Monday, 29 October 2012

The saddest day

This is the one I knew I would one day have to write, but hoped, with all the wild magical thinking at my disposal, that I might somehow avoid.

There is no good way to say it, so I’m just going to do it fast.

The Pigeon is going to have to be put down.

I stare at that bald sentence on the screen; my fingers stop, unsure which key to press next; my heart hammers in my chest. It is all stupid and wrong and bad. This life should not stop. All lives stop, but there is a rage in me against the dying of the light.

She developed an ear infection a while ago. Tumours were mentioned. Then it seemed it was just an infection after all. Then a huge polyp was found and removed. It was malignant but slow-growing and seemed not to have gone into the lymph nodes. There was hope, which is why I did not write about it. I was in high denial. Of course she would be fine. My vet is the best in the world. She is so bright and bonny and brave and strong. Her nose was wet, she was romping about, she was not shaking her head or scratching at the ear, she was eating, she was chasing her ball. (When she stops chasing the ball, we are in world of trouble.)

Then the thing exploded into a ghastly horror show of pus and brown ooze, despite antibiotics, and I rushed up to the vet today, and he told me, in his kind, direct way, that we are into the last days. They could do a dramatic procedure and take half her ear out, but the outcome of that is not guaranteed, and I can’t do it to such an old lady.

I left her there, in the tender care of this brilliant veterinarian, who has known her since she was a puppy. They are cleaning out the poor ear and putting her on very strong drugs. I go back to get her at five. She will stay with me for as long as I can keep her comfortable. It may be three days, it may be three weeks. And then the decision must be made.

I am forty-five years old. Despite a strong streak of flakiness and goofiness and moments of rank idiocy, I am a grown-up, or as close as I shall ever get. In my more self-regarding moments, I like to think of myself as an independent female. I’ve seen a bit of life. But this, this, reduces me to a state of helpless childishness. I am swamped by streaming, hopeless tears.

I used to be ashamed of such uncontrolled displays of emotion; when I wept for the Duchess there was a part of me that said it was unseemly, that I should have more gumption and stoicism and stiff upper lip, because it was only a dog, because there were worse things happening in Chad.

In those dark days, my sister said a wise thing. She said: ‘love is love.’ What she meant was: there’s no such thing as only a dog. It doesn’t matter if it is a canine or a human who has your heart, that heart will break, just the same.

My heart is breaking.

I have some experience of this. Last year, it was my father and my other dog, in quick succession. The heart broke. Slowly, carefully, I put the pieces back together. That is what we all do; it is part of the human condition. The pieces are glued into place, because you can’t just fall apart, you have to keep bashing on. Grief is part of life; it is the central part of love. The pieces go back, but what I have learnt is that the cracks remain. It shocked me sometimes how deep they were, how they could open up again at the smallest thing, presaging a storm of grief, no matter how much time has passed.

Love is love. It damn well should leave cracks. I started to see them as a sort of map, where I could trace the beloveds, and mark them well.

Now, that process starts all over again.

I want to say I don’t know what I shall do, but actually I do. Luckily, all the family were still gathered from the wedding. The Sister, the Brother-in-Law, both nieces, the Man in the Hat, folded themselves round me, as if forming a physical honour guard against the horrid reality, as if by their very presence they could hold my battered heart together. The Mother and the lovely Stepfather were as devastated as I. The Pigeon goes to them every morning, when I go up to do the horse; she has breakfast with them and lies on my mother’s bed for love. My poor mum is not very well herself; the Pidge is her best therapy dog.

So I have that. That is what I shall do. Keep myself in the stronghold of that extended family; work, grieve, put the pieces back together. I expect the perspective police might send me a note. I may read it. There shall be nights when I shall call on strong liquor.

The thing I find I can’t do, as I write these stuttering words, is talk about her. It’s too soon for that. Those Dear Readers come regularly to these pages, who are so fond of her, who leave such lovely comments about her, know well her sweetness, her funniness, her beauty, her grace. She has the kindest nature of any dog I ever met. She has ears as soft as velvet and eyes as bright as diamonds.

I had been thinking lately that I had not written much of her. I had gone off on long divagations about the mare, about my new equine life, about Frankel, about HorseBack, about almost anything, in fact, except the Pigeon. I only worked out recently why that was.

It was, I am ashamed to say, fear.

I knew that we were going into the twilight years, and the swooping bird of loss was hovering over my head. I could not write about her, because in some nutty way I thought that if I did it would be an admission of that brutal fact, and I wanted to pretend for a while longer. I would not record the final days because they were not going to be final. I would keep her going until she was seventeen and she would be a wonder dog and everyone would gasp in awe and disbelief.

Now I think to myself: you idiot. You should have written every single snuffle and wiggle and jump for joy; you should have put down each morning sweetness and evening dearness. Every day she had a good story, and I did not write it. Even though I know it is understandable, I am angry about that.

I don’t really know how to end this. All my writing training says there must be a good ending, a proper final sentence, something that sends the piece out with a bang, not a whimper. But there is no good ending. Words, the things by which I make my living, the entities which are my passion and delight, falter when it comes to loss and death and heartbreak. It’s why writing those awful condolence letters is so hard. What chance do feeble scratches have on a page, up against the mightiness and finality of death?

And yet, however paltry, however halting, however thin and unpoetical, those words are important. Even the short sympathy of saying sorry means something; the transmission of a kind thought, the literary equivalent of a bowed head.

All I know are words; all I have ever done in times of trouble is try to write it down. The words themselves may fall into platitude; they are small things; but they are all I have.

Shakespeare said:

'Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.'

I have no good ending. The words I have left are the short bald ones. Love, loss, sad, bad, grief, end. I shall scrabble about in time, and find the better ones: courage, hope, light, life. I shall have my lovely old lady for a few more precious days. We shall, in the fleeting time left to us, summon the spirit of Churchill (Churchill and Shakespeare; my two stalwart fellows in times of travail), and keep buggering on.

 

29 October 1

67 comments:

  1. Oh, Tania. My heart bleeds, and my eyes leak. May all that is gracious in the universe grant you both comfort and peace. Much, much love.

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  2. Oh Tania. I'm so so so sorry. All love to you and the Pidge. Losing family members (which is what they are) brings such piercing grief. Thinking of you. xxx

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  3. Eyes also leaking as I write this-- so, so, so sorry. I wish I could say more. Few dogs have been loved as internationally as yours have been, and I think I can say with justification that few dogs have had such wonderful lives, running around in the beautiful Scottish countryside, adored by all but most especially by you.

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  4. A few more days days . . . someone I read called them "days of grace" with his dog. And they went on, happily, for considerably longer than anyone expected -- better, I thought, as everyone adjusted to what was coming and was able to commit fully, beyond the fear, to enjoying every moment they had.

    Nevertheless, tears are overflowing. There is no such thing as 'only' a dog. I am so sorry. Don't think of the stories you didn't write; think of all the pictures you took.

    Bird

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  6. Dear Tania, You don't for a minute need to justify your love for your dog, or put it into any kind of larger perspective. It is what it is and as a dog lover myself I have a sense of what you're going through. All your Dear Readers are with you, sending you virtual hugs. xx Deb

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  7. I'm so sorry. How awful for you. Enjoy the time you have left, and remind yourself as often as needs reminding that you gave her ALL the love, shelter and care she needed and more besides. x

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  8. Love is love, so right, and that's what remains after the loss of our two and four footed loved ones. (My 10 year old just wandered over and said 'you're not crying *again*, Mum ...') So sorry, Tania and Pidgeon, but so glad that you found one another and shared those days with us. Please give your lovely girl a good hug from us. Wishing you strength, love and a few last glorious autumn days. Kate x

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  9. As my two spaniels sit at my feet, I am shedding a tear for you. Grief's weapons come after all who own and love and keep a dog. I've wept for seven, and the prospect of losing more doesnt keep me from bringing yet another bundle of love into my home, but each one is as hard as the last. You honor Pigeon by feeling the loss so deeply - I can tell this was a well loved and cherished dog.

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  10. Oh honey this is such sad news. Such a bonny happy dog, so so loved + so loving in return. xx

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  11. Tania, this is so very sad, and my thoughts are with you. I don't know what else to say but I really do feel for you.

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  12. I first saw just the title of the blog and the picture of The Pigeon and I said "Oh, no!" Here I am, a 70-year-old woman in the States, choking up for a black dog up in the wilds of Scotland - yes, that's me. These next days or weeks will be hard for you, but the love will be right there. And when she is gone you will have rainbow days: love and good times remembered through a veil of tears.
    You have become one of those "Dog People" - keep on keepin' on - get yourself a new pup to share your days. Maybe a chocolate lab this time.

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  13. So sad, she is just beautiful. Dogs are never just dogs xx

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  14. Oh, Tania. I'm so sorry. Make the most of the remaining time together.

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  15. Emily Vicar's Wife29 October 2012 at 14:47

    Tania, I'm so sorry. Lots of love to you both.

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  16. So very sorry to read this heartbreaking news. Thinking of you both.

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  17. Oh my goodness I am so sorry. She is a beautiful dog and quite obviously a member of your family. My thoughts are with you.

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  18. I am so, so sorry. No dog has had a better life nor been more loved. Wishing you peace to help you through this time. Rachel

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  19. Oh my goodness Tania, I am so, so sorry. Made me cry. So strange because I thought of the Pidge just yesterday when I saw a black lab on the beach who was running like a puppy - despite being grey around the muzzle and I thought of how you'd once commented that your girl was that spritely, despite her years. I suppose we all know it must come to this sometimes but still, you must be utterly desolate to learn this development. Dog Island would never be the same without her. May the next few days be bittersweet and give you the chance to at least get used to this news. Lou x

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  20. Anyone who has an ageing dog dreads this, and we will all be as helpless as waifs in a storm when it hits. I echo Rachel above. No dog ever had a happier time on earth. You have been an exemplary guardian to both your dogs, and the way you are approaching the end of Pigeon's days is the greatest gift you can give her - you are not striving officiously to keep her with you, and that is kind and brave of you.

    Have a wonderful time with her in the days you have left.

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  21. I am so very sorry to hear this miserably sad news - there cannot be many dogs (or people) with such an enthusiastic, devoted audience, both near and far, applauding her sweetness,charm and beauty. She has had a wonderful life and I hope that the last days you have together will give you strength to draw on in the future. Thinking of you both.

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  22. Oh Tania, I am so gutted for you. Today your words are almost too painful to read. My heart is there with both of you. Lots of love and I wish that the time with her may now expand and keep on expanding.

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  23. I am so sorry. Raining cats and dogs over here and I know it is for the Pidgeon. Dogs deserve to live forever.

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  24. Another one crying here. I have a 14 year old terrier and am living on borrowed time with her. So very sorry about the glorious Pigeon. I know you will take very great care of her but look after youreelf also. Much love from an antipodean dog and horse lover

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  25. I'm so sorry Tania. I have been running alongside your optimism. Hoping to stave off this moment.

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  26. I am so so sorry.Lots of love to you both.

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  27. Sitting here in New Zealand with tears in my eyes. No dog could have had a better life but it will be so very hard for you. Wish I was as good with words as you but you know you are in the thoughts of people right around the world.

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  28. So sad to read this. So sorry that the time has come. Wishing the lovely Pidgeon the most peaceful of passings and you comfort and solace amongst your loved ones.
    Imogene x

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  29. So very sorry Tania. My heart goes out to you.

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  30. Dear Tania

    I am so sorry. We had to have our beautiful Quin put down a month ago. It was the saddest day, his sister had died at home and while we still had him it was not easy, but easier. My deepest sympathy I know that it is the love of my family that has helped with my sorrow, I know your family will cherish you. Jude x

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  31. I am so sad and so sorry for you.

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  32. Oh Tania, I am so sorry. Your sister was absolutely right, love IS love, and the Darling Pidge is loved by many of us too. Thinking of you and wishing your dear girl comfort and biscuits. Please take care xxx

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  33. So sorry, Tania. Wishing you peaceful last days together. As CS Lewis puts it “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

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  34. "Only a dog"/pet. Some people understand very little. Love is love. What remains of us is love. Hoping the Pidg and you have as many as possible peaceful days.

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  35. So very sorry to hear such sad news. Sending love and strength to face what you must. xxx

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  36. Yesw. Keep buggering on. Cry as much as you need to. I'm crying here in Australia with a bullmastiff on my feet, another behind me, a bullterrier having hysterics on the backporch at a passerby and who know where the wolfhound is.

    Pidge is so special. It never gets easier and I know that at 46 I am still weeping silently in the days before and then bawling afterwards, but love is love. And it will be the same when I am 80. So - share the love with her (not that you need to be told), and make the decision and passing easier for her. It's the final act of love that we can give. And be kind to yourself.

    Extra hugs from all of us here.

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  37. "What survives of us is love" Apologies to PL.

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  38. Lots of love to you and the Pigeon. So sorry to hear of this xxx

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  39. "Gift"

    A day so happy
    Fog lifted early I worked in the garden
    Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers
    There was nothing on earth I wanted to possess
    I knew no one worth my envying him.
    Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
    To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
    In my body I felt no pain.
    When straightening up, I saw the blue sea & sails.

    Berkeley, l971
    C. Milosz

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  40. I am so sorry to hear this, your sister is right. Love is love. I remember all you had to go through with grief last year as I was reading you blog then. Do take care. Erika

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  41. I am so sorry and sad for you and your beautiful, lovely, precious Pigeon. Love and hugs to you both from across the ocean.

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  42. Oh Tania, I am so so sorry that you are losing your sweet companion. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut when I read that sentence. It brought back all those emotions of when we went through this with our dog a few years ago, the circumstances are so similar. My heart is literally aching for you, that decision of when is so difficult.

    Your sister IS very wise, I'm glad that you have her and the rest of your family about you.

    Love to you both

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  43. I am so very, very sad at this news. Came into office only today as yesterday was a holiday here and my heart is so very heavy for both of you. Love and my prayers for you.

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  44. My heart breaks and I shall wept with you Tania. Anyone that has had a great love for an animal understand the pain of the loss. It hurts, hurts deeply and brings us to our knees. I am so sorry Tania. May your love for Pigeon help bring you strength during this time. My thoughts are with you and Pigeon...
    ~Tammy

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  45. Dear Tania,

    Crying buckets as I sit and type this. I am so sorry that you will lose your beautiful, beautiful girl, but she will live on in you forever.

    You have given her a wonderful life, and a dignified end... no dog, or human for that matter, could ask for more.

    Justine
    xxx

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  46. So so sorry. Your sister is right. Sending lots of love

    Helen xxx

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  47. I am so sorry. My thoughts are with you and Pigeon. I will send lots of healing thoughts and magic. Look after yourself in the days to come and let those around you help you.

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  48. Oh Tania....feeling SO much for you just now. Make it a special few days. She is a cracking dog and I enjoy reading about her very much indeed, so she will be missed by me and many others too. That photograph of Pidgeon on this post is just lovely.

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  49. Oh Tania, my heart breaks for you and for dear Pigeon. Your sister is very wise. Love is love. Anyone who has shared their lives with a dog knows the unique bond we form with them. They see our best selves and love us when we're at our best and worst. I will be thinking of you and Pigeon in these next few precious days. Be gentle with yourself.

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  50. I'm so so sorry to read this. Relish the next few days, and be kind to yourself and the pigeon

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  51. Oh no, my heart sank as I saw your blog post title. There's nothing really to say except that I'm so so sorry. I don't know if it's a bit strange to quote the Queen in a blog comment, but she said a really wise thing once - 'grief is the price we pay for love'. A price worth paying.

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  52. horrible, shitty, sad news, wish i could change it for you. much love x

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  53. Tears from America. I am so, so sorry about this. I have a 17 year old cat so I know all about living on borrowed time. I always loved the pictures where she appeared smiling. Know that as she reluctantly leaves you, your dad and the Duchess will be waiting for her, welcoming her. Lots of love your way.

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  54. Words fail me.
    The greater the love, the greater the loss and there's nothing to do about it.
    Relish the rest of your time together.
    Much love to you, Tania, and your sweet, sweet Pigeon.
    XX Pat

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  55. So sorry to hear this. I'm a late reader of your blogs, drawn in by your beautiful prose. And even though I know more of Red and your equine family, even I have a huge soft spot for Pigeon and know in my heart how she's one of those very special dogs. Celebrate that you found each other and be kind to yourselves over the next days.
    You have never written so beautifully or so truly.

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  56. I think this is the record number of comments I have ever had. I wish the darling old Pidge spoke English so I could tell her of the outpouring of love she provokes. Am quite teary, as you may imagine, and of course you have all made me cry more. BUT IN A GOOD WAY. Can't begin to thank you enough for the goodness, kindness, understanding and sweetness in these comments. Most especially, thank you for taking the time. I am touched more than you know. x

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  57. Only just heard and rushed over here. So, so sorry for you.

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  58. I'm so very very sorry to hear about Pigeon. Thinking and praying for you both. Pigeon is such a special dog and I'm so privileged to have known of her, even over the internet. I hope the rest of the days left are perfect in every way and that she's not in any pain. Love to you both.

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  59. Hello Tania - I'm so terribly sorry to hear of the news of your beloved Pidge. It is awful, dreaded news for any of us to hear about one of our animals. I have such empathy for you, coming from my own experiences with this kind of loss. I know you will give her your best for whatever time she has left - and she may surprise you!! Best love to you throughout this, Kate

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  60. Hello. I am so sorry to hear about the lovely Pigeon. All love to you both. x

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  61. Sobbing almost uncontrollably as I type...
    I've been ill (again) and have only just had chance to read and reply to your kind comment on my blog and hopped over here to catch up on yours...
    More tears.....apologies for the terrible staccato sentence fragments.
    My god...I'm so sorry...I don't even know where to start with how sorry I am...am more sad for you than I can even begin to type...How I wish I could help in some way...DO something for you and your dearest darling girl...HELPLESS...kindest thoughts, warmest wishes, sincere prayers, gentlest hugs...if only I could do more.
    All the love we can send - from me, the husband and dear George.x

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  62. I'm so, so sorry. Know that there is a little house in New England, full of 180 pounds of dog, where hearts are going out to you.

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  63. I'm so sorry, Tania. *hug* I wish there was something I could do.

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  64. Oh Tania, I have been ill for about a month and I didn't know about the Pigeon. I can't stop crying. I know it sounds crazy but I really, really loved that dog, hearing about her...seeing her lovely, friendly face. She was a huge part of my blogging day. I don't know how you are bearing losing her but I hope you are OK. She was such a special soul. I am so terribly sorry. Sending you all my love xxxx

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  65. Oh Tania, I am so sorry to read this news, it made me cry.....Pigeon was THE most beautiful dog, I loved your photos of her. I think of Pigeon sometimes when I'm walking in Highgate Woods and I see a similar dog....similar although not as beautiful, kind or charismatic. I am beyond sad for you,
    Much love,
    Simone X

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