Loss and bereavement

Why losing a dog is harder than you think


I'm Steve and I produced the website for Dogs2Foster. I immediately knew I wanted to help when I discovered what Jo was doing. I have my own rescue dog story.


I met my wife around 16 years ago and shortly after we got a place together and got married. In what was I guess some kind of unconscious rehearsal for kids, we decided to get a dog. Moreover we decided to get a rescue dog. We were lucky to have several shelters nearby so we set out one day to see what was what.


I learnt a lot that day about my wife H - for instance her ability to remain calm when faced with so many little firecrackers. I honestly would have ended up with them all, but H kept us looking. We arrived at a place in Lancashire called Easterleigh and they had two dogs - both black, one a labrador collie cross - which I've since learned is now referred to as a Borador - in keeping with our need to label mongrels as something more sophisticated - cockerpoo anyone?


Now as I know H will read this and for full clarity I must divulge that I preferred Benetta - the other black dog as she loved me to bits on sight, whereas Sadie the Borador was more reserved. We took each of them for a walk and we both realised that Sadie was the one.


We had to go through a lot of 'pre-flight checks' with the sanctuary, which I was glad about to be honest. I would rather they grilled potential owners rather than a 'no questions asked'' approach. A couple of weeks later we had fortified the garden to the satisfaction of a lady who came round from the sanctuary and we were then able to collect Sadie.


At this point she was nine months old. Daft - really daft. In her early weeks she ate a fax machine (yes - remember those?) most of the kitchen skirting boards and demolished a whole salmon by breaking into a neighbours house two streets away. Oh the joys.


All we were told about her past was that she belonged to a couple who had split - the fella got custody so to speak and was now in a flat and out a lot so didn't think it fair. Good call. We did have our suspicions that there might be more to it after I spotted a bluebottle the size of a small bat in our kitchen. When it landed I picked up a newspaper from the side and began rolling it tightly into a bluebottle killing machine.


As I did so I noticed Sadie out of the corner of my eye roll onto her back and draw her front paws up to her chin - pure fear in her eyes. I sensed that she'd seen a newspaper rolled up that way before... It was awful to think of, but we both felt even better knowing we were giving her a good home where one of us was always around.


The kids came along soon after and Sadie loved them and accepted them just as though they were her own pups - loving and gentle as always. We had some amazing fun and the fun stayed for around thirteen more years.

Sadie was nearly 14 by this point and her health was failing. She had vestibular disease which is a distressing thing to see - it presents like a stroke. Her balance was all off and she deteriorated over about 9 months to the point where on a visit to the vet, she planted the seed that it might be best to let Sadie go. By this point she was panting a lot as a result of being in pain and was on a cocktail of meds that would make Ozzy Osbourne gasp.


I remember taking her to the vets for the last time with H. I stayed with her and stroked her fur. Audrey the vet was really good, I was an absolute mess. I'm 50, I'm Northern. I don't talk about my feelings - I never did. We don't. But I will admit that when I felt her chest drop for that last breath I thought the pain and the anguish and the hurt would end me.


I made noises I haven't made since my Dad passed away. I howled. They didn't know what to do with me so they left the room for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only ten minutes.


And I stayed that way for months. I could not function. The grief was all consuming, crippling. I couldn't help but remember that sick as she was, she still wobbled into the vets that day with her tail wagging. All I could think afterwards was "it's too soon. it's too soon - look at her tail, she's happy." Now I know that we did the right thing and I know there was nothing else that could be done - but rational goes right out of the window here. Rational doesn't exist in my head at this point.

Move on. But I didn't - not for a long time.


So what is the point of my story? Well I suppose in working with Jo on this site I've had to put myself in the shoes of someone about to let their dog go for rehoming. I would imagine that unless you're an absolute weapon, it must feel incredibly sad and that guilt I felt at the vets must be very similar.


I would say this: If you are going to do so - whatever the reason, it will be the most noble thing you've ever done - because it gives a dog a second chance. Not everyone gets one of those. My advice is don't fight the feelings or they fight back. Let them go, but don't set a deadline.


And now - in some ways against my better judgement I spend my time training Betty.

Yep - the combined peer pressure of both wife and kids meant we now have another pup - another black dog - another Labrador. Part of me wants to ignore her - I don't ever want to feel like that again, but already after a few months she's part of (or eating) the furniture.


A dog walker approaching saw Betty pulling on the harness lead as I struggled not to swear - "haha - got any furniture left?" he chuckled. He wasn't far wrong.


So if you're reading this and know someone who's lost a dog - two things: 1. It's OK to feel dreadful - it'll pass. 2. Getting another dog is not an act of disloyalty to the dog you lost.


If you've been affected by the loss of a dog and want some support, please contact us.

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