On Losing Layla

“She was gone, and all that was left was the space you’d grown around her, like a tree that grows around a fence. For a long time, it remained hollow.” – Nicole Krauss

ARCHX Layla, BA with honors, Birch ORT, CGC, RL1X2, RL2X, RL3, RLV
October 2005-November 27th, 2015


On Thanksgiving morning of 2015, Layla was naughty. She had been eyeing the beef bone in the puppy’s crate for days, and when his crate door was left open she seized the opportunity. She stole the bone and spent a couple of hours chewing on it contentedly. That afternoon, we noticed that she was a bit lethargic. She didn’t want to go on a walk. Then she started refusing food, something she’d never done before. She didn’t even want her favorite treats, cheese or peanut butter. She collapsed, and we rushed her to the vet. She fought so very hard under the care of a skilled veterinary team, but the hemangiosarcoma that had been silently setting up shop in her body was too much. She died shortly after midnight on November 27th, lying in my arms as I told her everything I had the words to say.

It’s taken me awhile to write this post, as I don’t really have the words to tell Layla’s story. She was my once-in-a-lifetime dog, and the time I had with her has forever changed everything for me, both personally and professionally. In her book “Heart Dog,” Roxanne Hawn describes the special bond that some people and dogs can form as “pathological attachment,” and I think there’s no better description. There was always that little nugget of not-quite-healthy to the relationship that Layla and I had with one another, a codependency that was mutual and deep. I have never been looked at by another living being the way I was looked at by Layla, and while she accepted a handful of “her” people into her life, the truth was that she always wanted to be with me more than anything else. I have cried every day since her loss, and I accept that this level of sadness is a healthy response to such a sudden and devastating change in my life.

Rather than focusing on Layla’s death, I try to focus on her life. Through my stories about living with her, she helped so many students and readers enjoy better lives with their dogs. She’ll continue to do so.

Layla and I had a special ritual every night, after everyone else in our house had gone to bed. She had some muscular issues that made her sore, so I would meet her in the kitchen and pull two or three bags of dog treats out of the cupboard. She would choose which treats she wanted that night, then we’d go into the living room with a handful of treats to do her physical therapy exercises and stretches. After her stretches and snack, she’d snuggle on my lap, her head in the crook between my neck and shoulder. I’d bury my face in her sweet neck. Our breathing would gradually come in sync. She’d sigh deeply (and often fall asleep), and I’d hold her. We’d sit like that for five or ten minutes, just Being together. I’d tell her I loved her, every single night, before we both went to bed.

Good night, sweet Layla. I love and love you.

25 responses to “On Losing Layla

  1. This was a beautiful,but sad story I am so sorry for your loss.I miss every dog I have ever had but there’s the one dog that’s loves you more than anything in the world in my case there was 2 Bocephus a boxer & Roxanne my Bull terrier. I have loved all my dogs but these 2 loved me more than anything.

  2. Thank you for sharing. How very sad for you; how sad for those who have never known such love.

  3. Thanks Sara. I’m so glad you two shared a love and relationship that had to produce this level of loss and sorrow. May each day allow your feelings to morph from sorrow to life-long joy for having spent your time together.

    • What I mean is that only if you loved each other the way you did would your loss and grief be so profound. So I’m so, so glad you knew that love! (Made sense in my head … )

  4. Sorry to hear Layla has crossed over the bridge. You and Layla had such a warm, deep, beautiful bond and that love will always be in your heart. It will take time to stop crying each time you think of her, but I wish for you that your tears also bring many good memories and love you shared. Layla had a wonderful life with you and could never had found a more loving home.

  5. Sara, You are a special person, for Layla to have cared for you, as much as you cared for her. I am glad you had your Layla, and she had you. Eventually you will feel better.Thank you for sharing.

  6. Everyone should have such a sweet experience of love. total devotion and loyalty that knows no end. What you shared with each other is yours alone but sharing it allows you to caress those beautiful memories again and gives others the hope that one day they may too, have a Layla in their lives. Thank you.

  7. Sara very sorry for this great loss of such a devoted friend. The every day will not be the same with out her. I have experienced this too many times but each dog still is a big part of who I am.

  8. Our dogs are more than pets – they are such an integral part of our lives – I know my three dogs are that important to me. If you’ve never read this book, you should…”One Good Dog” by Susan Wilson. I know it’s fiction, but the story is one I’ve heard over and over again – horrible people that use pit bulls for fighting and tape the mouths of dogs that can’t fight so that they are bait dogs. The story is a good/sad/happy one – when I finished it, I gathered all three of my dogs and kept hugging and petting them – they didn’t object.

  9. I am sorry for your loss. I have lost 2 cattle dogs to hemangiosarcoma, one at 8 and one at 6, and it is such a tough loss. You have no time I adjust or say a proper goodby. So very very sorry.

    Sent from my iPhone


  10. Sara, what a beautiful to your sweet girl and what you shared. Thank you.
    Lynn (Nikko)

  11. I am so very sorry, Sara, for your loss, and the deep emptiness that Layla has left you. I’m also happy that you have been privileged to have known such a deep bond. May your memories of your special girl sustain you forever. Your love, your story and your pain will be in my thoughts.

  12. I am so sorry…. On Jan 18, 2016 6:02 AM, “Paws Abilities” wrote:

    > Paws Abilities Dog Training posted: ““She was gone, and all that was left > was the space you’d grown around her, like a tree that grows around a > fence. For a long time, it remained hollow.” – Nicole Krauss ARCHX Layla, > BA with honors, Birch ORT, CGC, RL1X2, RL2X, RL3, RLV October 2005-Novemb” >

  13. I am so sorry for your loss. I hope that time will ease your pain.

  14. Sara I am sorry for your loss. And yes,that deep bond is beyond words. Layla will love you forever ..

  15. I’m so sorry for your loss…… I understand…..
    I lost my girl just shy of 3.5 yrs ago. My life changed forever the day I brought her home…….
    And then again when she went on ahead without me.
    Everyday I’m still adjusting to my new normal.
    Be kind to yourself, be gentle …… Allow yourself the time you need to feel, to grieve, to move through the pain and loss….. To find your new normal. 💜

  16. I’m so sorry. My heart goes out to you. That refusal of food. Oh. It gets me today and I watch closely any of my pets who refuse. Hugs to you, and know with confidence Layla will live forever in your heart.

  17. NGPC Newsletter

    I’m so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute to some very special years with an exceptional dog. Thank you for sharing..

  18. My wife and I lost our beautiful once-in-a-lifetime companion Phoebe just 5 weeks ago. She gave the purest form of unconditional love only dogs who live in the present can. Her soulful gaze captured our hearts, a truly spiritual “I-Thou” encounter that transformed our lives forever.

    We have followed your posts involving Layla for some time, as our Phoebe appeared quite similar. Words can not adequately describe her essence, but some key attributes were: angelic, aristocratic, athletic, elegant, alert, devoted, rambunctious, vivacious, feisty, mischievous, curious, contemplative, radiant, wistful and wise. We have come to understand Phoebe was a heaven-sent Angel of higher purpose.

    We keep a journal and created an album from our all-too-brief years together to help through these hard times, even if some photos are still too painful and provoke a cascade of tears. We plan to scatter Phoebe’s ashes in special places where she loved hiking with us. So we empathize deeply with your loss of Layla and thank you sincerely for sharing. May we eventually all become peace again.

  19. Thank you a lot for sharing this special feelings with us, Sara. You found the words I never was able to express. Thank you!

  20. I’m so sorry. I also lost my heart dog to hemangiosarcoma, at the old age of 15. One of the hardest things to go through, ever.Loathe the disease so much. Thank you for sharing a bit of your heart with us.

  21. I love you, Sara. You know that I had a love like that once too, and it was stolen from me by the very same cancer. And I’m still completely shattered by it and overwhelmed by the want of her.

    How lucky we were to have them for as long as we did, and how terrible it is that it was not even close to enough.

    Your words struck close and true. <3

  22. I feel your pain Sara. I lost my Willow just a couple weeks prior to your losing Layla. It was sudden and unexpected, and I haven’t been able to muster up the strength to write about her to date. There are some losses that simply cut too deep.

    Thank you for sharing that beautiful glimpse into the special relationship you shared with Layla.

  23. My sincere condolences for your loss of layla. May you find comfort knowing all the good things you all accomplished and shared loved with each other.

  24. I came across your blog when I was desperately searching for how to address a sudden fight for no apparent reason (with injuries) in a 2 dog household where the dogs previously got along. Your site has been very informative and given me some ideas and I thank you for having taken the time to write about your experience. I’m so very sorry for your loss of Layla and started tearing up when I read this post. I could tell how very special she was to you and, obviously, you to her.

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