The Loss of a Giant: Our Most Difficult House-Sitting Experience

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It is so quiet here now.

My heart breaks a little every time we come up to the front gate. We used to be met with a cacophony of barking – even before we would be seen by the dogs we are taking care of, they would sense the near presence and begin their greeting.

And the low, baritone bellow of Juno would be the most distinguished of them all.




It is so quiet now because we lost sweet Juno, the gentle giant of the family.




Upon our arrival from Ephesus, with my Mom and Aunt in our company, we found Juno barely conscious. Attached to her chain in the usual spot, her front legs were splayed in front of her at an odd angle with her head resting between them. Beside her, the expelled remains of her breakfast. I knelt immediately and began rubbing her head, talking to her, willing her to rise. Pete ran into the house to find the number for the vet.

She was breathing but with deep heaves, and was entirely unresponsive. We were sure then that she was near her end, but after about ten minutes of coaxing and soothing, she suddenly became alert. She lifted her head and even rose to walk a little to our complete astonishment.

Soon the vet arrived, as did our friends who took care of the dogs while we were gone. We were assured that Juno had been completely fine that morning, and thus her decline had only come in the last few hours. The vet, believing it to be only a virus, gave her some medication and left.

That evening Juno was restless, as much as her taxed energy would allow her to be. She tried drinking water but would expel it only moments later, and she never touched the boiled chicken I prepared for her fragile stomach. She settled into her pen, and we left the door unlocked such that she could move to find comfort if she wanted to. And even though she appeared more comfortable, we went to bed nervous and concerned, hoping that the medicine would take hold overnight and improve her condition.

My Aunt June poked her head into our room at 6 am to wake us. We rushed outside to find Juno laying on the pebbled backyard against a fence. Around her we could see several puddles of blood, it had clearly been coming out of both ends throughout the night in astonishing amounts.

We struggled between wanting to let her rest entirely, and yet be at her side and soothing – every time we got close, her tail would wag lightly and she’d strain to lift her head. We covered her back end with a towel such that the flies wouldn’t bother her given the amount of blood that soaked her fur. She’d get up to move again and we’d follow her with the towel, replacing it and stroking her head when she would settle.

The vet, sidelined by another needy animal in town, arrived a few hours later. One look at Juno and he immediately began to set up for an IV – Juno had settled near a tree and he affixed the clear bottle to it. My Aunt, a nurse, moved in beside him to help.

He struggled to find a suitable vein. By that time, our friend Mustafa had arrived and was translating. June looked up at him and asked a question that none of the rest of us had the strength to: “Can you ask the vet if there is much hope?”

Mustafa relayed the message to the vet, and his response back to us. “There is very little hope. Her blood pressure is too low.” My Aunt told me later that she believed Juno must have suffered an organ rupture.

Emails had been flying back and forth between us and the home owner since the previous evening. The time had come to make a difficult decision. As I had expected, via a tearful conversation on both sides, none of us wanted to see Juno suffer.




It is so quiet here now.

As with parents and their children, we are not supposed to choose favourites. But Juno was ours. Being part Kengal, she was a large and intimidating dog on first appearance, but all soft and lovely on the inside. She acted as a gentle mother to the others – Juno had an intense bond with the devilish Zak and of course with her sister Josie. The sisters both had a way of leaning firmly against us so that we couldn’t move forward, insisting on being bathed in love. Juno would throw her head up against our stomachs as well, looking for her chin to be scratched and kisses to be placed on the bridge of her nose.


Juno with Zak
Juno with Zak

As animal lovers who have grown up with pets all our lives, facing such loss is inevitable. We’ve both had to deal with it a few times before, and while Juno was not our dog, that did not make it any easier to lose her. In fact, it was arguably harder.

My thoughts were constantly with her owners, many miles away, who undoubtedly felt helpless to be losing a pet and not get to say goodbye. As a house-sitter, I wanted to be sure to do everything possible for them and their beloved pet.

And in Juno’s final hours, all I could do was what I would with my own – make every effort to ensure she was comfortable and loved.

This was, beyond question, the hardest of all our house-sitting experiences.

It is so quiet here now.


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  1. Heartbreaking post, but beautifully written. My black lab, Chester, is not as young as he once was and I’m worried about him more than even when I travel. Your kindness and care really shone through in this piece.

    1. Thank you Vanessa. It was our worst fear, as house-sitters. A very tough situation for everyone. I hope Chester has many more years!

  2. We just had to put one of our kitties to sleep–my husband’s favorite. I had her for 13 years and it was heartbreaking. You did a very difficult thing with as much grace as possible. I’m sure the homeowners understand, even if it was incredibly sad to not be there to say goodbye.

  3. I’m so sorry. Certainly, the homeowners were lucky to have someone as compassionate and thoughtful as you taking care of such an unfortunate situation.

  4. This is so incredibly sad… I am sorry that you had to go through this experience, it must have been awful. I know how easily you get attached to pets during a housesit, and you two spent so much time with her – I am sure you loved her as if she was your very own dog. We are looking after an elderly, sick cat right now and the owners set up a cremation plan in case he dies while they’re away – should this happen, it would break our hearts.

  5. I read this with tears streaming down my face. My lovely, adorable,adoring Juno will not be there to greet us when we return to Turkey but our gratitude to both Dalene and Pete is endless. They were there for Juno and we know that she could not have had anyone better to be with her at the end.
    We have wonderful memories of her and her `querky`ways. She was a dog unlike any other which we have ever owned and we loved her.
    Thank you, Hecks, for being who you are, for your compassion and your sympathetic handling of an incredibly difficult situation.

    1. Oh Moira, Juno was the most lovely dog, we miss her so much. I miss her cute little prance she did when she knew it was dinner time. We look forward to seeing you and Roy again soon, but know how difficult it will be.

  6. What a heartbreaking experience to go through. I know from personal experience how hard it is to lose a beloved pet when you are not with it, so I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the two of you to say goodbye to Juno while also knowing how gutwrenching the whole thing would be for her parents. Losing a pet is never easy, but I think the grief must be especially acute in this case. It sounds like Juno was a lovely girl and I hope all of you take some comfort in the knowledge that in her last moments, she knew how much she was loved.

  7. This post made me cry. Poor Juno. She was lucky to have you guys with her though, I’m sure that helped.

  8. This just breaks my heart. What a devastating experience for you and Juno’s owners. At least she was loved until her very last moments. I wish I could give my own sweet cat a squeeze now, but I left her with my parents when we moved to Shanghai. This makes me miss her even more.

    1. Yes, we left our two cats with dear friends when we left to travel. Heartbreaking as well, and I wish I could snuggle them!

  9. This made me so sad. Juno was obviously loved.

    I am always so scared something is going to happen to our dog, Emma, or our cat, Angel, while away.

  10. What a lovely face and eyes – she reminds me of one of my dad’s old working dogs who became the family pet. Zak and Josie must be heartbroken. And while Juno’s mum and dad couldn’t be there, she couldn’t have wished for better foster parents to spend her last hours with.

  11. Such a sad, yet beautifully written story, Dalene. I can only imagine how tough it must have been, and yes, how disturbingly quiet it is there now.

    Perhaps I’m too pragmatic, but I can’t help but wonder… so what was the final diagnosis? It sounds so dramatic. Was Juno an oldish dog? Why such a sudden decline? Something she ate?

    That and… the vet initially diagnosed the problem as a virus??? Sorry, but from what you describe, I can’t help but wonder…

    1. All questions we’ve asked ourselves constantly Dyanne.

      We had no final diagnosis, once the decision was made to put her down, that was it, and we buried her in the back yard. I’ve done a lot of research since then and it does sound like it was a ruptured organ, which can be caused by a number of things. And the strange thing is, the home owners told us later, was that her mom died the exact same way.

      It was such a difficult situation. We didn’t have her normal vet (this was a back-up, the other one was out of town), of course there were language barriers, and Turks just don’t have the same sort of “love” for animals that we do, especially when it comes to dogs.

      The vet’s diagnosis did seem weak to all of us, but at that point, she wasn’t expelling blood, so we really had no choice but to trust him and hope the medicine would help her improve. And if it was a ruptured organ, treatment for that would have been very extensive (and probably expensive), with no guarantee of recovery. As soon as we thought that’s what it might be (in the morning), we called the vet immediately, but he took so long to show up.

      We really tried to do everything we could. I was so glad that my aunt (a nurse) was here to help us work through it, even though we knew there was so little that could be done, except to give her love, love, love…

      1. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply, Dalene. I have no doubt that everybody did all they could for dear Juno. And putting her down was the kindest of all.

        Sorry if my questions add to your grief, it just seemed so sudden and so strange. I guess there’s no point in pondering it all, but it is most interesting that Juno’s mother died with the same symptoms. I understand that certain breeds of dogs (and cats) have tendencies to unique health problems. Perhaps that’s the case.

        Bottom line – you gave that dear pup a ton of love, love, love. And that’s what it’s all about.

  12. One of my absolute biggest fears when doing a housesit. It’s hard enough as it is without it also being someone else’s pet. 🙁

  13. So sorry Dalene! I can relate to this so much from both sides, first having to put one of my cats to sleep before I left on my trip and then waking up months later to an email from the friend who was taking care of my second cat telling me that she had put him down as well. I was devastated I didn’t get to say goodbye but also felt horrible that my friend was left dealing with it while I was half a world away.

    1. I remember reading about your poor kitties, and also thinking of your friend taking care of it (my heart went out to her as a caregiver)! It’s just one of those awful situations that you never hope to have to deal with, but there is always the risk. 🙁

  14. Incredibly touching. I once had a dog who died while I was away overseas. But I have comfort in knowing she was with peple who took care of her and loved her in her last moments.

  15. Oh gosh, how terribly sad. I must admit this is the one thing that terrifies me about house sitting. Properties, possessions and vehicles can be replaced or repaired but to lose an animal is irreversible. Sometime life throws us a curved ball and challenges us to catch it without dropping it to the ground.

    Our most recent house sit involved caring for a troop of alpacas. One of them was seriously ill and the owners were prepared for the inevitable. Fortunately we averted the heartache but I was conscious of how close to the edge we were.

    So sorry to hear you went through such a difficult time. I’ve no doubt the owners will be pleased that you cared for Julio so competently and showed such love and understanding at the end.

    Thinking of you all x

    1. It can definitely be one of the scary parts of house-sitting. We love, love, love animals and understand how they can become real members of any family. But, all we can do is the best we can do, and it is inevitable that things like this will just happen. As sad as it is. 🙁

  16. This sounds so devestating and like such a hard experience for a house sitter – it sounds like you handled it so very well though, and I’m Juno felt very loved in those last moments. A beautifully written piece, thank you for sharing.

  17. I’m reading his whilst seated on th floor next to my own beloved golden retriever. I am so so sorry to hear of Juno’s passing. My heart really breaks for her owners & for you too – it’s always painful losing a family member, more so when like Juno they’ve been in so much pain.

    My aunt’s Pomeranian passed away in our care whilst she was away too, after severe breathing difficulties – it was one of the most difficult days to live through and I’ll never forget the phone call we had to make to inform my aunt.

    Praying for you, the owners & Juno up in heaven. She was a beauty & I’m sure a big old softie at heart despite her size. Goldy & I are sending our love frm Singapore.

  18. I am so very sorry! We just lost our canine companion and it is so very hard. How sad for the owner to be away. I am glad you were there, and Juno had someone who loved her, with her. My sincere condolences!

  19. I am so sorry about this very difficult home sit. I am curious though – prior to taking on this sit – did you know about her medical condition ? I’m quite disturbed that the vet would consider this to be a case of viral attack ! I can only imagine the horror you had to experience the next morning ! Bless your loving hearts for being there at her side ! Xxxx

    1. Thank you Natasha.

      There was no prior condition that we or the owners knew of. We have been here for 2 months already, so it could be that it just happened while we were here. A ruptured organ (if that is indeed what it was), can be caused by a number of things and is likely sudden.

  20. This was a tear-jerker!
    I almost lost a loveable dog while house-sitting, and I must say, the stress of that experience does make me think twice about accepting house-sitting gigs, and to ask lots of questions about the doggie’s health beforehand. But as you well know, even a pet in perfect health is no guarantee.
    I hope the house becomes less quiet for you as time rolls by… 🙂

    1. The other doggies are starting to regain some of their spunk, they are a little more vocal lately but still pretty mopey most of the time.

      I remember that house-sitting experience you had – and now I can sincerely empathize. It is a very tough thing to go through, but I am glad I was here for Juno though, and knowing that it gave the home-owners some comfort. I will probably be asking more questions now too. 🙂

  21. I just recently lost my pet, and this post made me weep! Losing a pet, whether your own or one you simply love, truly is like losing a family member. They’re such adorable creatures and fill such a large part of our heart. There’s no replacing them. Only remembering and cherishing their memory.

  22. I’m so sorry! I felt so awful when I saw you tweeting about this a few weeks ago. I can’t imagine having to go through this.

  23. Count me among those who teared up a lot during this. The possibility of losing my dog while traveling is one of the things that keeps me home a lot. I would feel horrible for not being there, and awful that someone else also had to experience it. Juno was incredibly lucky to have such empathetic people there for her – so many people can’t handle the stress of being there at the end.

  24. The same thing happened to our pet-sitters while we took a family vacation to St-Marteen. Our dog Staccato was very old and we let her with friends of the family. One night we got a call saying that the dog had fallen in the pool, and that they dove in to rescue her. She seemed fine and dandy at first, but a few hours later they found her lying down under the piano where she would listen to me play for the past 15 years.

    Very sad story but I can definitely relate to your story now. Thanks for the post.

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