Monday 23 December 2019

When Our Pet Dies. Losing a Friend Like No Other. Part 1

During my life, at least so far, I have befriended three non-human beings. Well actually, many many more than that, but three have been with me and dependant upon my care for some time. Others have come and gone due to circumstances such as house sitting or caring for the pets of family or friends in times of need.

The first was a black and white collie kelpie dog that I named Bilbo.
The second was a bright yellow male canary called Bert.
The third was a small baby owl.

Each of them was so different but each one also unforgettable.

Until this day I feel immensely grateful that they came into my life despite the fact that I carry a sense of sadness due to the loss of their company.

This is perhaps the hardest part of having non-human friends, their life-spans are generally much shorter than ours and we are bound to face the day when they are no longer with us.

I want to share with readers my own particular experiences with the hope that perhaps you might find some comfort should you still be grieving the loss of a pet. As I have come to know through direct experience there is no 'closure' when it comes to the loss of a loved one, we never stop loving, but there can a shift in our grieving when we cross the threshold of acceptance, cherishing what was and able to release the loved one into the newness of ongoing life however and where ever that may be.

Sadly, there is so much misunderstanding among people as to the nature of awareness of animals, birds, fish and pretty well all living things. They are sentient beings, just as we are with their own thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears. They feel pain just as we do. They love their young just as we do. They mourn the loss of a close one, just as we do.

When we understand this incredibly important truth our whole attitude and behaviour towards them is bound to change.

If we come to have a pet in our care and as a companion, we know only too well that they have very distinctive characters and characteristics. We also know what it means to bond and form an attachment with them.

However, it is important to keep in mind that all non-human beings share these same characteristics, not just our pets.

I always feel and believe that we human beings hold a place of special responsibility towards all these creatures with whom we are sharing this planet. They deserve our respect. They deserve our care. They deserve our protection.


Bilbo was just an itsy bitsy thing when he first came home with me. He was at
the animal shelter in Kuranda in far northern Queensland. I actually picked him up for a friend who had recently lost his dog due to a tick bite.

Bilbo did not in any way or manner deserve to be called after our hobbit hero of the Lord of the Rings. As a puppy, he was extremely sensitive and fearful of everything but he adapted quickly enough and I pushed him past his fears in the way that I pushed myself past them during those formative years.

I will never forget the day I brought him 'home.' I was riding a small Yamaha motorbike and he was so little I was able to put him in the front carrier basket. At that time I was living in a patch of rainforest which was just near the Baron River and a little upstream from Baron Falls.

The whole ride home he gazed up trustfully at me hardly daring to even peak at the road, his little silky ears flapping wildly in the wind.

In the first days of his arrival into my life, he was afraid of everything and stayed very close to my heels and he had good reason to be. There freshwater crocodiles and snakes, spiders and wild cattle. The forest was filled with dangers more real than imagined.

He was terrified of the river especially. I used to swim across it and back every day and I was terrified too. Those deep and dark waters always held my mind in their grip. But I was just eighteen and newly alone in the world and determined to see what I could do. I needed to find out how far I could push past the fears and barriers in my mind.

When I arrived in that place I felt I only knew myself through proximity to someone else who had featured large in my life for the few years since I had departed from family life. In the forest, I had the chance to find out more about myself and every day became an adventure.

Soon after I moved there, I made a pact with myself that I would swim across the river every morning and that is exactly what I did notwithstanding my own fears.

Bilbo was not impressed. He would take one look at the river and run back home like a frightened rabbit. One morning I decided to take an executive decision. I carried Bilbo in my arms right down to the river and threw him in. I was ready to jump in after him should he fail to do what comes naturally for dogs... i.e. to swim. However, there was no need. He immediately made his way back to the shore climbed up onto the banks, shook the water from his furry coat all over me and then he tore off back home, without so much as looking back when I called out after him.

The following morning, to my surprise, he followed me willingly and even got into the water and had a brief dip and from then onwards he was always in the river before me.

He was a real character and a wonderful companion but I was always afraid of the day I would have to leave.

That day came along soon enough. Ray, the owner of the property and ostensibly the person for whom I had brought Bilbo home in the first place was supposed to take over his care. That had been the idea all along. But he had a salon down the hill in Cairns and only visited Kuranda fitfully. I had kept away from people during my months in the forest and really only made friends with one neighbouring couple.

I went to them when my time came to depart. Even though Ray promised to come and get Bilbo and keep him with him, I could not quite rely on his word alone so I asked the neighbours if they could kindly make sure the little man was ok should Ray not immediately be able to come up to Kuranda.

I left one day to make my way down to Sydney and a whole new life in the city but I could never forget my little friend. That separation and the manner in which it happened made me decide never to have a pet again. One has such a responsibility and I knew then that my life could never accommodate a dependent pet.

I still ache when I think of Bilbo. How abandoned he must have felt when I left, how terrified he would have been to find himself alone. Thankfully, I came to meet the friendly neighbours some months later in Sydney and they could assure me that all had turned out well, but I have always felt as though I let my friend down. That in some way I betrayed him.

I was so young at the time and life was moving fast for me. I did not have a fixed place to live and I felt that city life was no place for a dog.


To be continued...

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