The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

September 2020: Elsa’s Legacy

Posted on Sep 10, 2020

September 2020: Elsa’s Legacy

Last month, I received the news that my former canine therapy assistant, Elsa, died of intestinal cancer. This was a hard blow for a number of reasons. One is that I had been thinking of her as she reached her tenth birthday—the senior years in a dog’s short life—wondering if she was showing her age yet, that sort of thing. Another is that I learned of her death via indirect channels—which triggered dormant “divorce trauma.” Third is the bond she and I had. I have missed that girl greatly. She was not only my office assistant, but also my “therapist with four legs and fur.”

I’ve blogged about her in the past.

Mostly dealing with anxiety—hers and mine. We taught each other a lot. And she proved to be incredibly empathetic. A natural therapy assistant—instinctively knowing what each client needed—snuggle, kiss, curl up at their feet, keep a safe distance or a watchful eye. She knew the art of “just being” in the moment and of “just being there” for someone.

It’s also a strange experience grieving the death of a pet that you already lost in a divorce. I had not seen Elsa for 3 years; yet the news of her death hit hard. I think it was the finality of never seeing her again. There must have been a part of me that held out hope for one more visit. A strange silver lining to this finality is that it also slams shut the door on my marriage. I was about to write “failed” marriage; but to me that is inaccurate. While the marriage did not last until “death do us part,” I do not perceive it as a failure. It is by far more a success story that I kept working at it for 20 years.

I see it along the lines of a completed marriage. It served its purpose. Its time had come. If I were to remain, it would have continued to steal my soul until I was an empty shell, going through the motions. Elsa played a significant role in those last 5 years. I think she preserved my life, protecting me from the complete loss of my Self. Her behaviour issues demanded I stay in the present and face my own. This is not to diminish the role played by many concerned friends who witnessed my demise long before it surfaced in my consciousness. However, the “daily-ness” of dealing with Elsa held me accountable—I could not bury my head in the sand.

My first attempts at leaving the marriage all centered around Elsa. I hoped to stay nearby to have “shared custody” as she was such a significant part of my life and profession. However, in the end, I had to sacrifice that bond for my Being. She could not be the defining factor in my preparations. It also meant living with unknowns. I had no idea how my ex-husband would cope with her behaviour issues on a daily basis. In my heart-of-hearts, I assumed he would give up and ask that I take her. This was not the case. Somehow he learned to manage; and she, by all accounts, continued to thrive.

As have I.

It has been a gong-show year for most of us. Yet we all hang in there somehow. I have come a long way in the last 3 years—even if my life appears in disarray at the moment with numerous projects on hold: partially painted bathroom, tarp on my roof for winter, broken tooth, paused fence construction, persnickety stove, and the latest—snow blower in need of repair before winter.

But if life with Elsa taught me anything, it was to live in the moment, always be curious, cherish the ones you love, be there for others, and deal with it when “life happens”—even if you’re learning new ways of doing that. And never take for granted the kind souls you meet along the way who make the journey worthwhile.


  1. Love this one! I am still learning to live in the moment, hard for a task oriented person.

  2. Oh, Barb, I’m so sorry for this loss as you know. When I had to leave my dog, I would google to see if there was a right answer or perspective that could guide me in the decision. There was nothing … I suppose not many have the courage to write on the topic. I am also a few years post divorce, missing my dog like the hardest decision I ever had to make. It would have been selfish to uproot her and drag her through my transient life; certainly she never would have thanked me for Manitoba winters. I wish I could reunite in our lifetimes, but for what? For me? My heart? My sense of closure? I have thought such a reunion, without ongoing connection, would be bewildering to a dog. Unkind to mine. Sometimes the kindest decisions we can make are not in our self interest.

    May Elsa be close to now across the rainbow bridge <3

  3. Such a lovely tribute to your faithful Elsa. And to the reality of hope that persists as we do likewise.I will be making a contribution to the “tooth” fund next week.
    Hugs to you in the incomplete completeness of each day. Darlene

  4. Sending you big hugs Barb <3

  5. Big hugs… ✨💝✨

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