Doggone it, our dog Sammy died last Friday. After a rollercoaster of a week for a number of other reasons, this was the bookend heading into birthday celebrations for my daughter. It was tough.
The poor little guy, a 3.5kg cavoodle, had end-stage heart disease and was put to sleep in my wife's arms with the family in attendance.
Interesting segue way into euthanasia? No.
Earlier in his life Sammy had survived a kingfish bone that lodged through his windpipe, food pipe and into tissue that had to be surgically removed, life-saving surgery after a near-death encounter with a dog intent on trouble eight times his size. A time of reflection and mourning ensued for our plucky little guy.
When we previously lost our retriever, Rusty, the family had to tell my wife to stop mourning after about six months because we literally could not take it any longer.
She is under strict instructions this time not to repeat that mourning process! Rusty had unquestioningly pulled our daughter out of a dangerous rip that I could not fight - then, exhausted, needed me to help him out of the water. Another amazing animal.
All this got me to thinking why dogs have such a profound effect on us.
Psychologists tell us humans go through the same emotions and processes around the loss of a pet as we do with the loss of a loved one, but we do not have the same traditions and cultural mores associated with human loss to deal with the loss of a beloved pet.
So when you see one of your dog-loving friends breaking up, know that the chemicals in their brain are doing the same things as when a human member of the family passes on.
Dogs are a step up from other pets. They've been living and working with humans for millennia. They kind of get us. This makes a death in some ways harder than human loss.
For one, they've probably never disagreed with you. That's endearing.
But you are expected to get over a dog death quickly and move on – get another one or something like that.
The reality is dogs bring things to a relationship with you that humans mostly don't, more than just agreeableness.
Here's a few:
Unconditional love, that complete unrequited joy at seeing you no matter what, no matter when.
Loyalty, they will literally die defending you and the family – their family – and they will still love even you if you've done something wrong or haven't shown them the attention they deserve. They trust you, dog knows why!
Intuition, they know when something's up, yes lots of false alarms or at least things that don't really matter, but trust them when they don't like someone.
They will work for you until they drop. They will play any time, anywhere. Great with the kids and are part of the family, and lastly dog is God spelled backwards.
If you're still not convinced, think about guide dogs and dogs that comfort the elderly and disabled among an array of different working dogs.
Dogs have feelings and personalities too. It's a shame their life spans are so short.
Sammy was with us all through our daughter's formative years, always there, always a comfort. When was the last time a sentient being loved you unconditionally, was completely loyal to you, trusted you implicitly, played and worked with you on demand and looked after the kids?
And they don't ask for much - food, shelter, exercise, attention etc.
We don't really know why dogs have become such a large part of the human condition, but perhaps as we lead into the silly season and up to Christmas and the holidays, we can think about displaying some of their more endearing qualities to each other.