Geeks Vs Loneliness: the loss of a pet

A few thoughts for those struggling with losing a pet...

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness. We’re here every Friday, with the idea being just to have a quick natter about things that may be affecting you, or people you know. If we can pass on one or two helpful tips along the way, we’ll certainly try to.

This week, we’re looking at something that some trivialise: the loss of a pet.

We humans have always made spaces in our homes and hearts for animals of all shapes and sizes. They are welcomed in as honoured guests and family members, pampered, spoilt – and much loved. Unfortunately our friends come with a limited life span. A dog’s year is generally measured to equal seven human years. Small animals get even smaller grace. Ultimately, when we take a pet into our lives we are committing to saying goodbye in the saddest circumstances and we are never – ever – ready for it.

Several commentators on Geeks Vs Loneliness last December mentioned how hard the loss of a pet had struck them, including myself. We lost our beautiful old mutt early December. Sally, a collie cross mix-up of brains, brawn and willful determination, came into our lives in 2003, a former stray, skinny, wary of strangers and an instant lover of fish and chips.

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Sally knew she was home the moment she stepped over the back thresh into the kitchen. We knew she was home. And her being there made a couple a family. She became entwined in every facet of our world – our work, study and play all revolving around her wellbeing and happiness. Routines were established, and she loved us with a gentle unwavering regard that seemed to grow year on year, until a world without her became unthinkable.

And that’s the tragedy of pet ownership. Because there is a world without them. When one day they stop and you have to let them go. And accept the empty spaces that greet you when you step over that same thresh into a house that seems preternaturally silent.

We are not alone in how we feel. I know there are others of you reading this who have their own Sallys, their own losses to deal with. There is no shame in grieving for a pet – let us celebrate them instead. Remember their quirky ways, the little white socks on their paws. Their ability to give comfort and companionship at the loneliest of times.

Sue Perkins summed up the unequivocal love of a pet beautifully in her letter to her dog Pickles (you will need tissues if you read the full letter):

‘I have said I love you to many people over many years; friends, family, lovers. Some you liked, some you didn’t. But my love for you was different. It filled those spaces that words can’t get to. You were the peg on which I hung the all the baggage that couldn’t be named. You were the pure, innocent joy of grass and sky and wind and sun. It was a love beyond the limits of patience and sense … It was as nonsensical as it was boundless.’

It’s that love I hold onto as I walk through an empty house without her. The chair in my study where she would sit glowering at my back while I worked is now devoid of purpose. I can’t look at it.

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Sally wasn’t human. She was a demanding diva of a dog. But she was stitched into the fabric of our existence. When she died that fabric became torn: a little more fragile. Time will help to mend the rip but for now – to paraphrase Neil Gaiman on losing his dog Cabal – I’m so glad I knew her. I’m so glad we found each other. I wish dogs lived longer.

There are support services out there for those struggling to cope with the loss of a pet. The Blue Cross charity have a bereavement support service you can contact in the UK on 0800 096 6606 or you can leave an online memorial to your pet on their website. Living with Pet Bereavement offers online guidance both pre and post losing your pet. Or you can always comment below.

And thanks so much for reading.