I've just got off the phone with Marc Abraham and Tony Livesey on Radio 5 Live
talking about dog loss and euthanasia. It was a feature inspired by the storyline in recent episodes of Coronation Street where poor Chesney has been torn between trying to get vet treatment for his terminally ill dog and paying his rent. Last night Schmeichel the Great Dane was finally put to sleep in very emotional scenes, and apparently the nation has been pouring their upset out on Twitter.
I think people are so moved because all dog owners know (though they may shy away from it) that this is a situation they may well have to deal with. Even if you don't have to make the awful decision to euthanise, one day you will have to cope with the painful loss of your dog, and that is really hard to think about. I've seen people who rarely show emotion go to pieces over the death of their dog, and grieving for a dog - or any animal - is not something we should be ashamed of.
It's funny but when I looked back at interviews we have done on this subject, it's with Americans, and I think that's because usually Americans are more open emotionally than us Brits. If you need help coping with the loss of your dog, you may find comfort from Karen Litzinger who is a licensed professional counselor with specialised training in pet bereavement counseling and has produced a CD titled Heal Your Heart Coping With The Loss of a Pet to help dog owners who are mourning a beloved dog. Sid Korpi wrote Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss after experiencing her own "tsunami" of grief, and the book offers practical advice to help a dog owner move on while honouring and remembering their dog. Nadine M. Rosin is the author of The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood, and she knows from her own experience the utter misery of pet loss, and offers counseling - if necessary on a donation basis. Melisa Wells was inspired to write Remembering Ruby by her own experiences with her Beagle Bijoux. Melisa and her family worked through their grief, and her book contains suggestions to help other families do the same.
One of the biggest problems you can face when grieving for your dog is people who don't understand and say, "It's just a dog." Although this is incredibly hurtful, the best thing to do is ignore any comments of that kind, and concentrate your energy instead on healing yourself. If you spare any emotion for those who don't understand your grief, then make it pity for as Anatole France said, "Until one has loved a dog part of the heart remains unopened."
Until I had experienced my own tidal wave of grief for a lost pet I didn't realise that another issue is that you can feel guilty over how much you grieve for your animal. I can remember thinking, "Do I have the right to mourn an animal this much?" and of course the answer to that question is a resounding, "Yes." Our animals are part of our family, they are there for us every day in rain and sun, when we're happy or grumpy, out for a walk or cuddling on the couch; they are there for us offering constancy, companionship and love. Our dogs make us the centre of their world, and in return they ask only to be a small part of ours; we would be foolish and unfeeling not to feel deeply the loss of such a friend.
Of course the other big issue is whether to dare to love another dog or not. And when is the right time to get another dog? This can be an emotional minefield and only you can know what is right for you, but have no fear that your dog would resent it if you do seek another canine companion. After all, isn't it a genuine tribute to your dog that he enhanced your life so much that you can't face life without a dog beside you?
Our dogs find a special place in our hearts, and that is where they live on long after their death. If you are mourning your dog, seek out the company of other dog owners because we will empathise with and share your pain.