(written on January 27, 2021)
For those who have known me in the last decade, you would have also known Willow, as she was my everything for 9 glorious years.
I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, as a way to immortalize her in my most inspired way, but it was always too hard. Willow would have been 13 years old today. She was brought over the rainbow bridge 4 years ago, but she’s never left my side. Today, I just want to remember her and cry the happiest tears for one of the best experiences of love I’ll know in this life. I continue to carry the joy she brought me daily. Today, I celebrate Willow.
She was my best friend, my protector, the one who would listen to me talk for hours without ever looking for silence (and I can talk… a lot), my hiking partner on every wooded trail we found, my road buddy for endless drives in the country, my movie buddy, and most importantly, my body pillow.
She was only 7 weeks old when she joined my family, and I was hooked. We grew together, learning to love each other… through the endless eating of everything made of wood in the house, to insisting that every plate of food I ever made should be hers. (She always got the last bite!) She kept me in shape – we would go on the Dobson trail near our house, a beautiful wooded area made of magic, and just talk and walk. For hours. Regardless of weather. She got big and energetic quick, being an American Bulldog, so the hikes were a good exercise for us both. (Tired dogs don’t chew stuff! hah)
Willow is a magical soul. By her 2nd birthday, she was full size and a good 105 pounds of pure joy. She totally thought she was a lapdog and never quite understood the concept of personal space; hence why she was Willow the Pillow. On the couch or on the bed, she was right there, ready to snuggle. She was the warmest and coziest and, despite the fact that she was the size of a small alligator, I never grew tired or annoyed. She literally just wanted to love, the most unconditional love a human can ever experience.
Willow never barked, which was fine as I talked enough for the both of us. As a puppy, she barked like any dog would – but at 6 months old, she just went quiet, like she was taking in the world and chose not to have a verbal reaction. (Humans could learn from this haha!) From 6 months old to 9 years old, I heard her bark less than a handful of times. It was strange; people would be so scared of her size, and then realized she posed less threat than a cottonball. She loved everyone – big and small. From newborns to the elderly, she showed them all the same love. She had a kiss for every one of them. And then she’d usually ask for snuggles – she generally assumed that no one else had anything else planned and that snuggling her was the best idea. She was usually right. She was like a grounding rod for me. I snuggled her every single chance I got!
… unless she farted. It’s like she carried toxic weapons. Her farts could eliminate any enemy and clear a room like a bad Karaoke song.
(Anyone with a bully bread dog is nodding right now… they know!)
I could write a book about Willow, and maybe someday I will, but for now, I just wanted to share some fun memories of her in my blog today.
She loooooved the car. We would drive for hours on country roads, it was our favorite thing to do. Often, we’d pick up my mom and the three of us girls would go on adventures down to Alma, or by the Shediac beach. Willow loved adventures, hiking, swimming and car rides. We found some of the best hiking trails in our area and walked for hours. She always stayed next to me so she was rarely leashed (which was NOT fun when we had to go somewhere where leashes were required… 105 pounds PULLING!!) She even liked shopping – some stores like Canadian Tire by our place allowed dogs, so I’d say errands on which I could take her with me. It would take an hour as everyone we met wanted to meet and pet her. She was a queen.
And now for a little story…
I wanted to keep this post light, but I have to get sappy for a moment.
In 2016, I was diagnosed with stage 3 Mucoepidermoid carcinoma of the left submandibular salivary gland! Yep. Salivary gland cancer. (Who knew that was a thing!) This discovery was followed by dental surgery, then neck surgery, then a LOT of radiation and a whole lotta recoop time at home.
Willow took good care of me during my recovery. She always made sure she was next to me, but gently, knowing I was in pain. She would set her head on my legs to help me relax. She enjoyed the extra snuggle time for sure! We still managed to get a few hikes in, even if I was tired from the radiation. I wasn’t letting cancer take our fun adventures away. And I am so glad that I did so… as soon after my recovery, our lives would change.
I was cleared of my cancer on December 30, 2016. The radiation worked, the surgery worked, it all worked. I did it. It was the best day of my life.
Then on December 31st, Willow started acting funny and peeing a lot more than usual, and not eating, which for THIS dog, was a sign of trouble. We went straight to the vet. For the next month, we would do test after test trying to figure out what was going on with Willow, and they could not figure it out. I had gone from fighting a super rare cancer and still recovering, and now my soul mate was falling ill and I could not help her. All I could do was to keep taking her for hikes, when her and I had the energy to do so (as she was getting worse) and then lots of cuddles!!!!!
It was 5 weeks after being cleared of my own cancer that I found out that my Willow, my dog, my everything, had cancer through out her body. It had been growing for a long time and she showed NO signs, until that day… one day after I was cleared of my own cancer. Yep! She stayed strong for me until I was okay, before allowing herself to show signs of her illness. If you ever doubt your dog’s loyalty, read this again. Your dog will love you so much that if you get sick, they’ll put you first before their own well being.
She died less than a week later, a little over a week past her 9th birthday.
I know I’ve probably hit heart strings and I’m sorry (not sorry) for the tears, if you’re at all like me (as I cry on my keyboard haha), but I wanted to share this for a happy reason, not a sad one. I am still sad that she passed, but I am comforted by the fact that she taught me the greatest lesson of love. She loved me so unconditionally that she had my back through her own illness. When you look at your pet, give it the extra love, the extra cuddle. They really do love you THAT much. They are amazing teachers for us humans, and right now, I think the world could use more lessons of love and cuddles.
Hug your pet. Tell it you love it. Trust me, they love you too.
Thank you Willow.
You saved my life, in more ways than math can count.
I love you, forever.
Thanks for continuing to watch over me. XO
Love you, my pillow!