Coping with grief - the canine way... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Coping with grief – the canine way…

RICHARD SANDERSON waxes a little anthropomorphic as he recounts the story of a dog who loses a loved one and regains his joie de vivre when a cat joins the household

MY name is Sam and I am a five-year-old Labrador retriever. I live at home with my Mum, Dad and until recently my best friend Tammy.

I’ve lived at home since being just eight weeks old and Mum and Dad got Tammy when I was two and she was just nine weeks.

We struck up an instant bond although at times it was difficult because she just wanted to play all the time and never left me alone. However, our relationship grew stronger and soon we were inseparable.

Things were great until about 18 months ago when things changed. She didn’t seem to be as playful any more, often being distant and no longer did we share the same basket. I was particularly worried when we stopped going for walks together and she would, instead of playing on the lawn chasing bees with me, go out with either Mum or Dad.

They would never say where she had been and when she came back she would be different, many times having lost part of her fur on her legs or neck, like they had been clipped. One day her whole tummy was bald and she had a wound.

I am a very trusting boy but I knew something wasn’t right so I checked her vaccine card – I know I shouldn’t have but I just had to. I found a receipt from the vets and the bill was very expensive – it didn’t say what was going on though.

I knew something serious had happened/was going on but no one would ever tell the truth. I think they thought they were protecting my feelings but it was just the most terrible thing as thinking the worst is more worrying than knowing the worst!

Things remained awkward and difficult and in time I became less playful. Then one day she went away, Mum and Dad came back without her and were really upset. They told me that Tammy had been cheated out of life before her time because of “cancer”.

I like to think, even now, she has gone to a better place and is happy wherever she is but I’m sad we are no longer able to hang out and worry that she is not happy wherever she is now. What is worse is that I know we will never be together again and I will never know how she is doing.

It took me such a long time after Tammy went away for me to become myself again – it was so unexpected that I never really dealt with it or managed to cope. I was often withdrawn, lost 2kg (although the nasty vet said I needed to!) and Mum and Dad kept saying I was less boisterous. I wanted to be back to myself but suppose no one really realised the effect recent events had on me.

In many ways I don’t think I ever coped because I had assumed we would be together forever, yet things changed and whilst I was told cancer was the devil’s great warrior, I blamed myself and it shattered my inner self-confidence.

Even when I went to the park for a walk and saw my greyhound friend Teddy and Bethany the Cavalier it didn’t succeed in cheering me up or help me get back to my normal self – I even started to be self-destructive and began licking my feet which meant multiple trips to the vet for some cream which tasted horrible!

Surprise, surprise

Then one Saturday I went to the park with Dad and when I got back Mum said she had a surprise. When she opened the door I was instantly surrounded and jumped all over. Mum said she was a British Blue … wait for it … cat!

I’d only ever seen cats in windows of houses on our walks but straight away she seemed to give me a new lease of life. She was always there for me and almost immediately I was able to be happy and act myself. Occasionally this meant Mum and Dad told me off because I would be a little enthusiastic.

Princess, that’s her name, was a rescue cat who had been through a lot with her previous owners. She had trust issues, in spite of Mum and Dad plugging something very strange in the living room which was meant to “calm” her down and sometimes wanted her own space.

Like I said earlier however, I naturally am friendly, boisterous and confident and this wasn’t always what Princess wanted.

I was so happy to feel myself after so long. I suppose I will never not miss Tammy but realise now I am back to being myself since Princess moved in. It took me such a long time but am so glad Princess is now in my life – hopefully she will never go away.

A wonderful healer

I have to remember sometimes that she can be a sensitive soul and I must be careful not to forget that it will take time for her wounds to be healed – I like to remind her, from my own experience, that time is a wonderful healer.

I often think about whether I did feel true grief when Tammy was no longer around as one of Mum and Dad’s friends says that dogs like me can’t feel sadness. I think much of what I missed was the routine but also the friendship and company.

When people say animals can’t feel grief I think they are wrong and when I was having my booster the vet said that it would take time for me to come to terms with the loss.

The truth is that only when Princess came along did I really come to terms, move on and become myself and happy again. And for that I will always be so grateful that Princess has come into my life, primarily because she has allowed me to be happy again and act myself.

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