Although my family had dogs when we were children, and after I left for University, they were always my parent’s dogs rather than my own. My relationship with them was very much like them being part of a busy family unit and companions to all of us.
But life for my wife and myself has been very different for us since our two Springers joined our family over 12 years ago. Bringing up two lively working breed puppies at once was a bit of a baptism of fire for us, and I’m the first to admit it was quite a challenge. We’d both only had the experience of slightly less excitable breeds before, and Springers were so very different.
Before I started my dog photography business, I was fortunate enough to work from home quite a lot in my role as a technology consultant. Being at home with them so much meant that they became a significant part of my daily routine. In addition, living in a rural location meant that an excursion into the surrounding fields with them both was the perfect way to blow away the cobwebs before a day spent sat in front of my office computer.
But Millie and Daisy were not just family pets; they were my companions and gave me a reason to leave my desk throughout the day. They never complained when I woke them up at silly o’clock in the morning to head off on a long commute to London or an early flight to an office abroad. More typically, after a morning snooze in their beds in the kitchen, they liked nothing more than to spend the rest of the day doing much the same on their futon in my study.
Things, of course, became a little more energetic when late afternoon and the approach of feeding time meant that Daisy bore a hole in the back of my head just willing me to get up and take them down for their dinner.
All these things become part of your daily routine and life with your constant canine companions. But, whilst you never do take it for granted, gosh, do you notice when that isn’t the same anymore. Even the odd time when the dogs left a day early for my parents before going on holiday felt bizarre. You don’t expect to walk into a now empty kitchen that doesn’t also include the wagging tails and happy welcome you’re so used to.
They hold an extraordinary place in your heart, and you very much can’t imagine them not being there forever. But part of being a dog owner is an appreciation that they aren’t with us for long enough. You learn to enjoy the time you have with them to the maximum and dread the day that you no longer have that beloved friend to turn to when you need them.
In our case, we had to deal with the very sudden loss of Daisy first, a couple of years ago. Our cheeky little monkey of a Spaniel was lost to a very aggressive liver tumour over only a few short days and whilst we were on holiday in the USA to only make it harder. Cancelling our holiday and getting back to the UK as quickly as possible was the only option we could think of at the time. It was devastating to make that lengthy trans-Atlantic flight home knowing what we were coming back to. Even though we only spent a short few hours with her, seeing that little tail wagging when she saw us just showed how important it was for us to have made that decision.
I have to admit, losing Daisy struck me hard. Not being there during the initial stages of her illness meant that we felt we lost her in only a few hours without any time to absorb what would happen. I’ve had clients lose their dogs so quickly, too, and I can understand how they felt.
But we bounced back and dedicated our time to make sure that Millie coped as well as possible with the loss of her littermate of over ten years. In fairness to Millie, she did brilliantly and helped us through the grief process as best as she could. Everyone has their way of mending their broken heart, which may or may not involve opting to take on another dog. Millie would have probably been just as happy being the only dog in our home, but we’d got very used to being a multi-dog house, and we decided to add little Cocker Spaniel, Skye, to the pack.
Fast forward a couple of years, and despite some initial challenges, Millie and Skye grew to love each other and share their life perfectly.
Millie slowed down a bit in her twilight years, suffered from a little arthritis, and was undoubtedly selectively deaf. However, having a young Cocker keep her on her toes meant that she had no excuse to spend all her day curled up in her bed. Instead, she enjoyed her walks with the three of us and chased a ball with the same vigour she always had. Unfortunately, in her last months, she developed a very pronounced heart murmur and then developed SARDS Her life was no longer the fun it once was and it often presented itself with days confined to her bed in a stressed state. We had to make the super hard decision to say goodbye.
It being a more planned decision, than the one we had for Daisy, brought with it very mixed emotions for me. A certain sense of guilt in the trust she had in me but at the same time the knowledge that she really wasn’t enjoying things anymore.
How can I help you remember your dog?
Many of my clients decide on wall art from their dog photography sessions, putting them in a position that means they can see and enjoy them every day. One popular location and where we have some images of Millie and Daisy is in the hall. After all, it’s probably one of the typical locations you are welcomed home by your dogs every day and a perfect place to get maximum attention.
At some point, we know the dogs themselves might not be there to welcome you home, but the lasting memories we have from the artwork will go a little way to doing the same thing.
The image of Millie has been hanging in that space for over ten years and I can’t think of anything I would like more than to keep it there for another ten.
This partular shot of Daisy was taken over in Delamere Forest and it captures, for me, her spirit perfectly. She loved to get wet and dirty, so her staring out into the muddy depths of the nearby mere but she’s staying in place. I know exactly what is going on in her head, but still she sits there. It’s my all time favourite image if her too.
Another super important image for us both. Just before we welcomed Skye to our home we took a short break to the Lake District and had our own ‘Puppy Moon’ knowing it would be sometime before we could do a similar trip again. It was a lovely stay and our chance to give Millie some proper quality time with us before she had to share our love with another.
Ways to cope with the loss of your pet
1. Extreme sadness
It is an overwhelming feeling that you will never forget, even if it takes years for you to get over this loss. It’s hard to describe, but I think most people know what extreme sadness feels like because we all have experienced it at some point in our lives. If you’ve lost someone close to you, you’ll understand how painful it is to lose a pet. The pain doesn’t go away as time passes either; it just gets easier to deal with each day.
2. Feeling as though your departed pet is present
Sometimes, after a significant life event such as the death of a beloved animal, you may find yourself thinking about them more often than usual. Maybe you start remembering funny moments from earlier days together, or perhaps you notice certain smells or sounds that remind you of your pet. These thoughts aren’t necessarily bad — they simply mean that something important has changed inside you.
3. Feelings of aloneness
When you’re grieving the death of a loved one, there may come a moment where you feel entirely alone. There might not seem to be anyone else who understands exactly how you feel right now. Even though others around you may try their best to help you through these difficult times, sometimes it still seems impossible to explain why you feel so sad. Don’t worry about trying to make sense of things – just let yourself grieve without having to talk about it too much.
4. Reliving or revisioning the death
Many people say that the most challenging thing about losing a pet is reliving memories of past events. Whether it was a trip to the vet or a walk down memory lane, revisiting old experiences can bring back feelings of sorrow and regret. However, don’t dwell on negative emotions. Instead, use these memories to strengthen bonds between you and your remaining animals. For example, try taking walks together, create new memories or spending quality time playing games.
After a significant loss, guilt can become a genuine part of your grief experience. Some people blame themselves for causing their pets’ deaths, while others wonder whether they could have done anything differently to prevent those losses. Either way, guilt isn’t helpful during any stage of mourning. Instead, focus on doing everything possible to honour your deceased companion and move forward into new chapters in your own life.
6. Revisiting prior losses
One of the worst parts of losing a pet is realising that they won’t always be there to greet you every morning. Unfortunately, that realisation can cause many people to question whether they made the right decision to bring a dog into their lives. Although it’s natural to want answers to questions like “why did my pet die?” or “what happened?”, avoid asking these kinds of questions until you’ve had plenty of time to process your current situation.
7. Confusion and inability to concentrate
If you feel confused or unable to think clearly because of your recent loss, take some time off from work. It’s okay if you need extra support at this point. Just know that eventually, you will get better at coping with sadness and dealing with daily challenges again.
8. What can you do to help your pets through their grieving process?:
Our pets deal with loss in different ways, and all we can do is be there to support them. They might become needier of your time and presence, suffer from separation anxiety or possibly become overprotective around strangers. Seeking some professional dog trainer support might be necessary here, but many dogs settle into the new routine of life quite quickly.
9. Should you get another animal for your pet?
Most experts agree that getting another animal as a companion is unnecessary. But if you are yourself used to having multiple pets in the household, like us, it might not be long before you fill that gap for everyone’s sake.
Recommendations and reviews
I’m grateful that my clients are keen to let others know about their experience with me and provide such lovely feedback like that shown below.
It makes me so happy that I can deliver such an experience to my clients and know that they have artwork to cherish for many years to come.