Tracy Tunney, 38, Narangba, Qld
Balloons fluttered in the wind as I lit the candles on the cake. 'Happy birthday, Blaze,' I chimed, giving my border collie a cuddle. Family and friends had gathered in the park to spoil our precious pooch with presents and treats.
'Here you go,' I smiled, feeding him a tasty pup-cake before he ran off with his furry friends. For such a happy moment, the day was tinged with sadness, too. It was the last birthday my husband, Colin, 40, and I would ever celebrate with our special boy.
When we first adopted Blaze 12 years ago, he was so small he could fit in Colin's palm. We fell in love with his gentle nature and he became a great companion for our older border collie, Skye.
When our kids Kadence, now 10, Dominic, eight, and Nate, six, came along, Blaze was the protective big brother. He'd lay next to their rockers as they slept and would alert me whenever they started to stir.
Later, we welcomed more four-legged friends, kelpies Temperance and Booth. Blaze happily shared his favourite tennis ball and played with them at the beach. When we lost Skye three years ago, Blaze's infectious zest for life helped us heal.
But last January, life took another devastating turn. We'd discovered a lump on Blaze's tongue and took him to the vet to get it checked. A sample was sent for a biopsy, with heartbreaking results.
'Blaze has cancer,' the vet told us, explaining it had spread to other parts of his body. 'I'm afraid he has roughly 12 months to live.'
I was completely devastated. I couldn't begin to imagine life without him. Telling the kids was one of the hardest things Colin and I had to do. 'We just have to treasure the time we have,' I said, wiping away their tears.
Incredibly, 12 months later, Blaze was bravely battling on. He'd tire easily but his spirit was more alive than ever. He still greeted me with a sloppy kiss each morning and bounded round the backyard with the kids. Living on borrowed time, I wanted it to be extra special. Blaze had to leave us as the happiest hound on earth!
'I'm going to make a bucket list for Blaze,' I decided. It sounded ridiculous but Colin agreed our boy deserved an unforgettable send-off. It would help the kids cope better with losing him, took.
So I took to Facebook, asking friends for suggestions. Then the kids helped Colin and I pick 20 ideas that were perfect for our playful pup, like taking him to a cafe for a puppycino and going to a new swimming spot.
At the top of our list was getting a family portrait, so we hired a photographer to capture our time with Blaze. Next we took him to our favourite bakery to devour a meat pie. He lapped it up with pure delight.
Then, Blaze reached a magical milestone. Everyone needs a bit of romance in their life so we wanted to organise for our deserving dog to go on his very first date. Calling for potential suitors on Facebook, Blaze proved to be very popular with the ladies. Pups from all over the state were keen to meet him. In the end, a border collie named Millie was the lucky lass and we set up their blind date on the beach. That day, Blaze was dressed to impress, sporting a special tie. Millie matched his effort, turning up in a tutu with a bow in her fur.
My heart melted as they munched on lamb shanks, followed by a swim in the ocean. Prancing around energetically in front of his new friend, Blaze was really showing off! 'He likes her,' I giggled.
Next on the bucket list was the privilege of sitting in the front seat of the car. Perching his chin on the open window, he closed his eyes. My heart ached when he placed his paw next to mine on the gearstick, as though saying thank you for showing him the simple pleasures in life.
But there was more to come. We then took the family on a special four-wheel drive adventure and cuddled as we gazed up at the stars. 'I'll never forget this,' I smiled.
Incredibly, on June 5 last year, Blaze made it to his twelfth birthday. We organised a huge celebration with all his furry friends.
I was touched when their owners showered him with presents of tennis balls and treats. Although his joints were getting stiff, Blaze was like a puppy again as he bounded around with his mates.
Then a few days later, I noticed Blaze was unusually slow and quiet. 'We're running out of time,' I said sadly. So the kids and I decided to tick off the second-last item on his list - creating a paw-print picture. Brushing his feet with pup-friendly paint, we stamped them on paper in a colourful design. 'Now you'll be with us forever,' I told him, lovingly patting his coat.
The next morning, Colin and I let the kids say their final goodbyes before taking Blaze to the vet. As he lay on the table, I slowly stroked his ears.
The vet told us Blaze could probably battle on for another month but we didn't want him to be in pain. 'I love you buddy,' I whispered. 'Take care of Skye for us.'
Laying peacefully in our arms, Blaze closed his eyes forever. We were devastated but took comfort that he'd lived his life to the full.
But there was one more item left on Blaze's bucket list - a holiday. We'd already booked a getaway to a dog-friendly destination for that weekend. Could we go without our special boy?
'Blaze was meant to be with us,' Kadence said sweetly.
If we went ahead, we had to take a piece of him with us. So we chose a special toy dog that looked exactly like Blaze and placed it in the car with Temperance and Booth. The kids were thrilled and posed for pictures with the toy wherever we went.
Since we lost our special boy not a day goes by that we don't think about him. We just hope that sharing his story will encourage others to treasure their time with their pets. Blaze was a beautiful member of our family and he'll never be forgotten.