Is it wrong to be so attached to a dog?

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches: It’s the middle of November so you know what that means: it’s time for our monthly virtual four-way blogfest!

This month’s theme? The one item each of us can’t imagine living expat life without.

So have a seat, get comfortable and come around the world with us as we explore four different items from four different perspectives:

At In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, I get a little verklempt about my love affair with my beautiful, magical passport.

At Adventures in Expat Land, Erica demonstrates why paper beats rock and scissors every time;

At Expatria Baby, Linda’s all for throwing off the bowlines;

And here at I Was an Expat Wife, Russell ponders that age-old question:

.

Is it wrong to be so attached to a dog?

Milo

I’ve been an expat since 2003.

That’s a lot of adventures, excitement and opportunities. It’s also included a fair share of homesickness, disappointment and sorrow. A rollercoaster of emotions. A train ride with many stops.

My wife has shared this expat journey with me and has been a constant source of strength and support by my side. My other constant has been my dog, Milo.

Milo came on this journey of ours when he was less than a year old. He was still a pup. He already lived in the shadow of his older brother, Murphy, who was my first dog and, as cliché as it sounds, my best friend. Milo was the ‘other’ dog, Murphy’s steadfast companion, and my wife’s birthday present. He was loved, but in a different way to Murphy. He wasn’t the number one dog, special as he was to us.

In 2007, Murphy was taken from us, suddenly and tragically, and just weeks after we’d married. We lost our boy and we grieved for months. Milo lost his buddy and his travelling partner in crime, but he couldn’t utter a word of regret or cry a single tear of despair. He was, after all, just a dog. So it was life as normal for Milo with the odd glance thrown at the empty dog bed in the hall. The difference being he was alone.

I realise now, looking back, how important Milo was to me in this period of my life. As I mourned for the loss of Murphy, Milo would sit loyally by my feet or lie at my side. I would stroke his smooth forehead and rub his soft round underbelly and listen to him purr like a cat. He was my constant companion.

Ironically, we came close to giving Milo up when we first bought him.

He was a gift for my wife and his arrival was bad timing. Our lives were busy enough yet I insisted on adding a mischievous, yappy, biting puppy to the mix. He was hard work in those early days. I left the house to go to work after a particularly bad night, fully expecting my wife to have taken him back to the kennel where he was born. I came home later that day and he greeted me at the front door, tail wagging furiously from side to side, and tongue lolling about in his head. She didn’t have the heart to give him up and neither did I. He was here to stay.

I’d wanted a large dog, a strong masculine Labrador retriever. Milo didn’t turn out that way. He is strong and he is most definitely a boy, but he is the dog that remained small in size and refused to grow bigger. He has a proud and cocksure walk even if he is only a foot and a half high. He has bright jet black eyes that can at once pull you into their depths. His face is pure Lab and his coat shiny and soft as silk. He is a dog of the finest breeding but one that can melt any normal person’s heart.

Milo loves a rub under his chin, on his neck, and all the way down to his chest. Fail to stroke him enough times and he’ll lift his head off the ground and give you ‘the stare’. In the early evening, he’ll trot off to the bedroom to curl up in his bed under the fairy lights where he’ll dream puppy dreams, twitching and jerking spasmodically through the night.

Milo is also very much a water baby.

He is a dog born to the wet stuff and swimming with him in the mild ocean lagoons is the highlight of my week. He’ll dive through the long, scraggly grass, sniffing out an old tennis ball and leaving his mark wherever he can. We’ll turn a corner on the narrow sandy trail and he’ll get a whiff of the ocean. Tail straight out behind, head down, body barrelling forwards, he becomes an unstoppable force of nature. I’ll catch up minutes later and he’s there at the water’s edge, head up, ears pricked and eyes alert, waiting for the throw of the ball. This is his domain.

The raised deck at the side of our house is his favourite hang-out. After a hard day’s work at the beach, he’ll climb up onto another of his beds, this one facing the street from the deck. The bed is raised up on four legs and the air circulates beneath his damp body. He’ll doze there in the shade of the cypress pines, sometimes turning his head to look through the trellis, alert to the sound of anyone approaching the house and always waiting there for our return.

I adore this little man, his personality, his charm. He is gentle, he rarely barks, he is a perfect gentleman around children. He is truly a great dog and a huge part of our lives.

Yet I feel a persistent sense of dread.

Milo is getting older and I’m terrified at the thought that one day he won’t be around. The white hairs on his chin have spread across his body, his joints are stiff after walks that seem shorter, and he no longer throws himself after his ball. His hips weaken and I carry him in and out of the car. He struggles to climb stairs or jump up on the bed and he sleeps so often. And, all the time, I find I’m watching him for further signs that the ageing process is quickening.

It’s stupid, I know. He’s just a dog, people will say. But I can’t contemplate life without him. Without his presence beside me, it will be too quiet in the house. No-one standing right behind me at the front door. No head peering into the kitchen waiting expectantly as I cook. No doggy dreams and sudden howls to wake me in the middle of the night. No tiny groans or grunts as he’s rubbed down. No bright eyes peering out at me from the deck in the dark.

The thought of no Milo in my future is more than I can bear. He is my last tie to England, the link I’ve brought with me to this new home. He’s been a part of our journey for so long and he’s a huge reason this adventure has been such fun. I need him to meet the children I don’t yet have and I want him to go on being the loveliest family dog he has always been… because he’s my friend, he’s my mate, he’s my Milo.

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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21 Responses to Is it wrong to be so attached to a dog?

  1. I totally get it…My dog died in June 1996, a very long time ago and I still miss her. She, too, was my final link to my native Canada after I moved to NY in 1989 (where I still live.) A dog carries a tremendous amount of emotional weight and memories in their life with us. I still remember (with no fondness!) how miserable it was to walk her at night in Montreal in the winter through huge high snowdrifts; she was a very small terrier.

    • Russell says:

      Interestingly, Milo has also spent time in Montreal! We lived in Ottawa for 2 years and I also walked him early in the morning and at nights in the frigid cold. He loved the snowdrifts – he’d make snow angels in the snow – but, when the freezing rain came, it was no fun for either of us and he’d often pull me over on to the ground. He now makes sand angels which is a wee bit better for him and for me 🙂

      Thanks for your comment. Sounds like we both get way too attached to our animals!

  2. expatlogue says:

    I knew as soon as I read the title, this was going to bring tears pricking at my eyes. I understand the strong attachment that can form between dog and human. We had a yellow Lab, when I was growing up, called Jess. She was my best friend. My whole life was walks by the river with her. She was the only one I could talk to when life with a mentally ill parent became unbearable. Non-judgmental, silent and comforting, I would spend hours crying into her fur.
    I lost my friend when she was hit by a car while being walked by my sister, and my parents declared they couldn’t afford the operation needed to save her. It took me a long time to get over it. And if you asked me today, who I will be looking forward to seeing when I leave this world, the answer’s the same as it ever was. Jess ♥

    • Russell says:

      Sorry for making you blub and thank you so much for sharing that story about your beloved, Jess. It sounds like a tragic ending but I’m glad you got to spend some good years with her.

      I also lost my first dog in a car accident and it’s just horrible beyond words. A woman with a screaming child in the car, not paying attention to the road, my dog stupidly strolled off the curb, sudden accident. I never quite got over that.

      You will see Jess again one day and she will be eagerly waiting for you, ready to pick up where you left off, as obedient and loyal as the day she said goodbye. Bless her.

  3. Maria says:

    Oh my gosh, I feel the same way. I didn’t want a dog, because I knew the kids would never keep the promises they made whenever they tried to wheedle me into getting one. (“I’ll walk him every day!” Yeah, right.) We ended up getting a yellow Lab puppy to sweeten the repatriation deal for my daughters. As I suspected, they’re not walking him every day — no surprises there. But man, do I love that dog! Russell, you’ve perfectly captured how many of us feel about our canine friends. I wouldn’t give Jeff up for anything.

    • Russell says:

      Maria, I love that your dog is called Jeff. Great name. What is it about us calling our dogs after human names?

      I’ve been guilty of ‘not walking the dog’ when I was a lot younger. I was good at the stroking, playing part but not at the actual hard work part (walking, feeding). Here’s hoping those kids of yours come good in the end!

  4. We just lost one of our dogs and I can certainly understand this post. I do believe our animals are part of our family- always there keeping you company when no one else is around.

    • Russell says:

      Thanks, Emily. Milo is most definitely a big family member. In fact, he’s currently sleeping on my wife’s pillow as I type this comment so I do believe he’s just elevated himself to a higher status than she 😉

  5. Awww you made me cry. I completely understand the worries you have. It’s the hardest part of having a pet for sure.

    • Russell says:

      Thanks, Val. It makes you think twice about getting another one, for sure. My Canadian relatives lost their beloved hound about 10 years ago (another yellow Lab!) and still refuse to buy another. They just couldn’t face the heartache in years to come…

  6. Russell, I agree whole heatedly, our animals do play an integral role in the adventures we have in this expat life. My husband and I imported our two Chinese cats into Japan, a massive undertaking involving hand carrying blood samples from China to Switzerland because the Japanese government doesn’t trust Chinese laboratories to accurately test for rabies. But we’d do it all again. Our boys are what root us in our new country, and when they were still in China, waiting out their quarantine period, we didn’t really feel like we were yet home.
    Was it hard getting Milo to Aus from Canada?

    • Russell says:

      Hey Erica, I didn’t realise you shipped the cats to Japan. That’s a big effort but well worth it. It made me think of the other thing that bothers me when you do move country and bring your pets – when you go on holiday or go back ‘home’ for the festive period, you have to leave the pets behind in your expat home. It never feels right to leave Milo behind but we have a fantastic dogsitter who looks after him (and loves him very much).

      It wasn’t too hard bringing Milo here but he did go into quarantine for 4 weeks (it used to be 6 months but has changed). He basically cost us the price of an airline ticket, went into the hold with the other dogs including a great dane(!) and the quarantine officers collected him at Sydney Airport. The UK to Canada was a different story. No quarantine at all so Customs pulled him off the plane, put him into the oversized baggage area, and we picked him up as if he were a large suitcase. Very easy and a big relief to get him off the plane 🙂

  7. You had my tears by the second paragraph. We had two dogs growing up, and have had and lost two black labs as adults. To say they were beloved is an understatement. We lost our second lab, Mayra, in that dark 6-month period I wrote about. Such a kick in the gut that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get up and keep going, but you do. We’ve also had some wonderful cats, and they are hard to lose, too. Out cats acted more doglike and our dogs learned to love and respect cats, one big happy family. We lost our 15 year old cat Charley to cancer 3 1/2 months after we arrived. Right up to the moment she died, she would still manage to purr while petting her. We’re down to one dog and one cat, and yes, they mean the world to us.

    • Russell says:

      I completely relate to your losing Mayra in that dark period. We lost Murphy, our first lab, during a not-so-great time in our life (for various reasons). I think ‘kick in the gut’ sums it up perfectly.

      I only had a cat as a very young boy and can’t remember her, to be honest. Milo couldn’t stand cats (Murphy taught him how to be a dog’s dog). When Murph passed, we’d occasionally leave Milo at a friend’s house if we had to go away for a day or two. We didn’t realise they had a cat. I was mortified when we came back that first time and I found out. Surely he would have attacked the cat, had a big scary fight, probably come off second best, and so on. The scenarios played before my eyes. Instead, I found him and the cat lying side by side in the sun outside. And that was that. Milo has loved cats ever since. Quite bizarre.

  8. I’ve had dogs and cats all my life and when I left home the first thing I did was get myself a dog, He travelled with me all over the UK when I used to race BMX, he was known and loved by all the racers. Then he moved house with me to Liverpool, London and Amsterdam. He died about 3years ago, but not before giving us some pups, my mum has two of them back in the UK and we kept one of his sons. I still miss him terribly, I swear he could understand what I was talking about!! Being an expat I didn’t want to bury him and then maybe have to leave his body in a country where I no longer lived, so I had him cremated and have his ashes pride of place on the mantelpiece. So no, it’s not wrong to be so attached to a dog…

    • Russell says:

      You raise an interesting point about what happens when your pet passes and you don’t necessarily want them buried in your garden in case you move on (as is often the expat case). We did the same with Murph. His ashes sit on the kitchen shelf where he watches us cook, with Milo sat nearby. Weird? Maybe. But we simply didn’t know what to do and neither of us wanted to leave him behind. Time has passed and he’s still with us. One day, I think I’ll take him home to England to his favourite spot near Watership Down (remember the film and the well-known song, Bright Eyes, by Art Garfunkel?). He’ll float off on the wind and he’ll roam the Downs like he used to when he was younger. He was happiest there for sure.

  9. Yes,I quite like having him still by me, he really is watching over us…

  10. Lovely article…and I can relate…I lost my Pookie this past year, after raising him for 12 years since he was a pup, definitely one on the hardest things to go through.
    These fury friends have such a way of of getting into our hearts. But enjoy the time you and your wife have with Milo. I would never trade those 12 years with my Pookster, even with the heartache I went through when we lost him.

    • Russell says:

      Sorry to hear that about Pookie, Sandy. Sounds like he was a huge part of your life. I am trying to enjoy every moment with Milo. I hope he’ll still be around for a good while yet so I plan to make sure we all enjoy every minute. Talking of which, we’re taking him away for 3 days up the coast next week on a ‘doggy holiday’. Think of us splashing in the water, him swimming all day every day to his heart’s content. Can’t wait.

  11. Liv says:

    No it is not wrong Russell. I still miss my two cats even though I know they are both living the life of riley with my Mum, who spoils them rotten. And incidentally you did well to transport Milo for just ‘the cost of an airfare’. My Turkish cat’s airfare from Istanbul to London cost twice a regular human airfare! She then had to spend 6 months in quarantine which broke the bank again… There was no way I could put her through it all again to bring her to Australia, much as I miss the naughty minx!

    • Russell says:

      Wow, that is one expensive cat, Liv! The funny thing is that, when we moved Milo from the UK to Canada 8 years ago, he only cost us the price of excess baggage. I think the airlines wised up to the number of people taking their pets overseas and upped the price to a regular airfare. I can’t imagine how much it would cost now…

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