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Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Tribute to a Great Writing Friend

Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 15 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 3 Selah Awards. Three of his books were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year (RT Book Reviews). Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take walks and spend time with their grandkids. Click here to connect with Dan or check out his books.

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Last week I lost a very good friend. The day he passed and for the next week, my grief was profound. I'm still not over it. He wasn't a writer, but he was certainly a great source of encouragement in my writing. 

I'm referring to my dog, Darcy. Darcy was a mini-Australian shepherd. Along with his sister,
Bailey, they've been keeping me company every day as I write for the last several years (Darcy is the gray one on the right). For those of you who write full-time, you know it can be a lonely vigil. But Darcy wouldn't let that happen. He had a way of constantly inserting himself into my day with mostly welcomed and pleasant interruptions. 
He wasn't a high-maintenance dog; he just loved to be with me and wouldn't put up with me ignoring him for too long. 

He started getting sick midway through the summer, with a persistent cough and frequently running out of breath. He was only eight years old, so we knew it wasn't his age. We took him to the vet, who diagnosed him with congestive heart failure. We were really alarmed but were told it was something that could be controlled with medication, and that he still had a good many years ahead of him. 

That wasn't what happened. 

For the next 6 weeks, he grew increasingly worse, and the vet kept increasing his meds. It was so hard to see him suffer and not be able to do anything to really help him. He would constantly come to me for comfort when he got afraid, as if somehow I could make his suffering go away. I took the picture here on the right during one of those times. For some reason, my efforts to love and comfort him did seem to help temporarily. His face would brighten right up, and his little doggy smile would return.

But eventually, even my comfort didn't help. It became obvious he wasn't going to make it. So one night last week, after holding him for 6 hours then saying our final goodbyes, I brought Darcy down to an emergency vet clinic at around 3am.

To be honest, the amount of grief my wife and I have experienced since letting him go is very similar to the grief we've felt when losing close family members. I know some people couldn't possibly understand this. Dogs are pets, not people. Usually these people are not "dog people" and don't really understand the unique relationship dog owners can have with their pets. At the same time, we've received dozens of comforting notes from other dog lovers who totally get it. They speak about the grief they've gone through, and it's remarkably the same.

It's like losing a close member family, because that's exactly who Darcy was. And I realized, for me, he was even a little more than that. 

Let me explain.

I've just finished the first novel in a new series, called Rescuing Finley. Finley, as you might have guessed, is a dog. Each of the novels in the series will feature a dog as a main character. Finley is a shelter dog who winds up rescuing the two people who think they are rescuing him. One is a former meth addict who becomes a female inmate who helps train Finley to become a service dog. The other is a Marine who lost his leg to a landmine in Afghanistan, and he's really struggling with PTSD.

To research this book, I spent all kinds of time reading and watching videos about veterans who said, time after time, that their service dog literally saved their lives. This is no exaggeration. The stats say 22 war veterans are committing suicide every day because of PTSD issues. Yet somehow, many of them are being saved through the power of a relationship they are having with these dogs.

These vets talk about their dogs with the same passion they talk about their combat buddies. Usually after a few sentences, they choke up and start crying. As a researched their stories, I realized I completely understood what they mean.

Five years ago, I went through a terrible relational and financial trial that devastated me emotionally. It got so bad, I saw a doctor who said I was having the same kind of PTSD symptoms soldiers have (although clearly, they've suffered far worse than I). Nevertheless, I now realize just how much Darcy helped me through this time.

He wasn't a trained service dog, but he served the same role in my life. For those of you who aren't dog lovers, perhaps if I explain it this way it will help. Imagine you have a close friend who loves you unconditionally. He never judges you or makes you feel tense. Just the opposite. You feel totally accepted and loved whenever he is near. If you're hurting, he's right there to help in any way he can. He is completely devoted to your welfare and, without hesitation, will always puts your needs ahead of his own. He loves spending time with you, even wasting time with you. In fact, he'll drop whatever he's doing if there's even a chance to be with you doing anything at all. This relationship goes on this way for years, and these qualities about your friend never diminish. If anything, they only grow in their intensity. 

Now imagine, this incredibly good friend suddenly dies. That's how it feels. 

That's why the grief is similar to losing a close loved one or friend. Because that's who Darcy was to me (to wife's grief equaled my own). One of the things that has really helped, besides the great comfort offered by other dog-loving friends, is to know that my God perfectly understands everything I've just said, and everything were going through. He created these wonderful little creatures and appointed them to be some of our best friends.

I only wish he would have given them the lifespan of a tortoise. I'm sure tortoises are very nice in their own way. But really, why give them 75 years?


  1. I'm so sorry, Dan. We're facing a similar thing with Shadrach. He's 9 now and for mastiffs, that's old. The average age span is 8 years. I see him failing, he's unsteady on his legs now, and I know we'll face that same scene very soon. My heart grieves with you.

  2. I feel for you, Ane. Really. That was one of the more challenging things about this. We knew bigger dogs typically have a shorter lifespan. It was part of the reason we went for smaller dogs. Figured he'd have at least 14 years (even the vet said that would be normal). We were pretty shocked to be dealing with this at 8 for him.

  3. Saying a prayer for your heart, Dan. They are our close friends. . .sometimes of the very best kind. We have a little brother and sister team at our house too. Like yours, they keep me company while I write and get me out of my chair at just the right times. Thanks for sharing this part of the journey with us!

  4. Dear Dan, What an awesome tribute to Darcy -- (what a cute name and a cute dog!!) We recently lost our bunny Tyler (at age 11.5) after a heart-breaking year and a half long illness. My husband had him since he was a bunlet and as you described, he was an integral part of our lives. I wrote a children's picture book about him and our cat, created poems and illustrations based on him, and over the years had various t-shirts made for my husband with Tyler's picture on them. Basically after God and me, he was the love of my husband's life. :-) It's been over six months and my husband, Evan, and I still gets emotional over his loss. Our great encouragement and hope is that we'll be reunited with him in heaven. Yes, we believe that, based on Acts 16;31 and Mark 11:25. :-) Through a series of unusual events about 3 months ago we adopted a new bunny, who has brought a lot of healing, joy, and restoration to our hearts.
    Thanks again for sharing such a beautiful and moving tribute to your loved one. Your loss is deeply acknowledged and I pray for God's special comfort for you and your wife. Psalml 147:3 "The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds [curing their pains and their sorrows.] Amen.

  5. I'm not a dog person (cat-lover here) but I understand the love of pets all too well. And the dog we got my daughter a few months ago has done a great job winding his way around this non-dog-lovers heart. So I definitely feel for your loss. Like Kathy Rupff, I believe we will see our beloved pets again.

    As for the tortuise, perhaps they get 75 years to make up for how slowly they creep through life? ;)

  6. so sorry for your loss, Dan. when i lost one of my cats several years ago, i grieved for two weeks. i told people i had lost a friend, because otherwise they didn't get it. Pinky (as in Pinky and the Brain) really was my friend.
    prayers for comfort and peace for you in this difficult time.

  7. Thanks Joy!

    Kathy, I agree with you (about seeing them in heaven). More importantly, so does Randy Alcorn in his bestselling theology book on Heaven (he wrote it to show everything we can know about Heaven from the Scriptures themselves vs relying on people with near-death experiences). He's got a whole chapter on animals/pets in heaven. Very encouraging.

    Robin, we've had 2 cats over the years. One last 18 years, the other 15. Definitely a part of family.

  8. Oh, Dan, this just broke my heart, my friend, because we've lost two goldens over the years, so I understand the grief involved. I am praying for you and Cindy during this sad time.

    The death of our first golden retriever devastated my husband so much that he refused to get another dog until five years later when the kids pestered him to death. Our second golden lived 15 years and died on Easter about four years ago, and Keith has NO DESIRE whatsoever to go through that grief again. But I have a feeling down the road a bit, he will change his mind again because animals bring such joy to our lives.


  9. Julie, I get your husband's hesitation. They bring such joy for the short time they're here, but that's the problem. It's way too short. That's amazing that your 2nd Golden lasted 15 years. I thought it was a lot for them to make it to 10.

  10. Hello Dan,

    I'm so sorry for your loss. My husband and I have cats, but each time we've lost one it has been devastating. Although I can't relate specifically as a dog lover, I very much sympathize as an animal lover and hope to have a dog one day myself. Cats get a bad rap I think. Ours are all very affectionate and not aloof. However, I would say that dogs are generally more solicitous of their owner's attention and are often very in tune with their owner's mood and even their health. I saw a program on PBS one time, I think it was, where scientists were doing experiments using groups of people, some of whom were sick, to see how dogs would react. Over and over the dogs would go straight up to the person in the group who was ill, including those with cancer. Some folks scoff at pet owners who treat their pets like family, but I think particularly when pets serve as a source of comfort, entertainment, and distraction during stressful times, they can be as much help as another human being. My sympathies for your loss, Dan. May God fill your mind with good memories of Darcy that will help fill the void you and your wife feel at this time.

  11. Hi Dan,
    This is a heartfelt, touching, and beautiful tribute to Darcy. I feel for you at such a loss. I know how hard it is. We are dealing with aging issues in our 15 year old Shiba Inu. She is quite healthy for her age but I dread the day that she goes. It is a scary thought and I find myself checking on her when she sleeps to make sure she is breathing. Our dogs give us love and companionship unconditionally, which is rare for humans and I think that's why we get so attached to our dogs. Darcy had a love filled life and I'm sure he was happy. Lets be thankful for the time wed o have with our loved ones.
    God bless,

  12. I meant to ask you. How is Bailey holding up? She must miss her brother :-(


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