Brenda Cunningham-Lewis July 08, 2012
Yo-Yo ... won everyone's heart.
Rudyard Kipling was clearly a man fascinated by the relationship between man and dog. He wrote one of the classic children's stories, Jungle Book, about a boy raised by wolves, and celebrated the agony and ecstasy of the intense relationship between man and his best mate in his poem The Power of the Dog:
''Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie -
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.''
And so it has been for us. Nine years ago, a little black-and-white border collie pup stole our hearts. A ball of fluff, a tearaway, the last of the litter. He wasn't the runt, he was the biggest and his paws told the story - he would be a big boy and he would need a lot of running.
It was love at first sight. Our six-year-old son named him Yo-Yo and it proved fitting. He liked to come and go. But he also won everyone's heart.
Lately, Yo-Yo's been getting slower, the vet has mentioned something about a heart problem, and he occasionally has a limp after a full day of walking, swimming, chasing the kids at table tennis.
We whisper quietly: ''What if? What would we do? How would we all cope without Yo-Yo?''
The truth is, we wouldn't.
A few years ago when some friends bought a second dog, while their 10-year-old-plus terrier, Whisky, was still alive, I thought they were nuts. Two dogs at once? A crusty tired one and a crazy pup? Really?
They'd happened over the new pup and fallen in love, but in their heart of hearts they admitted it would also make the loss of Whisky (especially for their two primary school-aged boys) easier to bear.
Whisky tolerated the new pal - even seemed to liven up a little around the excitable Labrador. And it did make their boys' beloved first dog's death more bearable when it inevitably happened not long after.
It seems almost sacrilege to think of it, and I wouldn't dream of saying it out loud, but the thought of losing Yo-Yo, particularly during our kids' senior school years, is too horrible to contemplate.
He is the soccer mascot, chief bird chaser, chief rabbit chaser and such an important part of this family's life, I'm worried even grandpa might need therapy.
So, should a family get a second dog before the one they already have dies?
When it comes to pets, we are all about emotion, but given the importance their role has to a family, should we think about it more like a business?
Get a back-up, if you like?
Succession planning is a process, according to Wikipedia, ''for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key business leadership positions in the company''. Succession planning ''increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available''.
Did we need an understudy to the lead role? And could one ever replace him anyway?
Blue Mountains vet Steve Gibson says succession planning is something he deals with ''all the time'', and there are pros and cons to bringing in a new dog before an old dog dies.
''Every case is different, every individual is different,'' he says.
''It can give an older dog another year of happiness, but if they are sore and grumpy … that animal may need to stay top dog.
''It is almost like you have got to know your pet, you've got to be in tune with your pet's wishes.''
Gibson says increasingly his staff are faced with the challenges of managing clients' emotional connection with their dogs and cats in that transition period.
And clients often ask if they can keep an animal alive in order to survive significant family events, like the HSC.
But he also believes that children can learn important life lessons through the death of a beloved companion animal.
''Pets play an important role in us being able to understand that we need to learn to let go, the bond is so strong - with younger children, bringing in a new pet can be a decision a mum or dad can make for the family, but a 15-year-old can handle it being discussed around the family table and work out what is best,'' he says.
For now, I'm avoiding places where I might run into that back-up dog and starting to talk to the kids about the what-ifs.
Not ruling anything out, or in, and hoping for as many more magic days with our loyal, courageous, devoted, sooky, special best mate as we have left.
Because Kipling put it best when he wrote:
''When the 14 years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find - it's your own affair -
But … you've given your heart to a dog to tear.''