My dog's name is Wags. He is a Chihuahua/Jack Russell crossbreed. I am an only child, and he is my brother. Animal lovers will understand.
He is stocky and muscular for a small dog and has no health problems whatsoever. He shows no sign of aging apart from a few more grey hairs, and he gets a little more tired than when he was younger. He has three walks per day, chases his toy, and often jumps onto the sofa to sleep.
Nevertheless, there is an elephant in the room… He is 13 years old.
My Life with Dog Siblings.
I have had dogs in my family since I was a child.
Tinker, the mad Cocker Spaniel who only had three legs after getting run over and whose bravery astounded me as he climbed mountains in Scotland, died aged 11.
Bluey, the Yorkshire Terrier, abused by his previous owners but had a few months' peace with us, died aged 8.
Bertie, the randy Yorkshire Terrier, had a Stiletto shoe that he loved and was ultimately buried alongside.
Sammie, the West Highland Terrier who loved playing and going for long walks, died aged 10.
Scally, the West Highland Terrier/ Jack Russell crossbreed loved trying to escape the garden and was crazy died aged just 5. We bought Scally and Wags together, and for a while, we thought Wags was the naughty one. He was cheekier and full of energy all the time.
However, Scally turned out to be the one always trying to escape the garden to run off. Sometimes he would watch my dad build a bigger and stronger fence and then jump straight over it when it was finished.
Scally kept Wags young. They were always play fighting, and running around together. They loved each other.
Can you see why I am worried?
My Dad Died and Wags Stepped Up.
In November 2019, my dad died, leaving my mum living with Wags, essentially by herself for the first time in her life. She always feared living alone and absolutely hates it.
Nonetheless, Wags keeps her going both mentally and physically. As he demands three walks a day, he gets her out of the house, saying hello to the neighbors and getting lots of precious exercise. I visit her every day, but each night, it is Wags who keeps her company and sleeps next to her in bed for comfort.
Every night she talks to him and tells him he must stay around for as long as possible.
Reflections on Grief.
A Jack Russell has a life expectancy of 13–16 years. A Chihuahua can be expected to live 12–20 years. Taking the best-case scenario, we have seven more years with Wags which would be fantastic. We picked a dog made of solid stuff.
However, death is rarely so predictable. Since my dad died, I have been much more anxious about my mum and worrying about her death. The grief from my father's passing has been so strong and ongoing that I do not know how I would handle any more loss.
Thankfully my mum is 69 with no significant health problems, maintains an active lifestyle, and lives one road away from me, enabling me to see her almost every day.
I am more worried about Wags as we are in the danger zone — he turns 14 this year. If he died, we would have to get another dog very quickly as my mum wouldn't be able to stand the loneliness. However, dogs cannot be replaced any more than humans can.
Grief is not guaranteed to be drip-fed to us. We go years without any disaster, and then they all come at once. In the same year as my dad died, my mum lost my nan.
The Sweetest Thing Anyone Ever Did for Me.
I remember back in 2010 at the peak of my depression. I was lying on the floor watching tv late at night when Wags came in with a toy. He came over to me and dropped it in front of my face.
It was unusual for him to want to play this way, even though it might be expected for other dogs. I stroked him and threw his toy a small distance. He walked over to get it and dropped it in front of my face again. He reached down with his nose and nudged it closer to me this time.
The penny dropped. He didn't want to play. He wanted to give me his toy to make me feel better. It may sound crazy, but I know my dog, and I know exactly what he was doing.
I hugged him, thanked him, and roughhoused with him for a bit (his favorite part). In those moments, what he did for me was more significant than any egotistical therapist could ever do—a true expression of love that is possible only from animals.
Over time, Wags continued to help with my depression. There are dogs explicitly used for therapy, and although Wags doesn't like strangers, he is MY therapy dog.
Is the Pain of Loss Worth It?
In the past, when our dogs have died, the grief has been so intense that I have questioned if having pets with short life spans is even worth it. Can it be worth the suffering for around ten years or less in many cases?
I currently still have my dog — my brother — so I can categorically say yes, it is worth the suffering.
Nothing has ever made me laugh and loved me with as much innocence as he does.
No one is so consistently happy to see me as he is.
No one has a warmer belly that likes being tickled (again, dog lovers will understand!)
I believe people cannot be perfect, but dogs can. I am not a religious person, but if I were, I would say that dogs are a gift from God and how we treat them is a true reflection of our character. All dogs want to do is serve you and make you happy.
I hope Wags breaks all records and lives another 15 years. Regardless, I will be with him until the end.
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