"Is it wrong to mourn a dog?" was the question I was asked onto the Tony Livesey show on Radio 5 Live to discuss yesterday. Of course my answer to that question is, "No."
The feature was inspired by the fact that Ben Fogle recently had to have his twelve year old black Labrador Inca put to sleep, and he has described himself as inconsolable and said that he can't stop crying. Most dog owners will not just understand but identify with that. Certainly the loss of a dog - or a cat - has caused me to grieve in the past. I believe that is right and proper and natural; even though our dogs are treated as dogs, they are part of the family and a huge part of my day to day life, and if they were not there I would miss them greatly.
When someone dies they leave a hole in your life and in your heart, and that's true whether they've got two legs or four.
Comedian Jon Holmes was on the show too, putting the "pull yourself together" side of the argument. He counseled Ben to get another dog and get on with life, although it has to be said that he is himself a dog owner and his opinions were delivered with humour. Jon asked a very pertinent question though, and that is why do dogs inspire such attachment in us, and why do we mourn them so deeply?
I have a theory on this, and I call it the doorbell test. We have three cats and three dogs, and when the doorbell rings each species displays very different behaviour; the cats disappear behind the nearest, most protective piece of furniture, only to reappear when they deem it safe to do so, while the dogs stand by my side barking, showing solidarity and a readiness to face what must be faced standing shoulder to shoulder with me. We love many species of animal, and I believe many species display what I would call love in return, but it is only the dog that will stay by your side come what may, and loyalty like should rightly be mourned when it comes to an end.
If you're grieving your dog, or any animal, and someone says to you, "It's just a dog," ignore them - save your energy because you'll need it to start healing, and if you feel anything for such people make it pity, for they have missed out on so much if they've never loved a dog enough to mourn it.
So here's to Inca and to all dogs who have lived and loved and been lost - run free at the bridge and know you will never be forgotten.