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, 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 us...my 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?