“And when your sorrow is comforted, you will be content that you have known me... You will always be my friend. You will remember how much you loved to laugh with me.” 

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 

  

I would like to dedicate today's article to my dog Balou, who passed away exactly 3 years ago, on 06 May 2018. 

Balou was a very special dog to me, actually he was so much more than a dog: He was my mentor, my companion, my little better half for 10 years. They say sometimes in life there is that one special dog that’s exceptionally close to your heart. In my case, I'm pretty sure that was him.  

 

I had just turned 18 and was still living with my parents when I got Balou. 

 

It was a spontaneous decision, which is not really my style. After all, getting a dog needs to be well thought through. In Balou's case it wasn't, but I haven't regretted it for a single day. Perhaps it should be mentioned that we already had Inka at that time, a female dog. So, we knew at least roughly what we were getting ourselves into. 

Balou moved in and felt at home from day one. Inka whined a lot during her first days (especially at night), and I heard that dogs needed some time to adjust to their new homes. But this little one, which was the size of my hand, was already lying in the middle of the terrace after a few hours, deeply at ease, and observing his new home. This ability to be profoundly relaxed in every new situation was one of Balou's special qualities. He simply did not let himself get upset about anything, enjoyed every moment and he had this unaffected, completely authentic joy of life, which used to even enchant people who pretended to be scared of dogs. So, his name was his programme, he just relaxed and forgot about his worries, if he had any.  

When I moved into my first own flat at 21, Balou was by my side. He accompanied me through my university years, and I took him with me everywhere. Although dogs were officially forbidden in the lecture hall, no one noticed my little quiet Bolonka Zwetna under my wooden desk. A lot of the time I also took him to my part-time job. I was employed by a small market research company and worked on data entry and statistical analyses. While I earned our daily bread or dog food, Balou let my colleagues spoil him and enjoyed walks in the beautiful Düsseldorf Hofgarten at lunchtime.  

 

When I started my doctorate after graduation, Balou was allowed to come to work with me, as a one-off only, as my professor pointed out. Soon the whole department was at his feet and everyone loved him. He was not only very relaxed but also very independent. Instead of being clingy, he went autonomously from office to office and visited Ph.D. students and undergraduates at their workplaces. He was a welcomed guest and also earned some edibles here and there.  

  

It is important to note that over the years Balou had developed a very unusual begging behaviour. Probably because I was not a fan of "normal" begging, i.e., staring with big eyes, moving closer and closer, scratching with his paw, etc. and therefore I did not encourage it. So, at some point he figured out to lie down on his back, stretch out all four legs and stay like that. I liked that very much and rewarded this, in my opinion, funny behaviour. In the end, Balou could lie on his back in the middle of the room for almost an entire meal.  

 

I also loved taking Balou on leisure activities with my friends. Since he was able to relax and sleep anywhere, this was no problem for him. He sat in cafés, slept on park benches, rode the underground, and offered mental support on shopping trips. Admittedly, he was not very fond of shopping. Browsing through one clothes aisle after the other was simply too exhausting for him. I therefore left him at a place that was quiet and less frequented in the store and would pick him up after I had finished shopping (of course he’d lay in a spot where I could see him).  

 

Once I moved to Austria during my doctorate, Balou also didn’t leave my side. We lived in a shared flat with a friend and her dog. Balou liked both of them very much and enjoyed the big backyard we had at the time. Of course, he came along to the office here as well. I still remember the sound of his little paws when they walked over the old parquet floor of the office building. When I did my behavioural tests with the wolves (this was the reason we had moved to Austria), he would sit patiently under my desk and hold the fort until I returned for my data analysis.  

 

When I met my current partner, him and Balou instantly became friends. Even though Anthony stressed several times that he was not a dog person, it wasn't long before he personally invited the charismatic little dog into his bed. I still have photos on my computer to prove it. Nobody could resist Balou's charm. 

 

Unfortunately, the day arrived to say goodbye. This day always comes too soon, but in Balou's case it really came too soon, as he died after a short illness at the age of 10 (which is not very old for small dog breeds). The last days and weeks were a very difficult time for all of us. Balou was deteriorating and no vet could save him. He was admitted to the veterinary hospital as an in-patient, was given infusions, and was properly diagnosed, but without any success.  

 

I visited him every day during these weeks and even though he was already very weak, he wagged his tail a little every time he recognised me. As he could only walk a few meters, we usually sat down together on a bench in front of the clinic building, listened to the birds, and enjoyed the sun rays. Although these short moments together were infinitely precious to me, it broke my heart to see my beloved dog suffer in this condition. However, for his sake, I saved my emotional outbursts for later. The time we spent together was too precious for that.  

 

After Balou's death, grief took over for a long time. For people who are not dog people it is difficult to understand what it means when your own dog passes away. For me, it was as if a person close to me had died. I missed him very much and felt incomplete and alone.  

 

But after three years I can say from experience that grief fades more and more over time (of course there are good and bad days). What remains are the many wonderful memories, the warm feeling when you think back to your beloved dog, and the gratitude that you were allowed to have this dog by your side. Balou accompanied me into independence and adulthood.  

 

In saying that, I also try to take an example from him beyond his death. When I am stressed, I think of his relaxed nature and try to do the same. When something doesn't suit me and I have strict ideas on how things should go, I think of Balou and his "leash indifference", as I called it. Because Balou was happy either way, when he was on the leash or off the leash. This attitude is simply admirable, so I try to be happy about what is, to be completely present, and to let go of expectations and fears to a certain extent. I'm not nearly as good as Balou was, but practice makes perfect, as we all know.  

 

I am infinitely grateful to this little dog for the years we spent together. He helped me to become what I am today, and so a part of him is still here with me.  

 

Finally, a small appeal to the people who don't want a dog (anymore) because they are afraid of the day he or she will die. Be brave and accept it! Death is part of life; everything is transitory at the end of the day and it is up to us how we want to spend the time that’s given to us. Do we hide away because of the fear of being hurt, or do we want to be open to wonderful connections that make our lives so much richer?