This is the first time in 30 years that I’ve had no animal friends in my home.

I left Sydney for Newcastle 15 months ago, with my 3 companions packed into the car – 19 year old Danny, 11 year old Cody and 20 year old Gracie, all rescues, all best friends.

Danny, a black spoodle, I first noticed about 18 years ago, in a lonely backyard, a young pup who had been a Christmas present, now neglected and unwanted, sadly sticking his nose through the fence every time he saw me walking my dogs. It was heartbreaking. After a great deal of effort I persuaded the owner to surrender him. Danny went to live with my Mum, he had a wonderful spoilt life with her for 13 years until she passed, then with me up until one month ago… just short of 20 years. He was always sweet natured, fast, athletic, amorous and very talkative.

Cody, a red toy poodle, I met when he was 11months old, recovering in intensive care from a broken neck, an accident (?), or cruelty, from the original owners. He was propped up, immobile after surgery, looking so surprised… a few days before he had been running around the park playing and barking. Cody improved over the next 2 years but he never walked again. He has been very loved and loving, cared for, well travelled, and an ambassador for disabled dogs.

In 10 years there has been only a few comments of ‘why don’t you just put him to sleep’. Mostly people are inspired, often moved to tears. A friend owns a rehab centre for disabled children, Cody used to go there and brighten their day. One 16 year old in particular used to ask for Cody when she was there, waiting for her little brother to have his treatment. Holding Cody helped her relax, and Cody was happily the centre of attention.

When I first met Gracie she was one year old, in a cage, and needing her 3rd home. All her kittens were adopted out, but nobody wanted a one year old cat. I was mourning the loss of Mandrake, my big black ex alley cat who had just died from kidney failure. I wanted a replica, not a petite female tortoiseshell, who looked very disinterested in life, but the vet nurse assured me she’d be alright, was just depressed, and would make a wonderful companion. Such true words… almost 20 years of cuddles, soft paws and affection. And such a pretty girl.

So, how did we all part?

Gracie, almost 20, peeing everywhere, sleeping 23 hours a day, suddenly started to have laboured breathing, so, off to the emergency vet at 11 pm. She was in cardiac distress and her leaving was very quick, heartbreaking but, in a sense, easy, because there was no choice but to ease her struggle to breathe.

Cody and Danny were a different story. Both were deteriorating over the last 6 months of their lives. I kept calling the vet for home euthanasia, and cancelling, 4 or 5 times, thinking each particular morning ‘this can’t be your last day on earth”.

I had found a very compassionate vet, ‘it has to be the right time for all of you, just call and i’ll be there to help the boys on their way.’ I did frequently ask them to just go to sleep and not wake up, if they were ready to go, but it was not going to be that easy.

The day came, I had been saying goodbye to them for days, they had their favourite BBQ chicken for lunch, we sat quietly all afternoon on the verandah, flowers and candles, waiting for the vet. It was surreal, unreal, the feeling was on a par with pre exam jitters, the moments before going into an operating theatre, extreme butterflies in the stomach for all sorts of reasons… and yet oddly calm. They both passed, together, very quickly and gently, with lots of love and gentleness.

There is no easy way to say goodbye to beloved friends. For me it was a few months of indecision around not wanting to end their lives before they were ready, and yet knowing when it was time to free them of their tired bodies. I know it was the right thing to do, the right time, and I am happy to think they’re off running free somewhere, but their absence will hurt for quite a while.

We humans can be selfish: it should be enough to celebrate their very long, happy, healthy lives, without wishing they could come back and we could have just a bit more time.