Many of you may now be aware that my beloved Tigon passed away on August 31 last year while I was in Mongolia. Im still dealing to live without him each and every day. I would like to share with you a letter that I wrote to him as i sat with his body in September on return to Australia. Thanks to all those hundreds and thousands of people who contributed to his life.

Dear Tigon,

I love you. You are sleeping peacefully by my side now. I’m here. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t by your side when you breathed your last breath. But I was with you, I always was, and I always will be. The sound of the wind that night when I heard the news. Howling through the tree above my tent (in Mongolia). The stars out, yet blurred by a flurry of shredded fog and mist, and waves smashing the rocks on the lake shore. I called your name a thousand times. I felt your turmoil, I wanted you to know that I’m here. Please don’t feel guilty. I know that look. Ears forwards, ears back, looking for signs of displeasure or approval. I wish you hadn’t headed out into the night for one last adventure, wish you had waited just two more weeks. But I know the pull of adventure, and I would never want to stifle your freedom. You were always in touch with your heart, your instincts, your feelings, and the natural world around you, and that’s what you followed true to the end. You were my conduit to all those things, and you led me back to firmer ground when I strayed.

That night and the next morning, the world was so big and vast. Across the lake fresh snow had caught the mountains and cloaked them, as if with a giant net of cold. Below autumn reds like blood oozed from rock and soil, and below them still the many green forests yet to be reached by the winter front. And above, the sky, and air that bit and blew. And it was so, so empty. A terribly dangerous world for a little dog. All I could see were all the things I needed to protect you from. And yet, as you did your whole life, you never paid attention to those dangers. You turned hostility into places of curiosity where you made friends with creatures, and made me see that even the howling wind can be so nurturing. But what are the chances, that a tiny little six month old pup in a village way out there on the Kazakh steppe would find me? Would choose me? The day you left home with me, you knew there was no turning back, you knew that there was a risk that I might not love you the way you loved me, that you might be abandoned, and yet you took that risk with a spirit that was so much bolder than your tiny frame. You followed your heart Tigon, and soon your love grew in me like a candle that grew into a sun that warmed me from the insides until I felt you in all my veins, until I felt that you were part of every living breath.

Oh Tigon I love you. Right now Im stroking your forehead, gently between your eyes. You close them, between strokes but now open them again. Those amber eyes, that looked beyond the horizon every day, that greeted the sun and me as if it were a celebration, and yet another adventure to be had. A new day of smells, adventures, people, and endless possibilities. Those times when we were both out on our own adventures alone, and yet together. You crossed those two worlds – the wilds, and the homeliness of love and affection. At night we reconvened to trade stories and just lie in wonder at the world, grateful to be with each other.

I’m stroking up to your ears now. Im taking my hands and running them along the silky black hair to the tips. Those ears that were one of your many antennae – piping hot in the summer when you were seeking shade and cool, and cold and frosty when days grew cold. Those ears that were larger than life, huge in proportion to your childhood body, but which you grew into. How I watched your left ear quiver for thousands of kilometres as you walked and trotted and ran – whether it be across the steppes of Kazakhstan, up the trails of our beloved mount emu, or even along the Merri Creek in our latter days in Melbourne.

Now im massaging your neck. Ive taken your collar off, and im rubbing along your neck. I can feeling the muscle bristling. The hair thick and oily in my hands, and I can feel the way you are leaning into my hand, cocking one ear towards it, and resting the other against your head, trying to resist the urge to scratch it with your back foot together with me.

Those many nights when I went to bed, especially in recent years, when I patted you and patted you, my eyes closed, in the dark, as if you were an extension of my own body. My hand running down and under your chin, brushing your warm floppy lips, catching a hint of your warm breath on my hands. I even love to touch your wet nose, and hear you breath out a sigh. And then down to the chest, your white chest. Beating with a heart that took you and I into hundreds of homes, and thousands of lives, which guided the both of us. A heart that stayed strong, never became bitter, which melted the harshest times and climes. A heart that remained pure and innocent, even when both our lives moved on from the big openness of the steppe.

My hands are warm now, and Im rubbing your white belly. I can feel where your ribs meet, and up your sides to your spine, and down the contours of your back, around to your thighs. I can feel this body that has pulsated with spirit from day one, a body which carried you wherever your eyes, and heart could take you. That big bushy long tail. That tail, which, even as I walked in here and broke down in tears, I could imagine was flopping about on the timber floor, thud, thud, until it sank in. “Tim is here!” those loving eyes, that look. The excitement you tried to contain, the excitement that I tried to contain. Then not knowing whether or not to believe it, or what to do. Maybe a circle of joy, or just lie on the back for a pat, a bowl of liver and meat, or of course, those words that always brought you the most pleasure: “Walk!” I loved the way you used to go running to your bed, and lie there as if to show me “see tim, this is my bed, this is my home while Im here, I kept it for you, I waited for you, I love you.” That look between us that only you and I could ever understand completely. Those first nights when I came back from travels and mum let you sleep in the guest bedroom with me, often on the bed. That look in your eye in the morning when we both woke, looking at each other, with a sense of disbelief. We are together again!!!! And the feeling even more of heading off together to the world that you and I secretly inhabited – the world and you and me, adventure, and intimacy, a love and softness and closeness in a world that we both know is so big, and love so unlikely. It didn’t matter if it was getting in the car and driving to our home, in  mount beauty, or Melbourne, or in the old days just riding out of a village and returning to that little family circle of us, a home that travelled with us as long as we were together.

Oh I know, stop complicating things, stop getting distracted, and get onto important things you say: patting, walking, eating, and being in the moment. I know tigon, I can feel your paw scratching at my forehead, in my hair. I take your paws in my hands and I rub them. I feel the coarse yet softy and spongy pads. I scratch you between the toes, I run my hands up your legs, those legs and those paws that took you around the globe, that are at once soft, yet rugged, wild and untamed, yet always exquisitely licked clean before you got up and circled around and onto your bed or couch.

Tigon I love you. Im so sorry for all those times when I was distracted, when you wanted my attention but I didn’t give it to you. I cannot forget the terror of leaving you behind- those many times on the road when we were apart, when I had to leave you, in Hungary for a year, and whenever I had to leave you in Australia with mum – your second home- when I travelled to Mongolia. But not just that – even when I drove off to the supermarket and you were left behind the garden gate, wondering where I was headed and why you couldn’t join. I watched you once recently in Melbourne. You moved to the edge of the gate and watched until my car was completely out of sight. That brought great love yet also sorrow to my heart. I found it hard to come back from yoga, or a bike ride, things that I loved but which you could not partake in, and all the meanwhile you waited patiently for me, and your time. You always looked a little worried, and yet, just like when I used to load you onto a crate at the airport, a calm came over you, and you trusted in me, and that I would be there for you at the other end, with a warm bed, a walk, and our worlds close again.

The last three years have been particularly hard for me, a time when my life seemed to be changing quicker than I could keep up with, and within which I had my own turmoil. I worried that you might not see what your role was anymore in my life, and yet that is when you carried me tigon, singlehandedly. Your spirit your courage, your listening ear and your touch, it brought me all those things.  You saw the worst of me as well as the good things, yet you never judged me. When we first met, I thought that I might be a disappointment, not be the person you loved, that you might end up thinking you had chosen the wrong life companion. But time and time again, even when I felt down and out, felt like I couldn’t provide for you the things that your deserved, you loved me, and you trusted me. I remember the first time I felt like that, when, in the company of others, you stood by me, straight backed, and regal, and I patted you from head to tail, and with every pat you grew taller and prouder, as if to say: this is my Tim, I love him, and see how lucky and proud I am to be loved by him. That trust, and that love, it transformed me tigon. And not just that, but you trusted and loved the people that I brought into our life, into our inner circle. I don’t need to name them, you know who they are, people I loved dearly, and which you extended that love to. Yet you also brought so many loving souls into my life, and I recognise that you had your own friendships independent of me, with tens, hundreds, even thousands of people. You had a way with people that is hard to describe, you managed to break down barriers because you never saw any barrier, you saw a straight line from heart to heart, and because you saw and expected the better side of human beings they overwhelmingly showed you it.

There were times of course when I mistakenly believed that I owned you Tigon. But of course you were the first to remind me that we were life companions, that I was privileged that you chose me, and that every day with you was a gift. We only get one life, on this earth at least, and you decided that it was going to be with me, and for that I will never ever forget.

I want you to wake up Tigon. I want to believe that that beautiful big shiny black side of yours is rising and falling. Those lungs, that breath that synced with my own. For more than 14 years I have gone to sleep at night comforted by the sound of your breath, of that great big sigh that you used to give out, the sound of you getting up at night and lapping at the water bowl. Those nights when I woke feeling in turmoil, and all I had to do was reach over and sure enough there in the dark I could find you, stroke you, feel your whiskers, your head your eyes, and all the other contours that I can feel right now, and which I will never ever forget. How will I breath at night Tigon? I haven’t breathed at night without you there somewhere since I was 25 years old. With you, no matter what, I had this incredible sense that everything was alright, and everything would be alright, for you and I shared something that no one else did, and which only we understood together.

Many people will remember you for the adventures we had, but in the last ten years, it has been the sharing of life more generally that has brought me close to you. As recently as a six or seven weeks ago, you knew just exactly where to find the winter sun, the warm patches, to where I could also follow in our backyard in Coburg north. Yet you also knew the coolest place on a summer day, and you definitely knew where the biggest bed was, and the fridge in every house that we ever entered – and that was after just two minutes of being inside. You lay beside me when I wrote the book, and you pawed me in the face to wake me up in the morning, making every day, come hail or shine, a day of energy, movement and life. You showed me that life is movement, and every day no matter how grey is another adventure and a gift to be had.

Oh Tigon, you started off as a little one. You were a delicate flower in a harsh world. You were my son. But quickly you grew into my friend, companion, and my brother. There were many years when we were equals, and of course in your physical prime you eclipsed anything I could do. You used to run like a bullet within a hairsbreadth of my legs just to show me the joy of moving. It was a joy that I felt more than just vicariously, but as if it were my own body.

But in the last years you did begin to slow, as did I. We were both fit, but our tempo changed. And then suddenly I watched as your grew older and older than me. Im sorry Tigon that I could not keep in step with you. You must have seen that somehow you were going beyond me, and suddenly whilst you had the spirit, and the fitness your body couldn’t quite take you at those speeds or distances. I saw you try Tigon. But after you had that incident with the deer, and you almost died, I think you may have recognised your mortality. Im so sorry Tigon that in recent times, I had to pull you on our runs a little when you could not keep up. Tigon, I saw that you began to feel vulnerable in the presence of bigger younger dogs. And I saw you pawing uncertainly at streams – your eyesight no longer able to tell you just how deep that water might have been. And of course I learnt sometimes that you did not hear me coming, despite those big gorgeous ears always cocked and ready. And I saw you try to take it in your stride and show me that you were still the same tigon of old. But Tigon, please believe me, I loved you even more, with every single day. I loved you even as you might have begun to feel some frailties. I was looking forward to carrying you into your older years with the same love and affection that you always showed me. Tigon, your adventurous spirit, and your strength never waned, and I my respect for you, my love for you only increased.

I love you Tigon, I love you dearly. I never will stop loving you. I have no idea how I am going to live without you. But please know that wherever you are, I will never abandon you, I will be with you when you need a place for protection, love and company. You have shown me so my patience, and now I have to have patience and trust, the same that you showed me. I have trust that somehow in whatever form it takes, we will meet again, and that like always you have your own wondrous adventures. You are completely unleashed now, and though its hard, I want to give you complete freedom, for as I long learned, the only way for good things to return is to give them the freedom of letting them go.

But Tigon, Im still stroking your paws. Im watching the light bounce off your shiny tail. Im watching your gleaming nose, and your big white teeth. Your eyes and snout are hidden by a bandage, and you are sleeping deeply, calmly.

What happened that night Tigon? Why did you walk out in the rain and wind in that cold wintery darkness? How is it that you ended up almost twenty kilometres from home, and of all places on the edge of a town? Did you see the car coming? Did you hear it? Was it upon you before you knew it. Your legs and heart and spirit, carried you, but your ears and eyes failed you, maybe only fractionally, but enough. It could have happened a thousand times, in so many different circumstances, in any number of lands and countries, but for some reason it happened on the last day of winter in 2018. You were 14 and a half years old.

But you found me in Mongolia didn’t you? I felt you, I touched you just as Im touching you now. And somehow, you found a way as always to bring good hearts to you, to bring you dignity, to get home, hail or shine. Somehow that nice vet, she found you on the roadside, and she found my mum, and mum found me. And now here I am by your side, and I don’t want to let you go. You are a good boy Tigon, a very good boy, you did nothing wrong. Im sad, but Im not angry. It must have been so hard, so hard there dead, without your eyes, without your voice, without loved ones around to cradle you. And where was I? Your protector, the one who you trusted to deliver you to world after world – I was 10,000km away near your homeland. I wasn’t there. I wish I was. I love you tigon, I never abandoned you, and never will.

If I had my time again, I would give you more love, more time, more undistracted time. Please come back.

I want to go on one last journey with you in the flesh Tigon. Do you want to come? Or have you had enough? I can’t tell.

Tigon, you gave everything you had, you gave it a wonderful shot, and so many lives are richer for it. I just hope that somehow you understand that, that you understand just how special you are.

Tigon the way you are lying there, its true, you lived every single day as if it were a gift. Not as if it were your last- that would be far too pessimistic for a dog with a heart like you.

Dog? You are not a dog. You are a gigantic spirit in the body of a dog, but you were not a dog, you were tigon. You never saw it coming did you? You died like you lived, turning fear into love, and uncertainty into possibility. And you have no regrets, or none that you recall.

Tigon, pehaps this is a turning point in my life. A moment when I must reassess what is truly important. My father did not live long enough to meet you, and you did not live long enough to meet my children, but you will never, ever be forgotten, and I will live every breath with the memory of your valiance, your love, your trust, and your thirst and will for life. 

Your body now cannot demand pats from me, and you cannot walk or run. I am with you, and I want you to trust me tigon. This is going to be really hard. But in the physical world we must say farewell. In the spiritual world, you will be free, free to join me wherever you like, no restrictions. I will miss you, your physical absence will leave an huge aching hole, an abyss into which at time s I fear the universe may crumble, but you will be there on the otherside, and I will join you, in one way or another, and certainly I will carry you for ever minute of every day. Though its true that your death, is also my death. It’s the death of a huge part of my life, and one never to be repeated. The more I look at you here, the more I realise my love, yet the physical being I remember is that one that moves with that insatiable energy. You are resting peacefully, I can see that. I love you.