Reflections on the Loss of a Farm Dog—and the Hope to Begin Again

Day 169 of 365

In two weeks, it will be one year since we lost our Great Pyrenees, Gus, to lymphoma. Just typing the word “lymphoma” makes me angry and sad. He was only four years old, and he was certainly one of the great loves of my life. 

I don’t know if it was the return of the fall, the return of the season when we lost him, or the loss of my kitty Sophie that has triggered a deep and terrible sadness that has been almost confusing to me and just impossible to shake. I pretend, of course, like I am just fine, but sometimes, when people ask me how I am doing, instead of saying “fine,” I just want to start crying and say “I miss my dog.” 

After he died, I was sick and shocked and confused and numb. I couldn’t even write about all of it, which is usually how I deal with my grief. I felt frozen. The physical pain was so strong the first two days that I thought I might have a stroke. My uncle, also a deep lover of animals, had a stroke fairly young after he and my aunt lost their dog unexpectedly. I started to worry that might happen to me if I didn’t get myself into a better space. I had never felt so much physical pain after a loss. 

There was also this strange kind of panic feeling. He was our farm dog, a really good farm dog. He was a giant mess of a dog, who treated our house like a barn, but he was an amazing guard dog. When we lost him, though we still had Boudica, I felt panicked about what we were going to do without him. He loved “mama’s ducks,” and they loved him back after that time he literally chased a hawk off of their backs. Who would care for the ducks? 

That kind of feeling of loss was new to me. Before we got our Great Pyrenees, I didn’t know what it felt like to be cared for by a dog. Great Pyrenees are raised to be independent thinkers, and they are so highly intelligent, living with them is like living with a furry human. When Gus and Boudica would behave badly, I would call them our “bad roommates.” Pyrenees are quite unique. They are considered a very difficult breed because they are almost untrainable. If they love you, they will do what you ask, but they demand respect. If you don’t respect their intelligence, things will not go well. Our sweet Boudica thinks we barely know how to take care of ourselves. She barks at us when we leave or go for a walk, and I know exactly what she’s saying, “Get back here, so I can take care of you!” When our son was little, she would just about lose her mind when he would go for a walk or a bike ride.

I had lost some dogs before in my life, one was my first great dog soulmate, but I had never felt the pain like I felt when we lost Gus.

I have been thinking so deeply of late about why I am so sad again. It has to be the season. 

When we knew he was going to pass, I would spend time with him every evening outside. He loved to look at the moon and stars, so I would sit with him and look at the moon and stars with him—and tell him just how very much I was going to miss him. We sat there on those fall evenings, and I tried to tell myself that I wanted to remember to stop and look at the moon and stars like Gus always did. Sadly, I almost never do because looking at the stars without Gus hurts too much still.

He was my baby. He could be difficult and stubborn, but, for his mama, he would do anything. And he had this zest for life, an optimism, that made me love him extra. I work so hard to be an optimist because I seem to need it, but I live amongst pessimists. Ron says, “it’s not pessimism; it’s realism.” So you get the idea. 

Gus would get excited about things with me. His face was so expressive, I could tell what he was thinking all the time. When he was excited to see me, he would smile, and his eyes would squint, and we shared a deep love for one another that seems almost impossible to describe. I suppose everyone thinks that about their dogs though. 

Still, he seemed special, unusually expressive. When we first got him, I would marvel at how much his face mimicked human expressions. He would not just smile and squint, but he could be frowny and look so stubborn. The night before he died, after I helped him into his chair one last time, he looked into my face so long and so deeply, and I knew what he was thinking. He looked at me with such love, and I knew he was telling me he was going to miss me. 

I can’t believe I am writing this down. It’s very painful. I’ll need to stop remembering that time because it makes me cry, and when I cry, Boudica worries. 

Still, lately, I think about him all the time. In my thinking, I started to realize just how much I missed his optimism and zest for life. I started to wonder if, maybe, it was time to get a puppy, to try again. The reality is that we need to get a puppy before Boudica gets too old, as she is critical in training another dog. She will teach a puppy how guard the chickens and the ducks and to look for aerial predators, which is something not all livestock guardian dogs know how to do. It was something Gus taught her, interestingly, and we need that knowledge to be passed down. 

This weekend, Ron said he had been wondering about a puppy. He seemed hesitant to ask me about it, but I told him I had been wondering the same thing. Ron went online to the AKC website and found someone in upstate New York with puppies, born right around Boudica’s birthday and ready to go this weekend. 

Of course, the puppies were adorable. Great Pyrenees are magnificent dogs, and when they are babies, they look just like tiny bears—so much fluff. Ron asked, “Should I send them a message?” I paused for a long time. We talked about the pros and cons of getting a puppy one more time, and then I said, “Send it. I’m ready.” 

And so he did. 

This weekend, we will be driving to upstate New York to pick up a new little boy. I feel nervous. I am only somewhat nervous about the work in store, the lack of sleep that is coming our way. I am mainly nervous about what it will be like with a new boy. Will he help me hurt less? Will it all hurt more? 

Hopefully, our new boy will be a little less messy than Gus and a little less stubborn and a little less suspicious of every single human on the planet. Maybe a little less giant (Gus was massive and weighed 130 pounds with a head so big you could give just his head a hug). Maybe he’ll be a little less jealous of the kitties. 

Maybe he will be another good friend to me, as Gus was and as Boudica is. Hopefully, having a baby around will bring some joy, as they tend to do. At the very least, maybe I’ll be so busy with a baby that I won’t have as much time to miss my Gus. 

But I am still scared, scared to love another being so deeply that the loss will feel like it’s going to kill me. I would like to think that maybe I can hold myself back a little, love a little less knowing what’s coming, but then I know me. I won’t. I’ll be head over heels once again. . 

2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Loss of a Farm Dog—and the Hope to Begin Again

  1. Thank you Crystal for sharing Gus’s story. It sounds like a great loss that happened too soon. Such a beautiful description of a fabulous dog friend. I do believe a new puppy will help to fill that hole in your heart. You’re wise to have Boudica teach the new one the ropes. I hope your telling of Gus’s story has cleansed a bit of your sorrow out. I always say….losing someone we love doesn’t get easier with time, we just learn to live with the pain.

    My Papillion, Pascal (age 3) is my 5th dog…my third Papillion. My husband gave me a Shetland Sheepdog pup for a wedding gift, dog #1…..I LOVE dogs…well most animals….and my husband knows me. These days my husband and I are head over heels in love with Pascal. He is perfect in all things to us…sooooo smart
    ( understands complex sentence commands), sooo obedient ( you say sit, he puts his butt right down and waits for his release word) sooo loving (gives kisses on command and any time you kiss him, HAHA) loves car adventures and usually goes right to sleep ( our last Papillion….lived to just shy of 17 years…. was very anxious in cars and directionals would cause extreme barking). Pascal also has the most beautiful show-dog quality coat, black and white and simply gorgeous!
    Of course my Sheltie , being my first soulmate, was very special to me but Pascal is our wonderdog these days and we feel lucky to share our days with him.

    PS Sorry for the lengthy comment… lovers unite in telling of their dog/love stories!
    I can’t wait for updates and a picture of your new baby! … will give you writing material!
    Peace and Love


    1. Pat, I loved reading about your dogs, and Pascal sounds amazing! I love dog stories. When people tell me their dog stories, I feel so honored and just want every detail. On our bike rides in the city forest, I am always most happy to meet people’s dogs. Dogs are the best people!


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