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  • Writer's pictureLorna Vyse

Remembering much-loved pets ...

The last few days have been emotionally charged in our household, as we’ve said a final goodbye to a beloved pet. Our beautiful dog, Wilber, was 11 years old and had been recently diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was receiving palliative care to ensure that any pain was controlled in his last days and weeks. It’s been a sad time as we had endured lots of anticipatory grief, waiting for the fateful day when his life ended, and he died. We all secretly hoped that day would never arrive.

Let me tell you a little about Wilber. We adopted him from the Dogs Trust in June 2014, when he was 18 months old, and we were aware he had spent many months in their incredible care. Along with his kennel mate and partner in crime, Tommy, aged 10 months, he bounded into our lives and our hearts. We were his 5th home as he had been moved from household to household trying to find his forever home. We believed that, once adopted, any dog we chose should remain with us forever. On that premise, we gave them both their forever home.

Wilber and Tommy had lots of behavioural issues when they came to live with us. Wilber didn’t want to be touched for weeks and it was a breakthrough when he allowed us to sit with him and stroke him, some months later. He was destructive, lacked trust in humans, chased neighbours’ cats given half a chance and was interested in every shopping bag and coat pocket in case there were treats hidden in them. We spent hundreds of pounds on replacing dog beds that were destroyed and on items that he had managed to damage. He was a troubled lad, but he settled. He started to trust us a little as we strived to give him the love, security and home he so richly deserved. He developed into a lovable, gentle dog who loved lying on the sofa and playing (usually happily on his own) with a tennis ball that he would carefully select from his toy box. We accepted his needs and the fact that Wilber would do what he wanted, when he wanted but hopefully within the remit of our family routine and ongoing ‘acceptable boundaries’ training.

I’m telling you this story as saying goodbye to Wilber this week has been painful and a significant bereavement. We’ve said farewell to a family member. From arranging his euthanasia at home (with Tommy and us by his side), to taking him to a local pet crematorium and seeing him for the last time in their chapel of rest (with one of his tennis balls), to collecting his ashes and bringing them home. I’ve reflected on our grief and our collective loss. I’m aware of some close friends going through a similar experience with the unexpected death of a much-loved family pet and I can see their heartbreak too. I’ve also reflected on how much, as a society, we potentially exclude children and young people from end-of-life choices and decisions around family pets. How can we ensure that children are supported in their pets’ final days and give them appropriate tools to cope with their grief? We already know that adults want to shield and protect children from the pain of human death, dying and bereavement and that’s no different with pet loss.

I’ve already started writing another children’s bereavement support book – ‘Saying Goodbye to Wilbur’ – as I know we probably need to do better. We need to include children in discussions around pet illness and death and involve them in exploring how they want to be involved at the end of their pet’s life. We also need to recognise and understand that children and young people grieve pets too, and their pain is real. We can help them to find ways to remember their pet, just like we would for any other member of their family.

So, here I am, only days after Wilber’s death writing this blog, thinking about how I can put my feelings and observations to good use in my work. I also want you to know that I’m thinking of you if you have experienced pet loss. It hurts.

P.S. The Blue Cross provide an excellent pet loss service so check them out if you need a little extra help – Blue Cross Pet Loss Support | Pet Loss
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