He arrived five years ago, saved from the promise of a plastic bag and the murky water of the grand canal. He arrived tiny, quiet, and resembling a cloud with a chance of rain.
After a week, there was little change in his personality, but the indulgence offered to him by faces reduced to smiles and silly voices, dictated the impact to come within his new surroundings.
After five weeks, his demolition techniques had reduced four pairs of once uniquely matched slippers to two left slippers, and one right; now just items of forever single footwear.
Over time he became central to the rhythm of the lives of everyone who indulged, or basked in his exuberance; apart from the horses. They learned a refined technique of passing the hedge of his terrain with a lighter fall of hooves, attempting to sabotage his demented complaining.
His name was Bobby, and 4 weeks ago, he died; from nothing, and it would seem of nothing.
As the winter sun warmed the space where the BBQ used to sit, he had a seizure and ceased to be the bundle of fluff who glued a family together.
The grief that follows the loss of a pet, is an exquisite pain, one that is hard to find recognition for.
Traditionally dogs were not pets, they hunted with the hunter, stood guard with the keepers and were relegated to outdoors. Now however, with social awareness of dog rescues, the reality of horrendous puppy farms and the imprint of the campaign ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ slapped across car rear windows, there can be no ambiguity in where the dog sits in the order of things.
In Darwinian times, and since, science has speculated on the domestication of dogs; thought to be over 15,000 years ago since our allies became beloved pets, yet dogs still fulfil a vital role as service dogs, guides, searchers, and K9’s.
Liz Campbell explained how taking in an abused stray impacted her life: “I could do nothing but keep and love her, I put her through a lot of vet work and even more physiological healing, but she didn’t trust anyone but me, cuddles were rare as she was very sensitive to touch… but on walks she came to life, loved exploring with one of my other dogs and really enjoyed digging by the river, even with her crooked leg, she was fast to get the ball, when she learned there was a treat for bringing it back.
“I only had her for 17 months when she died suddenly. Her presence brought me energy to do more to help with welfare cases, topics and campaigns. I think it is a grief that isn’t acknowledged enough.”
Understanding that a family can feel shattered by the loss of a pet, and that grief may express itself at the most unusual time, may be anathema for some; for others the pain just never eases.
Nastro is an 8-year-old Samoyed missing since February, his owners have looked for him every day. A campaign across social media, newspaper articles, and even TV appearances have been a part of their journey to try and bring Naz home.
They say: “It still breaks our hearts not knowing where Naz is or if he’s still even alive. It’s the not knowing that makes it unbearable. All we can hope for is that we might just get lucky some day and he gets scanned by a vet somewhere and makes his way back into our lives.”
A panel of experts from the American Heart Association (AHA) has weighed all the available evidence, and reached a consensus that having a dog likely lowers the risk of heart disease, protecting hearts.
For Sandie, whose two golden retrievers died within weeks of each other this summer her heart is broken. Even the hierarchal way of laying out bowls for food has become painful: “Because you no longer call those two names; Jordan and Molly. They are no longer a part of the pack.” For Sandie, that heartache won’t go away.
Science magazine released a study in 2015, concluding that human-like modes of communication, including mutual gaze, in dogs may have been acquired during domestication with humans, and this bonding exists between us and our closest animal companions, dogs.
To explain this feeling of loss isn’t easy for most people and this adds to the feeling of not being allowed show how this void of companionship impacts on daily life.
It is not that a dog is like a member of the family, a dog is family.
Digging a hole is a favourite pastime for a dog, digging a hole to put one in is inevitable, but absolutely heart shattering.
Bobby left, bigger, bolder; but still like a cloud with a chance of rain.
Orla O Driscoll
Photo Credit: Orla O Driscoll