Getting ready to say Goodbye

No Regrets Tour Week 2

Sunny Olive

England - April 10th 2023

It’s 2:30 am and I’ve just been woken up by Olive. First by her panting, then her snoring, and finally, by worrying about her.

She seemed un-phased by the trip from Berlin to Britain, and now that she’s here, she’s settled in well. She’s super adaptable and seems to feel the same way Zoë and I do – wherever we three are, that’s home.

But we’re concerned about what we’ve been told is a benign fatty lump, which is getting bigger and harder – both bad signs. Dogs of her age get sick, they die. She’s on meds to keep her blood pressure under control, but what if she comes down with something we can’t do anything about?

I cried yesterday and told Zo, I’m not ready to lose Olive. I never will be. I was reminded of messages we’ve received from folks in our community and our DMs – their loved ones don’t understand how their fur babies are their family. 

Ol’s been there for the biggest chapter of our life, 11 of our 12 Berlin years, and we’ve spent almost every day with her. I can’t know how parents feel about their children, but they can’t tell me that my unconditional, undying love for my dog doesn’t compare.

This has us rethinking our plans. Obviously if the vet delivers some bad news, we aren’t leaving Olive behind to fly to the US. If she requires ongoing treatment, we’ll all stay put. If she’s given weeks or months to live, maybe we’ll hit the road with her, spend our last time together on an adventure across the UK or Europe. If it’s safe. If it’s not too stressful. If.

I can’t help but feel guilty for turning the poor dear’s life upside down. Frenchies are a sensitive breed, if too stubborn to show it. When they’re as old as 11, it’s hard to know whether you should be providing a quiet, stable home, or taking one last trip together. We can accept the risks and rewards, the ups and downs, of our new life. But we chose this. Olive didn’t. What if this is just too much of a rollercoaster for her?

If anyone’s reading this and thinking, “What the fuck are you doing?” – believe me, I’ve wondered the same thing. Please reach out. I welcome your opinion. Just so we aren’t carrying this weight alone. Maybe this is how parents feel every day, but at least there are other parents who understand. If you’re going through, or have gone through, anything like this with a pet, I’m sending you all my love. In return, please hold us in your heart. We’ll get through this together.

England - April 11th 2023

I have a habit of reading too much into things – writing too much into things. But something struck me yesterday. 

Zoë’s mam told our nephew that he’s her favourite grandson in the world (he’s her only one). And I said, “Not your favourite grandchild.” She looked confused. “Your granddaughter”, I gestured towards Olive. She looked genuinely affronted, “She’s my granddog.”

While I really appreciate her fondness for Olive, I’d clearly said something taboo, in calling her family in the same way as a human related through blood or law. I don’t think she’s wrong in having a favourite – she’s spent almost every day of her grandson’s life with him. Just as I’ve spend almost every day of Olive’s life with her.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s this familiarity that makes family. This constant commitment, this active bond that you work to strengthen every day.

It shouldn’t be sacrilege to say that I love Olive more than some of the people I share blood with with, that I’d be more devastated when she dies. Hopefully not too soon.

England - April 21st 2023

Bad news from the vet. Olive’s got a mast cell tumour, a type of cancer that will be fatal when it spreads. Surgery might be an option, if she weren’t a breed and age that’s very risky to put under. The other possible treatment is chemotherapy, which only delays the inevitable and could really harm her quality of life. So… we’ll probably just have to make sure she’s comfortable until she dies.

Intellectually, I’ve been prepared for something like this. For a French Bulldog, Ol’s lived a remarkably long and healthy life. She’s outlived most of her peers, and avoided serious illness, until now. Given how the lump had grown and hardened, cancer was a possible (probable?) outcome.

Emotionally, though, I wasn’t ready to hear this. Can you ever be? It’s one thing to know that your 11 year old dog might not make it to 12, but it’s quite another to face that, to accept it. When you’re shown how the sands of time are slipping away, that’s a hard vision to look at straight on, and really take in.

We walked her in the sun yesterday, let her sniff her way across a field, to feel the soft grass under her paws and the warm rays on her wrinkled little face. We took family photos until we were crying too hard for the camera. We stroked her gently and skritched her favourite spots, giving her a few more simple pleasures.

I want to try and learn something from Olive. She doesn’t know what’s going on, and wouldn’t do anything different if she did. She doesn’t even know that any difficulties she experiences aren’t “normal”; they don’t seem unfair. Life is just this, here and now, until it isn’t.

Tell me again how I won’t experience the ultimate love. If that is true, and there’s a love greater than the one I feel for my dog – let alone my wife – I don’t need it. If there’s a more transcendent level of emotion I could unlock, I don’t want to feel the grief that’s inextricably wrapped up with it. 

Hypotheticals aside, I know what’s real – and that’s making the most of our remaining time with this sweet little ball of hugs. We won’t fly away from her until she leaves us. We’ll travel, we’ll explore, we’ll do things together, until we can’t any more.

Photos by Zoë Noble
Words by James Glazebrook