Just a Dog...?
'It's just a dog.'
'It was only a cat. Pull yourself together.'
'Why are you so upset?'
When I hear (or read on social media) comments like the above, it makes me so sad. Sad for the person making the statement, because they have obviously never experienced the companionship and love a pet brings. Sadder still for the person who has lost a loved one. Comments like this can cut deep.
When a companion animal dies, we lose a family member. A loved one. An animal we have nurtured and snuggled up with. A loved one we have talked to and shared problems with. Our babies. Some people find that last word controversial, used in this context - but I can only speak from my own experience.
I have been fortunate enough to have lived with animals my whole life. I was lucky enough to be born into a family of animal lovers and grew up with a parade of pets - feeling the weight of cats on my feet as I slept; building tortoise houses in the garden...it was bliss.
As an adult, I have had many pets. I used to live on a farm, and the Cat Protection League asked me to house ferals in my barn. I was happy to. The idea was, they would have somewhere warm to sleep; I would put out food and ensure they were healthy. The cats (and my Cat Whisperer son) had other ideas. Gradually, the cats migrated into the house. Some days, we'd have a furry blanket of cats in front of the open fire. They were such characters, and I can feel my heart ache as I remember and miss them.
When I was expecting my youngest child, with that flawed pregnancy logic, I homed two collies. I'd have a baby and be at home, so why not get pups too? They grew up with Eleanor, but they are gone now. There are still bowls in the garden, and name tags in a drawer. I can't quite bring myself to throw away the dog shampoo bottle in the bathroom cabinet, although I know I should - it makes me sad whenever I notice it. Daft really. You'd think with my training, I'd know better - but loss is loss on a personal level.
Our animals are a part of the warp and weft of our daily life. When they die, a thread is broken and we can unravel in just the same way as we can when we lose our human companions. The house doesn't feel right - and coming back to an empty house is bleak. Walks without a little friend at heel are empty. I was in the woods the other day (I walk there regularly and love it, and it gives me a great excuse to cuddle other people's dogs) and met a lovely retriever. She allowed me to stroke her rather noble head, then circled away, her charity work done. Her friendly owner said, 'Oh, she is wondering where your dog is!' and my throat closed tight. I had no words.
When we share our lives with an animal, we are in constant denial about the shortness of their lifespan.When beloved animals die, or we have to make that most awful of decisions about a last visit with the vet, the stability of our life is damaged. Our comfortable structure comes crashing down and we are reminded that love ends in loss. A chastening thought.
Well, after a lifetime of love, and years spent loving animals, I am saturated with loss. It was losing Moss, my last dog at age 18 that nudged me into the SadSaturation Project. That Dowager Duchess of a dog is missed so much. Sometimes I pull out a book or shake out a blanket and a single stray hair wafts towards me like a light kiss.
People ask me regularly when I am getting a new dog. I can't even think about it, as I want the old one back too much. I can't think of a new pet without now seeing the parade of shadow-animals that came before. So my house is empty. I am often tempted by rescue animals in dire need of someone to love, but the tugs in my heart are still too raw. I happily live vicariously through other people's pets, and often look after them when their humans are on holiday. That will have to suffice. It's not the same, but I still get cuddles.
So - the next time someone thinks we are over reacting to the death of a beloved pet, point them my way. It's never 'just an animal' - it's family.