My Milo

I haven't been able to write much this past fortnight. I haven't really known what to say.

I knew this moment would come and I couldn't prevent it. Now I find myself sat here thinking of what to write to do him justice when all I feel is emptiness.

Maybe it's too soon.

Eleven years ago, I drove along the winding roads of rural Hampshire in the south of England looking for a particular farm. When I found it, I was led into the kitchen by a matronly sort of woman, a breeder of labrador retrievers that had a renowned pedigree in the area. She gathered up four tiny black bundles in her arms from a crate nearby then emptied them out onto the floor in front of me.

Four tiny black labrador puppies.

Sat against the kitchen cupboards, I watched as three of these adorable puppies hid nervously behind her skirts. The fourth puppy wasn't quite so shy, plucking up the courage to approach me head-on, swaying about on his 8-week old legs and mischievously nipping on my fingers when I pulled him over for a closer look.

They say never choose the boisterous one in the pack, in much the same way you shouldn't pick the weakling or the one left behind, but I was smitten by this little guy - by his bravado and his swagger, by his lustrous jet black coat.

The breeder wouldn't let me take him then and there.

She told me to come back with my wife so she could ensure he went to a good home. I returned with Sarah the next day under the pretence that were we going for a country drive. When we pulled up at the farm, the noise of the dogs barking gave the game away. "Surprise!" I said. "I've got you a black labrador puppy for your birthday. He'll be a friend for Murphy and he's yours to take home today." With that, Sarah gave me an almighty great big hug.

Milo had arrived in our lives.

We very nearly gave him up. The stress of having two dogs in one small cottage was proving too much and those previous signs of Milo's bold character were just the start. He howled at night, he did his business in every corner of the house, and he'd nip at Murphy's ears the infuriating way that all puppies do causing the older dog to skulk off into another room for some peace and quiet.

On the fifth day, we decided enough was enough. This wasn't going to work and our life had gotten far too complicated. So I did what most blokes do in such times of stress and went to play a round of golf, leaving Sarah to take Milo back to the farm.

As I pulled up to the house in my car later that day, it dawned on me how much I was dreading the moment I'd open the door and realise he was actually gone from our lives. Walking into our home, a black ball of fluff and sharp teeth came barrelling towards me, its tail wagging furiously and its underside dribbling urine all over the carpet.

Sarah had backed out of going to the farm and Milo was here to stay.

From that point, we didn't look back. When we decided to move abroad, the thought of leaving our dogs behind never entered our minds. They would come with us as our family, whatever the cost and effort. And so Milo and Murphy joined us on this remarkable journey, from one country to another, crossing Canada, over to Australia and a short stay in quarantine, and then a life by the beach where Milo could swim in the lagoons and roll in the sand.

He never wanted for much. Just a paddle in the water, a tennis ball, a marrowbone biscuit, perhaps even a chew. But mostly he was content to simply be with us, by our sides. No more, no less. And for that, I loved him like my very own son.

Eleven years after I first laid eyes on him in that English farm kitchen, I stroked the soft fur on his head over and over as he died peacefully in Sarah's arms, his poor gentle body wasted by a vicious cancer that took him from us over the course of a few devastating weeks.

I can only hope he knew how much we adored him.

At home, his presence fills every nook and cranny of our house. I sit at my desk in the back room and look for him in the garden. I catch myself going to fill up his water bowl. If I wake in the night, I'm careful to avoid stepping on him before I remember that he's not here anymore.

My computer is filled with his pictures, his face appearing at every click of my mouse. I find myself holding a much-loved toy or blanket of his and I press my nose deep into it, inhaling his smell and searching for his presence.

When I eat my dinner and accidentally bang a knife or fork into my plate, I look up expectantly to see him trot over so I can indulge him and let him lick the plate clean. But he never comes. He never trots over. He never gets up to greet me at the front door. He never sleeps on our bed. He never follows me around. I no longer hear him move around in the night. I don't hear him bang through the dog flap or let out an almighty wolf-like howl in the midst of an epic puppy dream. I no longer walk him around the block or take him to the beach to watch him flop hard down on the ground.

Because he's gone and he's not coming back and I can't protect him anymore.

It may seem soft to write about a dog in this way because a dog is just a dog, a family pet and nothing more, but I can't accept that.

If ever a dog was so much more, it was my Milo. He travelled with us around the world, sat by our sides as our hopes and dreams were realised, shared in our grief at losing Murphy so young, was a loyal companion to Sarah throughout her pregnancy, and showed nothing but affection and patience with our son, Elliot.

Milo was an extraordinary dog and he led an extraordinary life. He was my wife's best ever birthday present and we struggle to accept he's truly gone.

Our Milo.


Amanda McInerney said... Add Reply

So sorry, Russell, but another piece of lovely writing in this fine tribute. As someone who has yet to part with the ashes of our other much loved wolfhound, you have all my sympathy.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks, Amanda. We have the same predicament with both dogs' ashes now. Maybe one day it'll feel right to part with them. Appreciate your kind words.

Bonnie Rose said... Add Reply

Oh it is so heartbreaking to lose our pets. Your post brought up memories about losing my pets who had traveled all over Europe with us (military brat). Sending my wishes to your family. x

vegemitevix said... Add Reply

Crying. There are no words. So incredibly sorry for your huge loss. I utterly empathise. All my love to you and Sarah xx

Erin @Quintessentially English said... Add Reply

I actually started to tear up at work, and awkwardly had to wipe away a few tears to avoid explaining to my colleagues I was crying over Milo. As a fellow dog lover, I know how heartbreaking it can be when you lose a part of your family. Sending my love and wishes to you and your family.

Erin x

Mel @ The Nectar Collective said... Add Reply

I just got a puppy 3 months ago and though he is still so young, sometimes the thought of losing him will pop into my head and I can't imagine when that day comes. I am so so sorry to hear about the death of Milo and the pain you must feel. Dogs are amazing creatures and you are both better for having been in each other's lives. Thank you for this touching and tear-shedding post.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

I'm sorry to hear you also experienced loss, Bonnie. It is so very heartbreaking and the grief cuts so deeply. Thanks for your wishes - really appreciated :)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Dry those eyes, V. We'll be okay. You know how it is. Time passes and the pain dulls. We just miss him so much...

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks so much, Erin. I hope you recovered well and your colleagues passed on by. Today has been a hard day for me as I'd buried a lot of my emotions knowing that eventually I'd have to face them when writing this post. I really do appreciate your kind words and friendship from afar.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

I know how that is, Mel. I used to think the same with Milo and, as he aged, the thoughts would pop into my head more often. I dreaded the day we'd have to say goodbye to him and taking him to the vet, making that decision, and watching him leave us was easily the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But it was the right thing to do. Enjoy your little boy and give him a hug from me - he will bring you such immense joy as he grows.

Wanderlust_WTB said... Add Reply

It is not 'soft' at all to write lovingly about your dog. I am a dog lover and want to own one so badly but we cannot where we rent. I've known my best friend's dog since they got her as a puppy and I know I will feel the same way when she passes. Condolences to you and your wife.

Africanaussie said... Add Reply

What a lovely tribute - you let your heartache shine through. We had a golden retriever for many years and every time we see one on the beach we have to stop for a pat. Oh for sure Milo knew you lived him, it is evident in your words.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks for saying so and thanks for the condolences. It's interesting but I'm not sure where we go from here. We've had dogs as long as we've been a couple but neither of us can stomach the thought of another right now. Not just because it's impossible to replace Milo but because of the heartache that ultimately follows. It's a tough one for sure.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

It's really nice of you to say so. We think he loved his life here - plus he got to swim in Canada and run through the fields of England. I only wish we'd had a few more years with him but that wasn't on the cards for us. I think I'll be patting many a black labrador on my walks :)

Carrie said... Add Reply

:( So sad and so sorry to hear about your loss. You've written beautifully about it. Dogs, and pets for that matter, are so much more than just animals, they become part of our life, a piece of our heart, and I believe we are well within our rights to honour them when they pass. I love dogs (but never owned one - yet) and I was sad both times when my brother 'lost' his dogs to his exes (yes it happened twice - long stories) though fortunately we are still friendly with one of them and so we get to see the big German shepherd (a real softie) from time to time. He still remembers us. :) He's now at a Grandfather age and I know I will be devastated when he eventually passes. Don't really want to think about it!

Take care, I'm sending lots of healing and hugs to you and your family :)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks, Carrie. Means a lot. Appreciate the healing and hugs - and I hope your brother's German Shepherd has a lot of living left in him! Dogs are the best.

Mardi Michels said... Add Reply

Russell, I've come by way of Amanda's blog and I just wanted to say I am so sorry for your loss. Our pets are such a huge part of our lives, there are no real words I can write that will bring you much comfort but know that people are sending you virtual hugs from all around the world. I'll be following along your adventures from now on, wish I would have known about your blog before..

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Hi Mardi, thanks for coming over and thanks for your kind words (and virtual hugs!). I'll send Amanda my own virtual hug for sending you my way - looking forward to having you follow along :)

Maureen | OrgasmicChef said... Add Reply

I can relate to this post so well. We were brokenhearted when our Sam died and it wasn't until a friend came by with her 3 children, each holding a little puppy and the youngest said, "Mom's sick of you being sad so pick a puppy." I don't think we'd realised how long we'd been grieving and moping. I'm really glad we met through our mutual friend Amanda.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

I'm glad we met too, Maureen. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your own experience. It's certainly tough and doesn't get any easier but time helps and we have the memories of him so we hold on to those. He was a big presence in our lives for sure.

Wendy said... Add Reply

Your words are so true - brought back all the tears for me as I have read all these comments Its been 18 months for us and still re-live that day when the decision was made. As you say it is the right thing to do when the time comes. So many memories worth the pain of losing any pet - couldn't do it again though.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks Wendy and so sorry for your own loss. Our other dog, Murphy, passed away five years ago and it sometimes seems like yesterday. I'm struggling to think of ever doing this again in terms of getting another dog. Maybe one day. I was stood in the kitchen the other day and I missed Milo looking around the door fishing for a treat or a leftover. The house is so much less without him but we have other things for which we must be grateful. Thanks for sharing your story here. It means a lot.

Wendy said... Add Reply

My dog was called Murphy! Cant agree more the house is so empty without a dog made worse now as my son is on the other side of the world!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Great name, great dog I'm sure. Hope your house fills with love and small puddles of doggy piddle one day soon ;)

Sarah Ward said... Add Reply

This post is just so beautiful xx I haven't been able to comment just because it made me too upset. Milo, I miss you so much. Thank you Russell for writing such a beautiful tribute. Love you. Sx

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Even after three months, his loss is still so painful x

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