Losing your pet.

Just recently in Dublin City, there has opened a bereavement center for people who have lost a pet.  I’m certain that the news of this caused a great wave of scorn across the nation.  After all, there’s no shortage of cynics in this world and let’s face it, Ireland is a net exporter of the most advanced type of cynic.  The hardened, bitter type.  But I for one welcome the opening of the center.

After all when you get down to it, Mother Nature is one hell of  a sneaky bitch.  When it comes to humans and our pets, but perhaps dogs and cats especially, nature tricks a lot of two-way loyalty and devotion out of us.  Our pets become our friends, our partners in life, we trust our safety to them and they do exactly the same back.  Of course that sometimes backfires on the poor animals and leads to their unhappiness.  But back to Mother Nature.  Speaking as a dog owner, I find myself ascribing human traits on Winter constantly.  To be honest I even sometimes speak for her.

For example:

Winter sits staring at my partners sandwich.  Amanda channels Winter “Ah go on Mam, just a little bit, pwease?  Come on I is soooo cooote and you knows you wants to.”

Winter tilts her head from side to side while making small mewling noises, “See? I’ll even tilt my head from side to side the way you like me to if you do.  Yum yum?  Please?  Oh you’re finished?  You lousy bitch.”

Winter jumps onto the other couch and with a snort lies down facing away from my partner.  “Right that does it, I’m going to ignore you and sleep then.” Winter farts and drifts off to sleep in a cloud of cabbage scented vapours.

"See? I'll even tilt my head..."

Example ends.

Well, it is a very human thing to see ourselves in other creatures.  And that’s the defense I’m sticking to.

The problem that lies in our ability to project ourselves onto the pets we love is, that when they suffer, we suffer too and when they pass away, we’re thrown into precisely the same grief that the loss of any loved one forces on us.  But it actually gets far worse when we have to choose to euthanize them.  I know, I did it once.

My family once had a gorgeous Shetland Sheepdog, she was named Lady.  She was a giant for a Shelty, the size of most Border Collies, with black fur mixed with small patches of brown and white.  We got her when I was 6 years old.  I grew up with her and the first fight I ever got into was over her.  Someone a lot bigger and older than me, thought it was immensely funny to throw stones at the two of us.  I thought it was fitting that they kiss the ground at her feet and beg for forgiveness.  I take my responsibility to my pets deadly seriously.

But eventually when I was 19, I reached the most horrible part of that responsibility.  One day, one terrible day, I walked into the living room and found her rooted to the spot.  Totally unresponsive, staring into space.  Then both of her left legs collapsed at precisely the same moment and she lay on the floor.  Breathing but not there.  I’ve never cried so hard or for so long.  I just sat on the floor with her for hour after hour and waited for my mother to come home.

She couldn’t do it.  So I had to be the one to say it was time.  Even though Lady had rallied around by then, part of her was missing and that part never came back. Rather it only got worse, as she had more and more small strokes.  The three days ’til she was put to sleep were some of the worst of my life. I just watched this part of my family, the dog I had grown up with and loved die by inches in front of me.

But none of that compared to guilt I felt afterwards.  I still feel it, though time has blunted it somewhat.  I was after all, the one who chose to take her life from her.

It took over a decade ’til I wanted to let another dog into my home.  My family of course had another dog since then, but I never connected with her.  Now though I have Winter and I am glad for it.  She hasn’t taken away sense of guilt or the sadness.  And even though my little beagle isn’t even a year old yet, sometimes I catch myself worrying about that moment coming again in the future.  But I’m happy to have that unconditional love and adoration in my life again.

All that love. Earlier she ripped its leg off.

So as I started with, recently a bereavement center for pet owners has opened in Dublin and some cynics will laugh at it.  I never will, the grief for a loved pet is as real as any other and I think sometimes they’re an even more deserving a focus of our sadness.  They at least always love us, even when we don’t deserve it.

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