The Death of a Pet
On my way back home in the car today I was listening to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 – yes I am in the Radio 2 stage of my life – and not for the first time whilst listening to Jeremy Vine, I got all riled up. For those of you that may not know, in the UK Jeremy Vine hosts a radio show where he and various guests discuss the hot topics of the day, callers are welcome to contribute to the show too. Amongst the other topics of conversations on the show, Jeremy had invited listeners to call in if they had an opinion on whether employees should be allowed paid leave if grieving over the death of a pet, a compassionate leave similar to that which you would get if a loved one died.
This was news this week because of popular TV presenter Ben Fogle tweeting about the loss of his much beloved dog Inca who had to be euthanized this week. Last month Ben said this about Inca “I have had Inca since she was a puppy. She is my best friend; a part of me and who I am.” Inca was more than a pet; she was one of the family, there for all the pivotal moments of Ben’s life over the last 12 years.
I remember a good friend of mine telling his dog that the girl he liked said yes when he asked her out. His dog was his confidante. Another couple of friends had to make the decision to put their wonderful dog down because of her growing health issues and lack of dignity, she was a family dog and plumbers mate and in the days that followed not only did they have to deal with having to decide to have the dog put down, but then their house was broken into while the family slept upstairs, whereas previously Cassie would have barked and alerted the house and scared off the criminals.
My own dog died when I was about 19, she had accompanied me on my journey from childhood to adulthood, an ever present source of happiness and devotion Sherri was a working gun dog that was a part of the family. When she died, I was sad and I cried.
For me the main part of the frustration at listening to the show was not really whether employees should have paid time off of work when a pet dies, I don’t really know what I think about this or how you would manage it. Would it be 1 day for a goldfish, 2 for a hamster 7 for a dog? Who would decide if someone loved their snail as much as a dog and allocate time accordingly? For me it was about compassion and the general lack of feeling for another human being in pain, we are all different; we all have different relationships, we all value things differently.
How easy people found it to laugh at those who saw their animals as part of their family and needed time to grieve for their deaths. Some contributors to the show suggested that Ben Fogle should ‘man up’… man up? Because he is a man he shouldn’t be heartbroken at the loss of a companion? Because it is not manly to feel pain? It makes me so angry to hear people say that, to me a man allowing himself to feel that pain and heartbreak is a man who I want to know. No one is suggesting that he will grieve for his dog forever, but what harm is there in allowing someone else their pain? If we don’t have our humanity what do we have?
In a way our pets are a metaphor, I heard Jeremy read out messages from two people, one who said that she cried more when her dog died than when her husband left her, and another who said they were more upset when their dog died than when their father died. Grieving for a pet sometimes allows us access to emotions that we never allowed ourselves to feel when going through the loss of a human. So sometimes when a pet dies, it isn’t just grief for that pet, it is all the loss that they are feeling at that moment.
I am going to link to a video I watched a while ago about the ‘Man Box’ it’s an incredibly powerful TED talk by Tony Porter, about men and I think it is fitting here because of my rant about allowing men to be something other than this label we put on them.