Category Archives: Bereavement

What’s After the Rainbow Bridge?

Greyt Expectations – What’s After the Rainbow Bridge?

          Have you ever had that feeling when you are alone that you feel there is someone watching you?  Sometimes you may even hear or think you hear something. Zoologists would explain it as those primeval nerves and peripheral senses that once protected early humans when they first came down from the trees. These can in part explain the supernatural and superstitions many of us believe in.  However, sometimes we see things that are not so easy to explain. 

          Our pets are our companions and they invest so much emotion in us as we do in them.   They can be our constant companions, and they miss us when we are gone, and get so excited and happy when we return.  It is not surprising that when they pass on they can leave ripples in the atmosphere, emotional recording so to speak. 

          Sally was our first greyhound and she was a wonderful character, so popular, and was loved by many people.  She was particularly close to my Mum.  Sal had arrived only a month after my Mum’s best friend had passed away and in many ways she filled that need for friendship that had been created.  The routine of dog-sitting on a Tuesday and Thursday became important in helping my Mum through the grieving process and getting her back in the swing.  Sally was so very affectionate and she and I became inseparable; wherever I went, so did Sally.  She would wait patiently for me to come home from work or, on a Thursday, for 2 o’clock when my Mum would arrive with a milky way and let her out the garden.  If I worked upstairs on the pc, Sal would lie at my feet, often so close to the chair that I had to watch that I did not roll over her ears with the castors.  When my appendix burst, I spent 2 months off at home with her and we had some real quality time together.  Then, two years later when I broke my leg whilst walking her, I had three months at home with her.  At this time Armelle still worked 4 days a week so Sally and I were literally on our own from morning to tea-time.  It was great being with her, and on days when I was depressed or worried, she was there to sit and listen to me, not complaining or offering any reproach.  When Sally headed towards 13, Armelle was off work for a while, and I also as I had had the metal plates taken out of my leg, so we again had some quality time together.  Fate had given the three of us a month together, and it was only a few days after we both returned to work that on a Tuesday evening she was taken ill and in the early morning passed away.  I was in the room with her at the time.

         

Sally Greyhound, Greyhound Rescue, Crafty Dog Cymru

Sally our first hound in the house

It was a year or so before we had Sammy, our next greyhound.  She was very sensitive soul herself, and within a few weeks had also grown very close to my mum.  We had only had her a few months when she started a very strange habit; she would sit or lie down and look into space, about 18 inches up, as if listening intently.  She would not just stare blindly but she was really watching something (or someone).  You could read her facial expressions as she would (usually) lie there looking and listening.  Jokingly I said she was listening to orders from The White Dog – our Sally.  This went on all the time we had Sammy. 

          Sammy grew close to our next door neighbour Betty.   Sammy began to stop by her garden gate to go and see her.  We found out that Betty had become very ill with cancer, and Sammy seemed to realise this and became more and more insistent that Armelle should call.  She would go in and sit at Betty’s feet and watch over her, and she would wait patiently as Betty fussed her.  In the September we were going on holiday and the day before we left, Sam as had become usual, insisted on seeing Betty.  They sat with each other, and as Armelle made to leave, Betty spoke to Sam, telling her that they would probably not meet again.  Sam had to be practically dragged out of the house – she even sat down in the hallway and refused to go.   True enough, Betty passed away when we were on holidays, they never did see each other again.  When we came home, Sam would walk past the gate, but never stopped to call in; she knew Betty had gone.

          We did not have Sammy two years when she was attacked by another dog and, despite an emergency operation, she died at the vets.  It was a horrible death, and she was so young – it was the week of her fifth birthday – and it seemed to me that she had never had a chance to live a full and proper life.  She had been cheated.

          I’ve never believed in ghoulies or ghosties, or things that go bump in the night, nor am I particularly superstitious.  However, I have had to change my opinion over the last few years.  It must have been about six months after Sammy died that I was in the kitchen and as I turned towards the fridge freezer I saw a black shape pass from the kitchen into the utility room; I thought it was a black greyhound.  I went out into the utility room – but there was no-one there.  I put it all down to my imagination.  A few months later I was in the downstairs cloakroom early in the morning as I was getting ready for work.  The door was slightly ajar and as I turned to stand up I saw a small black greyhound trot past the door.  I opened the door wide – again there was no-one there.  I began to believe that for some reason Sam was still about, and keeping an eye on us, as Sally had kept an eye on her.  We had no dog at that time as we were in between hounds, but even since Penny has arrived I have still occasionally seen Sam.  It is usually in the kitchen or utility room, never upstairs, and always just a fleeting glance not a good view, and always unexpected.  It has never felt frightening or spooky, just unusual.  I have sometimes even felt her brush against me.

          Since mentioning this, a number of other pet owners have talked of seeing their pets after they have passed on; they have seen them, heard them and even smelt them.  Why does it happen to some and not to others?  I would suggest that in Sam’s case, she was so young that she still wants to share some time with us and is not ready to go yet.  She has only once seemed to talk to Penny.  Armelle has never seen her (or not admitted it!).  Sal was so very close to me yet I have never seen her – why has she not made an appearance?  I guess we’ll never know. 

          At the end of the day, I find it quite comforting to think that Sam is looking over us, and even that it seems to reaffirm the idea of life after death.  As Hamlet said, there are more things in heaven and earth….

Penny, Greyhound,Bluebells, Crafty Dog, Crafty Dog Cymru

Sammy in the bluebell wood

Greyt Expectations – Chris Dignam’s Rescued Greyhounds – Dealing with Bereavement

This week’s piece is about dealing with the loss of a pet, coping, and the question of having a replacement. It’s specifically about losing a dog, but it can be equally true of any pet, be it a cat, horse or goldfish. Anything that you have become very attached to.

You often hear someone say “It’s only a dog” when they hear that people are upset and grieving over the loss of a pet. This is the typical comment of someone who has never had a pet themselves and is unaware of the emotional chasm left by the loss of someone who had become a member of the family. They are not just members of the family; they are members of the pack, the same way that they also see you. Pets are dependent on you, and in that caring and nurturing you invest your time and energy and friendship which they give back in return. Being a dog owner is a two way thing. This is especially so when you have children, as they see the dog as another brother or sister and do not have some of the grown-up’s formal barriers. Every boy (or girl) should have a dog (or cat, or goldfish etc.), as it teaches them responsibility and the importance of the bonds of loyalty and affection.

Sally, greyhound, A Hound in the House,

Sally at 12

It’s inevitable then that as your pet grows old, or becomes ill, that you think of what will happen when they pass on. You know it will be hard emotionally but you have a degree of time to prepare. When they do die, you will still be upset but you have had time to order your thoughts and your future actions. Well, that’s the theory but it does not always work like that. When Sally, our first rescue greyhound grew old she did so gradually, and was still active so we never noticed. One evening she had gone for a walk and sat down for a rest half way round the cricket pitch, but been eager for her food when she got back. Early that evening she started crying, was a bit spaced and evidently in some distress, so we rang the out of hours vet and took her down. At the surgery she was examined and the vet suggested she might have a stomach upset, gave her some painkiller and sent her home with us. We could see her gums were very pale. When she got home she cried a bit, and sat in her bed. I sat up with her until she went to sleep and then sat in the chair to watch over her. Sally drifted away in her sleep that night some time about six o’clock in the morning. Looking back now, Armelle and I could see the signs that she was getting old – the fawn in her face had so much more white in it and she occasionally would stop for a rest on her walks. Even so, we were devastated – Sally was our first hound, and to all intents our child. I am sure that we got the “It’s only a dog” reaction but to us the pain was very real.

Sammy was a week short of her fifth birthday when she was attacked by another dog out walking on the same cricket pitch. She appeared to have come away unscathed, but the next evening she could not eat, the back of her tongue became swollen and we rushed her to the vets. When she tried to run from the dog, the collar had pulled on her throat and it was 24 hours later that the damage became apparent. They carried out a tracheotomy, which she survived, but the internal bleeding from the damage was so bad she bled out and passed away in the surgery. We were totally devastated. The emotions here were really mixed up – grief for Sammy’s death, anger about the cause of her death, and even guilt that I had taken her for a walk that night when I could have stayed at home.
No matter how your pet dies, it’s always distressing and you will be upset. If it’s an accident or sudden death, you too might feel guilty or regret that you took them out – these are natural emotions as you try to come to terms with the loss. You have to blame someone so you end up blaming yourself. What you have to realise is that it was just that – fate – you could not do anything to prevent it otherwise you surely would have.

In one respect an awful decision was already taken for us; we never had to make the call to have our pet put to sleep. When you have a pet that has a terminal illness, injury or even extreme age which means that you have to decide when their quality of life has reached such a critical point that they should be euthanised you will inevitable feel guilt along with your sorrow. You have to be a very special person if you are so certain that you have made the right decision at the right time. It is inevitable that you will question yourself over whether you left it too long, or whether if you had waited they would have been ok to last longer. Again, this is natural.

The next decision you will need to make is what to do with your pet. The option of burial was not feasible; she was a big dog, we had a small garden. If I’d dug a hole we had a choice of either her head or feet sticking out! We had decided to have Sally cremated so we had to get her to the vets from where the cremation company would collect her. The vets sorted everything for us, but we still had to get her down there. Sally weighed nearly 30 kilos and we had to carry her through the house to the car. Fortunately for us she had passed away in her bed so we could lift her in her duvet, holding two corners each and taking her through the living room. Unfortunately, as we passed the settee Sal’s head flopped out in a most undignified manner. We could imagine her looking down and tut-tutting at us. We carried Sal out to the car and at the vet, they helped me carry her in and so I said goodbye to her. Two weeks later I collected a lovely wooden box with her name on a brass plaque. We buried her in the garden near the spot where she liked to sit in the sun. When Sammy died, we decided that we would scatter her ashes in a wood where she loved to walk and we had some wonderful memories of. So instead of a box we had a lovely scatter tube – which when it came was covered in a picture of bluebells! Fate or what?

Penny, Greyhound,Bluubells

Sammy in the bluebell wood

Being without your pet can lead you to either one of two ways; you hurt so much you could never go through it again, or you really need to love another pet so want to get another one. Never think of a new dog as a replacement – they will never be the same, but will be fabulous and funny in their own ways. We always said Sam was Sally’s “understudy” who was filling in for her. Should you rush out and get another or should you waitt? I would always advise to leave a time to grieve, be it only a few days or maybe months – that would be down to you. It’s whatever feels best. Our greyhounds are rescued dogs, so to us it was always a case of “We gave Sally and Sam a great home, there are other dogs out there that deserve a lucky break too.”

Another option is to foster a dog for a time. When a rescue comes into kennels, especially where their background is not known, they are a blank card. They need to be assessed as to their temperament, how they are in a home setting, are they cat or child friendly, all the normal things they might never have seen in their lives. It’s a great way of having a dog to care for and occupy your mind, but you are also doing an unselfish thing by taking that dog out of kennels and allowing them to see what a real home can be like, and there’s no permanent commitment. We had a foster who hated kennels and needed a home where he would eat properly (the stress of kennels put him off eating).  And don’t forget that if you and the dog click, that the home is the right one for the dog, then the foster will never leave. Sam was a foster, as was our Penny, and neither of them ever went back to kennels.

So never be ashamed or embarrassed to cry or be upset when you lose your animal companion. It’s not you that’s at fault but the person who says “It’s only a dog” who is wrong for not understanding. Never blame yourself for anything untoward that happens, or for any decision on euthanasia where it’s the animal’s dignity that comes first. Finally, take as long as you feel its right before you have another pet.