Archive for October, 2011
If you’ve ever lost a pet you’ll know the ‘pull yourself together, it’s only an animal’ approach misses the point completely. We forge huge bonds with pets and losing them can leave a gaping whole in our lives – as well as an embarrassment in dealing with the grief. Ralphie.co.uk talks to Jane Matthews, of Great Linford, the author of Pet Bereavement…
“Sorry to mention felines on a site for dogs but a few years ago my lovely cat, who we’d had since she was a kitten, was knocked over and killed on the road,” says Jane. “I was floored by the intensity of my grief and – to be honest – embarrassed. It was only as I started to talk to other pet owners that I realised I had nothing to apologise for. I had lost my cat, but also a great friend. I felt other animal lovers facing the loss of their pet might appreciate the support, reassurance and practical advice that a small book could hold.”
“For me, pets help turn a house into a home. Now my children have left home it’s wonderful to come home to a couple of furry faces who love me, curl up in front of the fire with me, get me out of bed in the morning, and don’t care one whit what kind of mood I am in.”
‘Part of the fabric of our lives’
But there’s often a stigma attached to grieving for a lost pet, especially among those who don’t own animals and can’t understand the bond you make with them.
“Many of those I interviewed for the book spoke of being told to ‘pull themselves together – it’s only an animal’. Which entirely misses the point that for those of us who have pets they become part of the fabric of our lives. We often see more of them than we see many of our friends of relatives and they are part so many special memories; the love we have for them and they for us is totally uncomplicated in the way our love for people can be.
“Embarrassment comes from feeling there is something wrong with us for feeling the loss so deeply. One of points I make in the book is that this is no small loss. We don’t measure grief by the size of what we have lost but by what they meant to us. And for many people their pet is a part of the family.”
Jane says writing the book was “a chance to turn something horrible into something positive. Every time I get a letter, email or phone call from someone telling me the book has helped them, I am able to look back more easily.”
‘It’s okay to take time out’
Dealing with the grief is much the same for pets as it is for people, explains Jane; finding support, taking time out and not being ashamed that you’ve lost a ‘family’ member.
“I think support is key, whether people find that through talking to other pet lovers, visiting and posting on a pet loss website, or reading my book. But also support for yourself. Treat yourself as kindly and with as much understanding as you would a dear friend who has been bereaved. We always behave as if life must go on but actually it doesn’t have to. It’s okay to allow ourselves some time out during the days we can’t seem to stop bursting into tears. It’s okay to need to express to others what you are feeling, so long as you choose carefully.”
Jane’s book is available www.smallbooks.co.uk, priced £3.99, from many vets (and if your surgery doesn’t stock it you could suggest they do), and from a number of pet crematoria as well as the usual outlets such as Amazon. For those reading about it on this website Jane’s happy to offer free postage and packaging. Email Jane direct to firstname.lastname@example.org and quote ‘ralphie.co.uk’. Update! This book is now available for the kindle!
October 2011 (updated March 2012)
Responsible dog owners are aware of their pet’s personality traits and act accordingly, but what if you’re faced with a temperamental dog and the owner’s nowhere to be seen? Tracy Buchanan, of Monkston, shares her story…
“Each lunchtime, I walk my Jack Russell Archie around our estate and every now and again, I’d notice another Jack Russell wondering about on its own. When I asked around, I was told it belonged to a man on the road I was walking along and it would sometimes get out from his garden. People said just to leave it as it always found its way back indoors so I did – and it always seemed to be happy with that. In fact, when I tried to approach it, it would run off.
“But one day it trotted up to me and Archie before I even knew what was happening, it lunged at him and gripped him around the neck.
“I remember feeling an absolute, pure terror. I adore my pooch and to see him grabbed like that, and to hear the horrible whine that came out from his mouth was terrifying. I envisaged the absolute worst as it looked and sounded so terrible. Then I kicked into action…
‘Plunged its teeth into my finger… I screamed’
“I responded by trying to pull the other dog away. When that didn’t work, I plunged my hand between them both to somehow create a barrier. That’s when one of the dogs – I don’t know which by this point – as Archie was starting to fight back – plunged its teeth into my finger.
“In the end, I don’t know why – Archie’s fightback or my cries – the attacking dog decided he’d had enough and ran off. That’s when his owner came out of a house a few doors away and I screamed at him to keep an eye on his dog as next time, it might be a child.
“I did contemplate going to the police but I know they can’t do much about dog fights unless one is badly injured or a human is badly injured so I just left it, making a promise to myself if I saw his dog on the loose again, I’d do something about it.
Be aware of your dog’s anger issues
“I think some dogs certainly have anger issues – in fact, my Jack Russell can get a bit narky sometimes as he’s blind in one eye and if a dog approaches him from the wrong direction, he can growl and snap. But we keep him on a tight leash and are very aware of this. This is why I believe even more, when a dog has a propensity for violence, you certainly shouldn’t let it off the lead or let it randomly out of the house on its own!
“I’m definitely more wary when walking Archie now and will even pick him up if a dog comes bounding towards him – I’d rather they attack me than him! It’s not just Archie I’m worried about but the other dog too. My dog can put up a good fight so what if it’s all turned around and blamed on him if he injures another dog or owner in the process?
“My main concerns about Archie when taking him for a walk are him running off and him getting into a dog fight. I have recurring nightmares about both, in fact! But I take measures to ensure this doesn’t happen and wish other owners of dogs that have an anger streak did the same!”
Tessa Hallings, from Bedfordshire, attented dog training classes with a British Institute of of Professional Dog trainers instructor. Her dog gained a Good Citizen Gold Award and she’s now training to become an instructor herself. She said a common mistake people make when their dog is attacked is is to touch or drag them away, which often results in injury to the dog or owner.
“Do not touch either dog as they don’t know whether it’s a human or an attacking dog that’s touching them and they will react on instinct and attack the touch. Shouting may work or try to out something like a broom between them to split them up.”
- Did you know the maximum penalty for allowing a dog you own or are in charge of to be dangerously out of control is two years’ imprisonment, or a fine – or both. If you’re faced with a dangerous dog, you can report incidents to Thames Valley Police or MK Dogwatch.
Whenever Ralphie spots another dog – or cat, or squirrel, or horse, or bear – on the TV, he first races to the lounge bay window and starts to bark – because in mind the dog, or whatever animal it may be, must be outside. Because the TV is a portal to the outside world, of course. At least is is in Ralphie’s world, it is. He’ll then run to the back door or the front door because he wants to check outside, then back to the TV, back to the window, back to the door. Confused.com! And it kinda makes watching animal programmes or wildlife documentaries impossibly noisy.
This even happens if it’s on the bedroom TV – he’ll race downstairs, check the window and back door, desperate to protect us from whatever is on the TV screen. And when I tell him to be quiet he looks at me as if you say “You’re in mortal danger mum, from that thing on the TV, I’m trying to protect us all!!!”
How does your dog react to the TV screen?
Isn’t is amazing how dogs pick up on your routine and respond to it? Ralphie gets DESPERATELY excited when I open the door to the cupboard under the stairs – it’s where the dog biscuits are kept, it’s where his lead lives and it’s also where our shoes are. And he gets even more excited when we put our shoes on, because shoes usually means WALKIES!.
He gets excited when we get ready for work because he knows he’ll get a kong full of dog treats to occupy him when we leave, and if we don’t go quickly enough he’ll bark to tell us to get a move on.
If the kong is filled with chicken or cheese, he won’t look back when I close the kitchen door on him and say goodbye. If it’s filled with gravy bones he looks at me disapproving as if to say “What is this!? Where’s the flippin’ good stuff mum?”
His tail wags like mad if we go to the car – because that usually means we’re going somewhere nice, either a good walkies or to visit people he loves.
When I go to the kitchen, either to get a drink, put the kettle on or check what’s in the fridge, Ralphie positions himself right under my feet so a) I trip over him and b) he won’t fail to miss any scraps of food which might just fall to the floor while I’m in the kitchen. I can see him mentally willing them to drop into his mouth. The kitchen, to Ralphie, means food.
There’s one walk he loves the most, Bury Field Common in Newport Pagnell, where he gets to run around off the lead, chase birds, fetch balls and mingle with other dogs. He knows the minute the car pulls up in the car park and as soon as the engine goes off he’s at the door, desperate to get out. He then yanks me or my husband to the gate of the field, crying – literally crying – in excitement to get in. It’s a tad embarrassing.
And when we have Sunday lunch, Ralphie knows not to beg but sit patiently under the table because when we’ve finished ours he’ll get his own bowl of gravy and goodness. And if we’re slow to serve him after we’ve left the table, he’ll bark to let us know.
He also knows that when the alarm goes off in the morning it’s time to get up. He helps with this by jumping on our heads and licking our faces, beating us with his waggy tail at the same time. A double-ended attack! He knows that 10 minutes after the alarm goes off he gets a walkies so has an incentive to get us up and out the door.
Ralphie loves routine, what about your dog?