How my dog changed my life, and helped me become a life saver
They say a dog is a man’s best friend. In my case, my dog changed my life, and made me a life saver.
First, I want to acknowledge that every person’s dog is the best dog in the world to them. If you have one, two, or many, you’re so fortunate. Dogs are beautiful creatures, and I’m sure your dog is amazing.
Mine was the best dog in the world to me.
Sammy was a German Shepherd who lived until 6.5 years old, dying of an illness way too young, but fighting bravely till the end.
Sammy changed my life in so many ways, here are just a few of them.
I experienced a new kind of love, a new sense of protection, a new sense of responsibility.
As a son and brother, I have a great love for my family. As a partner, I have an unshakeable love for my soulmate. As a step-dad, I have a powerful love for my step-son.
As a dog-Dad though, I experienced a new type of love, literally the moment I held that ankle-biting, sock-shredding, deck-chewing, mud-spreading, flesh-nipping, knuckle-gnawing ball of fluff.
A love that was born of an instant connection, steeped in fierce protection.
Despite Sammy eventually becoming a large female Shepherd of 35kg, I felt it was my responsibility to guard her, not the other way around. I would have taken a bullet for her, and she knew that. Whenever she felt threatened by a bigger dog or worse, the noisy garbage truck, she stood close.
Would she have taken a bullet for me?
If a cat didn’t appear out of nowhere, totally.
If a rabbit didn’t peek from a burrow, possibly.
If a random ball rolled nearby, hell no!
That’s okay, I knew my place in the world. 😉
Sammy loved everyone in our family and she was deeply loyal to all of us, but she looked to me for protection. When I was in the room, she felt at ease: “Dad’s here now. I can curl up and dream about balls.”
Sammy was dependent on me in every way. I provided the food, the exercise, the water, the shelter. Unlike a child who grows up and moves on, she would always need me.
The way she looked at me, every moment of everyday, said, “You are my everything.”
I was acutely aware of this.
Rain, hail or shine, we joyfully exercised twice a day, no matter how busy or tired I was. Back when I was doing triathlons, when I had an early race day, I walked her at 3:00am. How could I forsake her exercise just because I was busy getting my own? If I worked an unusually long day at the office, we were out the door for a walk at midnight.
It was hard at times, but it was never a chore. I did it because I loved her.
I know, guys don’t often talk about the ‘love’ they have for dogs. It’s more of a mateship thing. Best friends. Buddies.
The reality is, she was my four-legged best friend, and I loved her. The two went hand in paw.
The dog I always dreamed of having was a ‘gentle athlete’, and that’s exactly the dog I got in Sammy, or moulded – or both.
Our greatest connection was through exercise and play.
When we ran through bushland trails, it’s like we were one. When we played ball games, we were synchronised like timepieces. When we sprinted along the beach, we were as intertwined as the salt and the sea.
Every day was an adventure, even if was just around the block.
Day in, day out, we were the best of buddies. That was one of my nicknames for her, “Little Buddy.”
But as they say, all good things must come to an end.
Our life soon became a series of vet trips, surgeries and medications.
The trail runs stopped.
The beach trips washed away.
Adventures were confined to the backyard.
And, when the time came where she couldn’t even hobble outside to pee, I became her legs.
Carrying her wasn’t hard, it was the pain of seeing her deteriorate that weighed heaviest. Eventually outweighed by the pain of deciding to end her suffering.
She made me stronger
The day we drove Sammy to the vet for the last time, I saw her in the rear vision mirror, as I always did, particularly those long, pointy ears.
And I was reminded that I would never see those ears in the mirror again.
Never drive with her again.
Never go on adventures.
Never run beside her.
Never throw balls for her.
Never have her watch TV with us.
And I cried. I know, men don’t like admitting to crying. That’s a shame. No matter the gender, I don’t believe crying should ever be suppressed. There is courage in showing emotions, and suffering in denying them. The way I see it, along the path of grief, every tear is a slippery step toward healing.
I shed many tears in the days and weeks after Sammy was euthanised. I’d never felt a pain so intense, so persistent, so aching.
Yet, through that pain emerged a new strength.
And eventually, the mourning turned into memories. The tears were less, the reminiscing more.
I wear her ashes around my neck 24/7, a constant reminder of a friendship that can never die.
My dog has helped me save lives
The point I’m about to make is part of my personal journey. My intention is not to preach or judge. I have a big belief in “each to their own.” Please, do what you want to do. Eat what you want.
With that clarified, the love I had for Sammy eventually transferred to a love for all animals, including the nameless, faceless ones heading toward my plate.
The stories and education that led toward my partner and I becoming vegan in 2015 is a long one, but in a nutshell, the tipping point for me was my dog.
I asked myself this question, “How can I love one animal, and eat or kill another?”
If I couldn’t picture Sammy in any of the animal agriculture scenarios I’d educated myself about (including the dairy and eggs industries which also involve animals being tortured and killed), I wanted to minimise my part in them altogether. I say “minimise” because there’s always some way that I could be contributing. My goal is not perfection, which is unattainable, it’s to minimise the suffering of animals, as much as possible.
As a result of my plant-based diet, I’ve helped save approximately 100 animals per year from a cruel existence and painful death, 500 over the past five years. But you know what, even if I’ve saved only one life, that’s an exceptional year.
We went vegan when Sammy was alive, but it was after she died that I started volunteering with dog rescue organisations.
I wasn’t ready for another dog for about a year, so instead I volunteered with rescue groups, giving the dogs lots of exercise and time outside their kennels.
We got a rescue dog of our own in 2019, but to this day, I still volunteer as much as I can. My favourite activity is taking dogs with challenging behaviours to various environments to help them adjust to new people, places and experiences. As part of a team effort, this strategy has definitely helped a number of dogs get adopted, which makes me forever happy.
I like to think Sammy is with me in spirit as I help other dogs.
Sammy changed my life
As you can see, Sammy changed my life in so many ways. She helped me discover more about myself, and other animals too. She was not self-centred, and she helped me look outside myself more and more. She made me a better person.
She was my best friend. She lives on, not just in my memories, but in all the dogs who find forever homes, and all the pigs, cows, chickens and other agricultural animals who are spared a miserable life and a horrible death.
It’s amazing what a difference one dog can make!
If you have a dog, give them a pat for me. No doubt they’re the best dog the world!
Bastiaan de Leeuw is an avid dog lover who volunteers at various dog rescue groups in Sydney, Australia. A self-professed foodie, he has a passion for fitness, plant-based meals and living a simple life. You can follow him on Instagram @busy_active_vegan