Walking without dogs

A month ago the little dog I spoke of so fondly in my last post was put to sleep. She developed kidney failure and her health deteriorated rapidly. She died on Christmas Eve on the sofa which she always itched to sleep on but was seldom allowed. Now I wished I’d let her. Her passing – I’ve always loathed that expression, but it fits here – was quiet: she passed almost imperceptibly from life to death, being stroked and gently spoken to by two people who loved her. I hope I have, and I wish you, as easy a passing.

She has left a big hole in my life and a huge absence in our home. For such a small creature she had an enormous presence. I wrote how she only wanted to be close to me, which meant of course that she followed me from room to room, I found it mildly irritating, but she was always there. In addition she greeted each arrival with frenzied barking, peed on the floor with excitement or anxiety and then rolled over in a quite unseemly manner to have her tummy rubbed.

I miss her. Not just her presence, although my eyes travel to the sofa every morning expecting  to see her anxiously wagging, “Will she shoo me off or can I stay?” But as every dog owner knows, having a pet structures your day. Dogs need walking and ours had two decent walks everyday. And then there’s the feeding and hoovering up their hair and so on. I didn’t even play with her much, I didn’t need to, but other people would miss that I know. My mum spends time grooming her dogs, both she and they find the repetitiveness soothing. She also talks to them. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have.

There’s a big hole in my life. There is a loss. During bereavement counselling and much listening training, lists are compiled of types of loss. So many come easily to mind: death, divorce, redundancy etc but it’s not long before someone says ” the death of a pet.” And of course being a nice person and a vet’s wife to boot I would nod my head with due empathy and acknowledge them. But somewhere inside, although I would never have said so out loud, I didn’t think that really counted. It wasn’t up there with the rest of those losses.

And in some ways I was right I think. For most of us the death of a pet is a horrible, totally forseeable event but not like losing your mother or a child or your job or reputation. But I was confusing loss with tragedy. I know what tragedy is: tragedy has visited our family on more than one occasion and left me empty, breathless and nauseated with grief. This isn’t it. In my current situation though we are talking about loss and your sense, your feeling of loss is as valid as mine. There’s no quantifying it.


Anyhow I have an extra two hours a day and although I have longed for a dog free life now it’s almost here – Billy our first dog, senile and deaf, his eyesight dimming, remains – I am not sure like it. I am getting far less exercise and now have to do that weird thing walking without a dog. It’s ok but I eat a lot of toast and cake which needs working off, and also, and again, I am not sure I like it. It feels odd.

It makes me realise how dependent I am on external events, people, media, Radio 4 definitely to give my life shape. We moved to the country six years ago. When we moved I busied myself in many new activities. Two new jobs, one in a detention and removal centre. Cruse training and volunteering, counselling training and study. A Masters degree and membership of three bookclubs and a running club. All the while my children did that boomerang thing which is a modern phenomenon. And five pets.

Most, if not all of those activities, I found so necessary have been stripped away. Four of the five pets have died. My children have left and are living happily with partners of their choice.  I am fortunate in not having to go to work to supplement our income. I now have great swathes of time. I have attempted to fill it but at present I choose not to. I am looking to live in a different way from an internal place with less dependency on external structures.  I’d like to write that I have taken up Tai Chi or meaningful meditation, but I haven’t, although I do attempt some basic mindfulness. I sometimes feel empty and lonely and afraid of making a big mistake, of deluding myself that I am experiencing a new way of being when I am simply being lazy or gutless.

Last year I read and recommended Richard Rohr who writes in Falling Upward of the two halves of life and the tasks of each. His message deserves far more than a nod at the end of this post but suffice to say, it’s the second half I am addressing now. And that he says, happens mostly on the inside.