How do you say goodbye to a beloved family pet? The truth is there is no easy way.
Muddles was a special dog, in a lot of ways. By special I don’t just mean he was completely gone in the head. Sure he enjoyed an afternoon of bird-barking and football-fornicating, but he truly was a one-of-a-kind character and a pleasure to watch running around the garden.
Under any circumstances it is difficult to say goodbye to a loved one, whether that be a family member in a hospital bed or a pet in a vet (apologies if that last bit sounded a tad Dr. Seuss-y). I always thought I would find it impossible to allow a family dog be put down, but I realized this week that you will do absolutely anything it takes to put someone or something you love out of pain, even if it means permanently.
Dogs are really and truly something else. I was 12 years old when Muddles came into our life. He wasn’t our first dog – we had another ginger Pomeranian/terrier crossbreed called Pepper before him who met his sad end in similar circumstances. Pepper was actually Muddles’ half-brother, but the two were nothing alike in temperament.
Dealing with his death wasn’t easy, and this time around was certainly no better. A lot of people don’t understand the pain and emotional loss that is associated with the death of a pet for the owners. The fact of the matter is that pets are like a member of the family – they are an ever-present in our lives and yet we all know they aren’t built to live as long as us in the first place.
Let’s be honest, we all take our pets for granted at times. You cannot be blamed for thinking ‘Here’s a quick belly rub and some attention, but don’t worry, I’ll pet you for longer the next time.’ Pets aren’t around forever so pet them each time like it really is the last time – a morbid thought I know, but they really do live to make their owners happy and it’ll make you feel good to return the favour.
Every single time we drove up the hill Muddles would be there, waiting (im)patiently. He was a constant outdoors companion and an ever-present on the back-door step of the Hannon household. He would have the sensor light on for cars coming in late at night and he would keep up his routine of getting his snack from Dad coming in from taxiing in the wee hours of the morning.
Save his incessant barking, his (at times) disagreeable smell and his tendency to get wound-up at car windscreen wipers, all of his traits were endearing. Even the aforementioned vices we secretly didn’t mind. He loved nothing more than a good feed of the dinner leftovers and a good belly rub while lying on his back, followed by his trademark “I think I’m allergic to humans” sneeze.
This week has taught me certain things that I didn’t previously know. Apparently, if an animal is hit on a road it is up to the owner of said animal to pay any damages incurred to the vehicle involved. Obviously, 99% of people who hit a family pet on the road would not even think about asking the owners to pay up – but I have learned that some people aren’t quite that understanding. That saddens me no end.
Having 10 years ago experienced a hit-and-run incident with Pepper, I am left gobsmacked by the insensitivity some people possess when it comes to family pets. Luckily on that occasion a Good Samaritan passing by had the decency to let us know what had happened, but for all the good people out there there seems to be just as many who don’t know how to handle these situations properly.
Everyone reading this has undoubtedly experienced some sort of loss when it comes to a family pet, and so I feel like I am preaching to the choir in some ways here. But I feel like I should still make an impassioned plea – if you hit an animal while driving, worry about the condition of the animal, and forget your f*&%*ng bumper and the fifty quid to replace it. And if you happen to see an animal in distress by the side of the road, stop and either find its owner or take it immediately to the local vet. It can be very easy to simply drive by and ignore an animal at the side of the road, but you just don’t know what that animal might mean to someone.
Dealing with an animal’s death is not easy, and it really is okay to not be okay with it. My sleeping routine and diet since have been way off and there have indeed been tears shed, even if at the time you go into auto-pilot mode. Signing a form to end the life of an animal you love is an impossible task only made possible by the fervent desire to see that animal free of all pain.
Only dogs love their owners more than they love themselves. That’s my opinion anyway – I know cats and other animals are special to many people but when you’re a dog person there will always be that unwavering bias. Maybe it’s the cute eyes, maybe it’s the wagging tail. Or maybe it’s just the fact that they are there for so many special moments in our lives and provide us with many great memories. You know you’ve had a dog for a significant portion of your formative years when you were wearing Man United PJ’s the day he first arrived at the house.
Great dogs show us how to be affectionate and loyal and they motivate us to seek adventure. We can learn a lot from them and even though they are only with us for a fraction of our lives, they really do leave their mark. Muddles has his final resting place on a hill overlooking the house, not far from Pepper. The wind-chime hanging from a holly tree adjacent to his grave in some small way replaces the eerie silence, but Muddles will be missed. We’ll miss the absolute unconditional love he had for us, and we know he knew the feeling was mutual. Will we get another dog some day? Possibly. Would they have big paws to fill? Absolutely.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras (American wildlife photographer and preservationist).