After we got married, before we had our son, we decided to do a practice run and get ourselves a dog. Growing up, all of our dogs and cats had come from the SPCA and this new addition to our family was to be no exception.
I remember it was a snowy day in December when we went to the old location on 10 Street by the Exhibition Grounds. I remember the dingy little building. I remember the smells and the noise. I remember how genuinely happy the staff and volunteers were when we said we had come to find ourselves a new family member. I remember being let into the holding area, which to my mind seemed like something from The Green Mile. Almost all of the dogs went crazy at the sight of us, barking and launching themselves against their pens and we went past. Almost all, except for one. There was this one. A little black fur ball with a white patch on his chest that made him look like he was wearing a tuxedo. He sat there quietly, wagging his tail and looking up at us hopefully. The name tag on the pen said his name was Barney and he was three months old.
We left the animal area to start the adoption process. As we filled out the paperwork, I asked the woman who was assisting us why they called him Barney. “Because he looks like a Barney.” She said, and so Barney he remained. Within a day or so, we had a new addition to our house, a very fuzzy little boy that would make our house a home and us, a family.
BArney turned out to be a Newfoundlander/Bearded Collie cross so his fur grew to match his body. He was one of those dogs that people stop you on the street to ask about, he was that unique. He was also unique in his personality, he never once ran away. We made the mistake of leaving the gate open as a pup and of course he disappeared. We spent two hours combing the neighbourhood looking for him and at a loss we returned home. As we drove in, a snow-covered head popped out of a snowbank in the neighbour’s yard. That’s as far as he ever got, playing in a snowbank next door. We never really got worried much about the gate being closed after that. He never left the yard. The two light posts in front of the houses beside us were as far as he would ever stray from us in his lifetime. To him, we were Mom and Dad. The SPCA had told us that he had been found wandering the streets alone. Barney knew as well as any of us just exactly what “Home” was. That was something that he would demonstrate to us over and over throughout his life.
He truly was a family dog and he was our first child. When our son was born, if there was any jealousy, he certainly didn’t show it. The first night our son was home, Barney spent the enitre night staring into the bassinet and then looking at us after every peep Simon made, just to make sure he was alright. He slept less than we did that night. Although he was the typical big brother and never really showed it, he was always our son’s guardian and protector. He became a neightbourhood fixture. He was the dog that you’d see in the park with a train of kids behind him hanging off his tail, or his ears and he loved every second of it. He went so far once to fall and break his own leg rather than accidently knocking over our son while playing outside. He was always the firs tthing in the vehicle when we went on a trip and the first thing in the vehicle when it was time to come home. Dogs like that don’t come around often.
Barney left an indelible impression on everyone he met. Years later, long time SPCA staff and volunteers still recongnize me as Barney’s owner. People that didn’t like or were afraid of dogs loved Barney and he loved everyone he met in return.
A little over a month ago, something went wrong. Suddenly the family member who loved us so much didn’t want to be close to us anymore. His breathing changed and when we tried to snuggle him, he’d just move away and curl up in a ball. I took him to the vet and had our worst fears confirmed. Within twenty-four hours, I was holding Barney in my arms as he went to sleep for the last time.
It’s the absence that’s the worst thing about loss. For the first couple days, we’d break down each time we went to feed him or let him out. To say it was hard was an understatement. Even the neighbours cried when they heard. The vet asked us about cremation and of course we agreeed. I mean, how could we bury a Newfie? A few days later the vet phoned and said that Barney’s ashes were ready. When i went to pick them up, they were in a beautiful velvet bag with a ribbon on it and his collar, all nice and clean looking new. Attached to this bag was a certificate from the SPCA confirming that Barney had been cremated humanely in their new facility North of the river. Along with this package their was a card from the staff and volunteers at the SPCA expressing their sympathy for our loss. After 10 years, they still knew who he was and who we were! That, more than anything meant the world to us.
The SPCA crematorium is the only pet crematorium in Northern Saskatchewan. Previous to it being built, if you had your pet cremated, it went to the Veterinary College in Saskatoon where it would have been put in a big oven with a bunch of other animals. If you got the ashes back, you’d be lucky