Female Doberman wearing a pink bandana looks into camera.

Finding Peace After Losing A Dog: Remembering Willow One Year After Her Journey Over The Rainbow Bridge

Willow Came To Me Soon After Losing My Dog, Apollo.

After the heartbreaking loss of my first Doberman, Apollo, I thought I would need time before bringing another dog into my life. As it turns out, the universe had other plans. Willow, named after the willow tree for her beauty and inner strength, came to me much sooner than I anticipated. 

I found Willow through a Facebook group for rehoming pets. She was being offered for free by a very frustrated woman who had taken her in out of kindness but who couldn’t manage her needs. As a dog scarred by her dubious history (there is a story there, but I don’t have many details) Willow needed more than kindness. She needed someone who could help her heal. 

The ad didn’t have any replies and even though it was more than a couple of weeks old, once I saw Willow – even though I swore to myself I wasn’t going to rush into getting another dog – I had to reply. After a little back and forth, I took the hour drive to go meet her in person.

Meeting Willow The Doberman.

As soon as Merlin and I got out of the car, Willow was right there. She was quick to put him in his place. This was HER territory, and he wasn’t welcome! I stepped in between them and since she wanted nothing to do with me – and Merlin wouldn’t dare approach her again – she moved on. (This was to be the only altercation they had, she and Merlin would come to be the best of friends from then on.)

She barely looked at me, but I was watching her closely. 

Willow moved a LOT. She was very anxious (more than most Dobermans) and would duck away whenever someone would approach her. Her perpetual movement would be something she never got over; she was constantly on the go! It’s part of what made her such a good service dog to me.

It took me the better part of an hour to gain her trust (liver bites helped!). Finally, she allowed me to put a leash on her and walk her around the property. Once I was able to do that, the connection was instant. 

Before losing my dog willow, she and my dog Merlin were good friends.

Everything Happens For A Reason – Even Losing A Dog.

To this day, and despite it being one of the hardest experiences of my life, I feel as though losing my dog, Apollo happened for a reason.  Willow needed me; she needed me more than he did. Though Apollo’s life was short (he passed because of genetic issues specific to Dobermans) it was good and full of love. Had he still been alive, there was no chance I would have found Willow, much less been able to take her in. 

Willow Needed Me And I Needed Her.

I soon discovered that Willow wasn’t keen on having a lot of dog friends, although she was able to enjoy the company of a few of my friends’ dogs. She was initially terrified of any loud noises, especially thunder. Being in the hub of the activity of Downtown Peterborough put her on edge at first, too. Above all, men were a thing to be avoided at all costs! 

In time, we built trust and confidence. Willow overcame most of her fears. Men were not threatening to her anymore and thunder was more of an interruption than the end of the world. She really enjoyed going with me everywhere, and loved our downtown walks and leading the Sunday Pack Walks with me. 

I take in many foster dogs for rescues all over Ontario, and Willow always ignored them for the most part. Bum sniffing was an activity she was fine with doing but never allowed other dogs to do (except Merlin). I ache at the thought of why that would have been such an issue for her. She had obviously had several litters of puppies and was carrying a litter when she was surrendered at the shelter. She did love Dante though! To Willow, he could do no wrong.

Willow helped me give Dante the greatest start possible. Her love for him was instant. He was the only puppy she had ever loved – and played with – daily.

Willow’s Time With Me Was Short But Impactful.

I can only guess as to her beginning in life, but I know I gave Willow the best golden years I could.  The year before she passed, I started noticing odd aggressive behaviour. She had always been reserved with people she didn’t know, but she would never run up to them barking. The first it happened she barked at the mailman. Then at a woman who was simply walking by while she was off-leash. I knew Willow wouldn’t hurt them, but I also know that this behaviour wasn’t who she was. When I talked to the vet about it, she said it was likely “Canine Cognitive Dysfunction,” similar to dementia in humans.

It made sense. My Oma has Alzheimer’s and Willow was showing similar signs.

 So, I kept Willow on a leash and watched closely for indications that she was getting worse. When she started becoming more confused – stopping in the middle of the living room, hearing noises that weren’t there and eventually becoming less tolerant of Dante, I knew it was time.

Female Doberman in a pink dog vest sitting in grass looking at camera.

Preparing To Say Goodbye To Willow Was Heartbreaking.

I made the dreaded appointment and mourned her every day leading up to it. It became more and more difficult as each day passed. I would spend whole days just sitting with her, tears rolling down my face. I struggled with the thought of cancelling on the days she was just like her old self, only to feel overwhelming grief when the disease took hold again. It was wicked. Willow appeared very healthy but inwardly, mentally, she was breaking down. 

The exact opposite of the Willow Tree I saw when I went to meet her for the first time. 

I grieved more for her loss before her passing than after; very much the same as the relatives of human sufferers. This was, in large part, thanks to Willow herself.

Finding Peace After Losing My Dog, Willow.

That night after I took her to the vet for the final goodbye, I decided to take Dante for a walk – something I hadn’t done in a while. About halfway through the walk, it started to snow. 

Snow. In the middle of April. 

It was so strange and unexpected! The lightest, featheriest, WILLOWY snow fell and I was instantly filled with peace. My feelings of guilt were gone. “That’s Willow!” I said out loud, referring to the snow. 

She had let me know she was whole again and that she loved me. I no longer had the same soul-wrenching grief and I mourned her loss so much less after that night. There was no need. I knew she was at peace over the rainbow bridge and that I would see her again. And, after all, Apollo needed someone to straighten him out!

Rainbow across a blue sky symbolizing the Rainbow Bridge pets cross when they pass on.

Remembering Willow One Year After Sending Her Over The Rainbow Bridge.

Willow was not the name my beautiful female Doberman came with. It wasn’t even the name she was born with. When my friend Angie (who was generous enough to take me to meet Willow) asked what her name was, I came up short. I had neglected to ask her keeper for her name! I came to know later that she had several names through her short life, but as I got to know her I knew who she was.

She was a Willow Tree.

Soft and wispy on the outside, but with an incredible amount of inner strength, willow trees are tenacious and resilient enough to grow along water’s edge where others fail to thrive. It is incredible and deceiving. 

That was who Willow, the Doberman, truly was. Fierce and loyal on the inside but so soft and delicate on the outside that it appeared as though she would buckle under the weight of her own fears, and she had many of those. Willow was a wonderful dog. We healed each other and loved each other. For that, I will always be grateful. 

In loving memory of Willow, the Doberman.

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