baby needs me to. You did the right thing. I hope the pain eases soon.

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