“I’m afraid it’s time sweetie. Posie can no longer keep food down and she is starting to suffer.” – Bob Gardiner to his wife, Alexis

Anyone who has had to say goodbye to a cherished pet will know the sadness that comes from making that final decision. Our Posie, a terrier cross that my wife and I rescued when she was 12, was now 17 and in distress. She had been our family member for five years, joining us as we crossed the country in our motorhome and travelled to Yukon. She was missed immediately.

That was September. By December we were ready to adopt another canine family member. In our 20 years together, Alexis and I had always had a rescue dog. Not having a companion left an empty space in our lives. Serendipitously, at that time we heard about a rescue farm called Ageless Acres in rural Saskatchewan. Jill and Lane Erickson, the owners, make it their life’s passion to rescue dogs and cats in unhealthy situations. We discovered they had several dogs ready to be adopted into new forever homes. We were interviewed to ensure we had a positive home. We met three possible adoptees to see if there was chemistry to bond us all.

In December, Princess came into our lives. She is a catahoula cross, a real cattle working dog according to our rancher friends and neighbors. She is a snuggler who enjoys cuddling on the couch or shuffling beside us in bed. Within days she was a permanent and joyful member of the family. She also established herself as our protector, with a big woof that hid her waggy, loving nature.

The timing was fateful. In April, Alexis, my loving partner and soulmate, was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. She had survived almost six years from her first bout of breast cancer, but the treatments had not killed all the cancer cells and they had now spread through many organs. The prognosis was poor and it was deemed terminal. It was at this time that the family came together, including Princess, who seemed to sense something critical was happening. She cuddled more with Alexis. She also travelled with us to appointments for tests, treatments and diagnosis.

As the disease developed faster than anticipated, we three became closer as a family. When Alexis needed to enter hospital and then hospice, Princess was an important part of her comfort. She was allowed into both the hospital and hospice for visits. In fact, we were encouraged to bring her with us. The caregivers knew and recommended the benefits of Princess’s support and affection. When she entered Alexis’s room she would immediately go to Alexis and comfort her with kisses. She even tried to get into her bed. As the end approached, we spent several nights in the hospice room, with Princess curled up at the side of the bed. Sadly, on November 1, Alexis passed. I don’t need to describe the pain and sadness of such a loss for me and the family.

Princess and I spent several days with family before returning to our home in rural Saskatchewan. The home felt empty and sad, but I did not feel as lonely as I might have because I had Princess to share the situation. Princess seemed to cuddle closer to me at bedtime. She also gave me an important task—to keep us both healthy with good food and exercise.

So what did I learn and what can I advise based on my experience? Through our time together, Alexis and I always shared our life with a canine companion who came from a rescue situation. The love of our canine pals enhanced our life and provided important support in tough times. As seniors, in particular, consider adopting a rescue dog and bring them into your forever home. The joyful opportunities just might show up at the most important times in your life. It’s amazing how much love you will find to share and how much love and companionship you will receive in return.

It’s now been nearly six months since Alexis passed. Princess and I have eased into a new routine and are finding ways to carry on. We have discovered that we have lots of room in our home and our hearts to share with another companion. So we went back to Ageless Acres to talk to Jill and Lane. One of their adoptees was Katie, a 12-year-old black collie cross who had found it difficult to find a forever home for her last years. With a wag of her tail, Princess said she liked Katie. I felt she was another gentle soul. So our family now has three members—Bob, Princess and Katie. Princess still bosses me around and is for sure the alpha member, and both dogs give me unconditional PAWsitive support.