Today marks one month since I said a very painful and unexpected goodbye to my beloved, Blu.
Our story started November 7, 2010 - a litter of Vizsla puppies had just been born in Orilla, Ontario, and each puppy had been bestowed a different coloured ribbon around their neck so they could be identified easily. His ribbon happened to be blue, and his breeder quickly took to referring to him as “the Blue Puppy”.
Nine weeks later, on January 12th, I drove down to pick up my little boy. I had narrowed down the list of names to: Riley and Spencer. When I met him however, I knew he was neither. Those names just wouldn’t do, at least not for this puppy! His ribbon was right - he was Blu (without the e) and it suited him perfectly.
Bailey, my first dog, was also a Vizsla so I thought at the time that I was pretty familiar with this Velcro breed. Blu was everything one would expect a Vizsla puppy to be, but much, much more. . . a lot more! He was high (high) energy and a true athlete who could easily outrun most other dogs without even a pant. He was graceful and regal, intelligent and curious, demanding and needy, stubborn and impatient and so, so handsome. Blu was my beautiful, squirrel-obsessed, quirky, loving, affectionate 55lbs velcro lapdog, and I was his everything. I was his whole world.
Blu was a hard dog. He was a challenge from the very beginning and as the years passed, it only got slightly easier. He often drove me nuts and I would jokingly (but not) say that he knew how to push all my buttons. Many a time, I would exasperatedly say, “we are so mismatched! This dog needs someone who has the patience of a Saint and I’m not that person!” The truth was though that we were actually quite similar: active and always on the move, hyper focused, eye on the prize, impatient and fiercely loyal.
What some of you may not know is that Blu suffered from separation anxiety, which Vizslas can be prone to. I knew it would take some time for him to settle into his new home but I was confidant that I would be able to help work him through it. After all, I had read all I could on the 'do’s and don’t's' of bringing home a new puppy. But as the days passed, I quickly learned that Blu’s intolerance to solitude was far more serious than I had thought. I worked with trainers, spoke with behaviorists, and tried every remedy and product that was available to me, but nothing seemed to work. Through dedicated behaviour modification, there were improvements, measured by what seemed like the smallest of accomplishments, but for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety, these were monumental.
I went from a dog that would whine, bark and cry at the door while I showered, to him eagerly (but quietly) wait for me while lying in his bed or on the sofa he wasn’t (initially) allowed to be on (insert the Vizsla always wins here). When I did emerge, whether it had been 10 minutes or 30, he was always over the moon to see me. When we were in different rooms, every few minutes, he would poke his head in to check on me, and I would say “Yes Blu, I’m STILL here, I haven’t gone anywhere. And if I do go somewhere without you, I’ll always come back. I promise.”
Leaving him completely alone however, still proved to be a big challenge - I did everything I could to mitigate his anxiety. Something that made it a whole lot easier was that I was lucky enough to be in a position to have Blu could come to work with me. And he did. Every single day. He became my little working dog. The Big Boss. Like many small business owners, there was very little time for anything other than work but when I did find myself with some free time I would leave him with friends and family. Gone were the days where I could be spontaneous and go out as I pleased. Plans had to be made in advance so I could arrange for someone to watch Blu. It was clear that this was my new reality and as difficult as it was, I was going to deal with it. As the years went by and we became more and more attached, it felt strange when he wasn’t by my side. He was my constant companion. My comfort. My shadow. For eight years, I sacrificed part of my life and my freedom for my dog, because I was committed to him and because he deserved that. I’m not a quitter and I certainly wasn’t going to quit on him. I missed out on a lot, and at times felt like a prisoner, but I have no regrets because I loved Blu just as unconditionally as he loved me.
Blu brought so much joy to not only my life but to the lives of so many others. The store was his second home and you were his extended family. He loved to love and he wanted so badly to be the centre of everyone’s attention. And if we weren’t paying enough attention to him he would let us know. That high pitched bark and whine will forever be ingrained in my brain, as well as quite a few of you I'm sure. His other best moves included his crazy air licks, his amazing lean, and the lifting of his leg which people would naturally mistake for “oh my god he’s about to pee on me!” when in fact he was just positioning himself to sit on them. Taking a seat on the little yellow chair in our NDG store came with a warning: “watch out for the dog that will climb on your lap!” We have the photos to prove it.
Over the years, I often found myself asking why someone as impatient as me would end up with dog as demanding and as difficult as Blu. What was the lesson? It certainly wasn’t to learn patience because, well, I’m still working on that. If not patience, then what?
Two days after I said goodbye to Blu, it came to me. The lesson was to understand what it means to love something enough to be willing to sacrifice your whole world for it. Selflessness and sacrifices.
And now my reality has changed, yet again, and I have had to reprogram my brain to understand that I can now come and go as I please without having to worry about Blu. It’s a freedom I’ve not had in a long time and while I’m playing catch up, I’d sacrifice it all to have Blu by my side again.
As someone who is very private, grieving the loss of Blu in such a public way at the stores was both healing and so very difficult. Because I feel such a strong commitment and obligation to my customers I had to push on. I had meat to grind, orders to place and customers to serve. I had no choice. It was only with the help of my incredible staff that we were able to continue. It was 'business as usual' - but the thought of our beautiful Blu being gone was tough. He was no longer there to lick our faces as we came up those spiral stairs, or to greet everyone as they walked into the store every day. The void hit us hard.
It has taken me weeks to come up with the words to express what this loss has meant to me. Loneliness is not a feeling I am accustomed to. Without Blu, I am lonely. And while I am surrounded by the most caring, loving, and supportive family, friends and community, the loneliness is palpable. It is very hard being without Blu. His presence was strong and it’s empty without him. The store. My home. My car. My walks. Everything is different now and I miss him terribly.
Blu, my precious boy. You were one of a kind and you touched the lives of so many people. You were loved and I did the very best I could for you. I wish I could have done more and I’m so sorry I couldn’t. I know someday, in the very near future, I will no longer be haunted by our last night together - I replay it in my mind, like a movie, frame by frame - it was painful for you and traumatic for me. Minutes felt like hours and morning could not come soon enough as I knew what needed to be done; an impossible decision made easier because I wasn’t going to let you suffer. I was going to give you the dignity you so deserved. As I laid down next to you to say goodbye, I kept whispering, “I love you, Blu. I love you so much, my beautiful boy” and I hope those words comforted you and brought you peace. But what I hope for most, as you run free, chasing squirrels on the other side, is that you are as happy and relaxed as you were when you were in my arms and that every day, you can still hear me say how much I love you.
I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support and compassion. The outpouring of love has been overwhelming and I am so touched. While I have not been able to reply to everyone personally, please know that I am filled with such emotion as I read all your messages. Thank you for thinking of me. Thank you for your calls, texts, emails, cards, flowers, fruit and chocolates. But most of all, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for showering Blu with all of your love over these last 8 years.
A special thank you to:
Dr. Allan Gilmour at the Animal Health Clinic for having always taken such good care of Blu and for always being available to me.
My beautiful staff: You were Blu’s second family and he was blessed to be loved by you... and so have I. I know you share in my grief, and that his loss has left a void in all of our lives. Thank you for being so strong and helping me through this.
My family and friends: I will never be able to find the words to express my gratitude. Thank you for always being there for me. I love you.
Matthew: I could never have gone through this without you. Thank you for taking care of me through my grief and for loving me as you do. You are my rock.
Blu: thank you for having enriched my life and teaching me so many important life lessons. Your legacy will live on and you will forever be in my heart.