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The worst breakup of my life was devastating for me not because of the feelings of personal loss over the relationship with the man I was with, but because of the sheer heartache I felt in having to separate my Pugs Willy and Bruce.
The Pugs are yin and yang, polar opposites in personality and looks but connected at a deep level since puppyhood. They share a relationship I can describe only as being the best of friends. I was so upset at the prospect of separating the two that I considered staying in the relationship “for the sake of the kids.” But alas, knowing the separation was inevitable, I faced the reality that I would take one of the Pugs while my former partner took the other. The day we parted caused unbearable grief. Through nearly uncontrollable sobs, I clung to Willy, who had taken me on years before as his human companion of choice. I couldn’t explain to him what was happening or why in a way that he understood.
I know from my years of experience as a dog trainer and from working in the veterinary setting with my veterinarian father that change and loss can be triggers for behavior problems, in particular anxiety- and stress-induced issues. Dogs both perceive and emotionally react to change and loss, as can be evidenced by increased depression- or anxiety-based behaviors. Each of the Pugs displayed their stress in manners that were distinct from their norms, with Willy becoming sullen and withdrawn and Bruce being overly anxious and unable to settle when I visited him. The few months apart were difficult for both dogs, and even though other canine friendships were struck, no other dogs seemed to fill the void.
Much to my relief, my previous partner noticed the stress in Bruce, and in an act I’m forever thankful for, agreed to give him to me. The reunion was one of monumental proportions, with both dogs’ entire bodies wagging in joy and tongues licking one another in exuberant greeting. They bounded into the backyard with triumphant leaps and what looked like a dance of joy.
Since being reunited, the Pugs have not left one another’s sides and take on life as if it’s a team effort. At the doggie day care, the Pugs are staff favorites simply because the folks there have never seen two dogs so close. Willy and Bruce are constantly touching, squishing into only one-eighth of a giant bed so they can be cuddled together rather than spaced apart. All the details of life seem best if done together for them; sniffing, exploring, playing and grooming are done in sync. Though Bruce is the athletic meathead who has more brawn than brain, choosing to act first and think later, and Willy is the brainy Einstein dog who puts many Border Collies to shame with his ability to think, they join their personalities to form a "collective dog" with the best of both their qualities.
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