Collapsing onto the sofa, it didn’t take long before I heard a thud as my boyfriend Ben’s dog clambered up next to me.
‘Hello Herbert,’ I laughed.
He settled into a comfy spot and then rested his giant head in my lap.
At two-feet tall, Herbert the bull mastiff should have been the perfect guard dog.
But in reality, he was a gentle giant.
Scared of plastic bags and the sound of the vacuum cleaner, he’d rather slobber me in kisses than bark at the postman.
Ben, 27, had bought Herbert as a puppy and when we got together three years later, the pooch was fully grown.
After I moved in, Herbert realised I wasn’t going anywhere and we became good friends.
In the years that followed, Herbert was always making us laugh. Whether he was running around the garden with a scooped-out watermelon on his face, or dragging us around the block on his daily walks, Herbert was a larger than life mutt.
He was even best friends with my cat Pepe and I’d often find the two of them curled up together.
But when Herbert was seven, I noticed something.
‘There’s a strange lump on his glands,’ I told Ben.
Even though Herbert still acted like an excitable puppy sometimes, he was old for his breed.
We took Herbert to the vet for a biopsy and a few weeks later, our worst fears were confirmed.
‘I’m so sorry, it’s cancer,’ the vet told us.
The vet explained Herbert could have chemotherapy in a bid to shrink the tumour but it would cost $10,000.
We both loved our loyal boy but there was no way we could afford that.
Besides, with Herbert’s age, we wondered if he would even survive.
Instead, we took our gentle giant home to enjoy the last of his life.
Unlike most dogs, Herbert was scared of water and was too lazy for going on big walks, so he spent his days doing his favourite thing – cuddling up to us on the sofa.
It was almost a year before he started to deteriorate.
Struggling to walk, we decided it was time, and in August 2019, we took Herbert to the vet’s for the last time.
It hit us hard – especially Ben – and I wanted a special way for him to remember Herbert.
I’d already heard about cremation tattoos from my friend Tamara, who owned Dark Cloud Tattoo studio.
She’d done them before, adding a pinch of a person or animal’s ashes into the ink and then tattooing it onto their loved one’s skin.
This way, Ben will always feel close to Herbert, I thought.
When I told his family about my idea, they loved it and chipped in for the cost.
Then I handed Ben an appointment card.
‘Thank you, this is amazing,’ he said.
He chose a picture of Herbert and a few weeks later, we arrived at the tattoo parlour with Herbert’s ashes.
Tamara first sifted the ashes to remove any clumps and then added a tiny sprinkle into the black ink.
As cremation tattoos can have more risk of the skin reacting, Tamara made sure to only use a small amount on the ears and nose.
It was Ben’s first tattoo but he did brilliantly, and after a few hours, it was finished.
‘Wow!’ I said, admiring the intricate lines of Herbert’s face on Ben’s upper arm.
Six months later, I decided it was my turn.
I chose a different picture of Herbert, and like Ben’s, I had some of his ashes mixed into the ink.
Now, whenever I look down at my forearm, I see Herbert’s proud face.
Some people might think it’s strange to have my pet’s ashes tattooed into my skin but I love it.
For us, it’s a beautiful way to remember our boy.
Herbert’s love was unconditional and thanks to our tattoos, we’ll have him with us for life. ●