While the festive period is often hailed as ‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’, this is seldom the case for those who are grieving. With most people celebrating love, togetherness and family, you may be missing that special family member and companion who is no longer by your side with all your heart.
This may be your first Christmas without your pet or several years may have passed since they crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Either way, you are perfectly entitled to feel whatever you are feeling. There is no time limit on grief and it’s important to acknowledge how you are feeling. Are you dreading the holidays? Are you using this as a time for reflection? Do you feel able to draw on past Christmas memories for comfort or do you find it upsetting?
And the most important question… What can you do about it?
Pretending to be fine and over your feelings of grief can be utterly exhausting. Putting on a brave face and bottling your feelings up is not helpful so acknowledge how you are feeling, have a good cry if you want to and rest.
Spend time with people who nourish your soul and bring you joy.
Be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion.
Memorialise your pet by lighting a candle for them and taking a moment to reflect. You could write a letter to your pet telling them how you feel at this time. Or perhaps hang a personalised bauble on your tree.
Get the feel-good factor by making a donation to an animal or conservation charity in your pet’s name.
Take a nice long walk and feel your pet’s energy with you.
You may feel like you don’t want to participate in all the ’forced fun’. It’s ok to set boundaries and say ‘no’ if you don’t feel like the happiest elf at the party. You don’t even have to go to the party, or you can leave any time you want to. If you don’t feel like entertaining, don’t. If you don’t feel like writing and sending cards, don’t. If you don’t feel like battling the crowds to do the Christmas shopping, don’t. Christmas is not compulsory, and you are not obliged to celebrate if you don’t feel like it. Simply spending the day how you want and on your own terms is completely fine. Give yourself permission to spend the day in a way that feels good for you.
If you are feeling lonely, you could spend Christmas Day volunteering or spend the day with someone else who is also feeling alone, isolated or those who are also grieving.
If you feel like you are overwhelmed, not coping and have nobody to talk to at this time, please seek support from a counsellor.
If you know someone who is struggling with their grief, you could buy them a thoughtful & practical gift such as a gift voucher for my counselling service or a copy of my book ‘How To recover From Pet Loss’.
This week I visited one of Glasgow’s most notorious buildings with my partner in crime, the lovely Frank. Barlinnie Prison.
I booked this visit as a research trip for a fiction book I’m writing & when I told my contact that I am a Pet Bereavement Counsellor & have a book on that also, they were keen to get it into the library. I brought along a gift copy for a staff member who had suffered a pet bereavement in particularly tragic circumstances but obviously there is a process for the library. We’re also discussing a few other things I can do to support prisoners through this forced separation & indeed the death of their companion animals.
Everything in this hyper masculine environment is heightened so it’s important that support is available for everyday issues such as pet loss. It’s tough enough on the outside but imagine for a moment how it must be inside… This is a multi-faceted issue with added layers because of the situation, environment & culture. Imagine grieving in a place where you simply cannot show any weakness or vulnerability…
This was one of the most fascinating & interesting afternoons of my life. I had never set foot in a prison before & although I was keeping an open mind, my mind was indeed blown.
Driving up Lee Avenue, this building gives nothing away. It is of course an imposing structure but the modern façade is neither intimidating nor comforting which I suppose is a good thing. I still felt quite anxious despite the fact I was free to leave at any time.
My contact greeted us once we had shown our identification and passed through security. I really don’t think we could have had a better host or guide for our visit. We entered via the most solid door I have ever seen into a beautiful garden area with fantastic metal sculptures made by prisoners in their workshop, polytunnels and hanging baskets. The visiting area was much as you see on television but with a booth for teas and coffees, vending machines with snacks and chocolate and there is a separate brightly decorated children’s visiting area full of toys and colourful chairs. I was very aware of the brave faces that many of the prisoner’s partners were putting on and have nothing but respect for them. I saw the smiles and observed the exhaustion and pressure they are under to maintain the home, look after the children, maybe hold down jobs, pay all the bills as we face an energy crisis all while providing the things their partner might need such as new trainers or a radio. Albeit the prison does actually have it’s own radio station. I don’t yet know how popular it is or what the content is but I’m sure GBX is still a requirement for the younger demographic to keep spirits up.
As we entered the recreation area, I was instantly and pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere. It definitely wasn’t as grim as I was expecting. Both the staff and inmates were very welcoming, and I felt quite at ease walking past the rows of pool tables which were overlooked by some particularly good paintings by inmates created in the art area, including our beloved landmark of the Duke of Wellington sporting a traffic cone on his head. Onwards and into the library, I enjoyed a brief chat with the two prisoners who run the library and they honestly could not have been nicer. There was a great sense of pride from them and rightly so as they were incredibly knowledgeable, the library was immaculate and full of amazing books by incredible authors. Obviously, the crime fiction section was by far the biggest, but I think we’ll be in either the health or maybe the short reads section. As pleasant and gracious as my hosts were, of course there were the questions ‘What did you do? & Why are you here?’ lingering in the air that you just don’t want to ask. It could have been rape, murder or the same mistake/bad decision the rest of us have made but not been caught for… It’s really none of my business of course but the curiosity is always there.
My contact, who has worked at the prison for decades, gave a fascinating insight into their experience, how times and attitudes have changed throughout their eventful career and introduced us to other staff members who were equally informative & keen to share the positive aspects to what they do. I was really struck by the dedication to the provision of care every staff member showed and it’s great to see so much attention being paid to mental health and wellbeing. I was very impressed.
While there is a huge & welcome focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment and the prison is as nice as it possibly can be, it was B Hall that has really left its mark on me. Built in 1890 it really is from a different time. All those tiny little doors all the way along & all those floors high leading into tiny little cells was really overwhelming. All those hours, days, weeks, months and years in such a small space would be challenging for the most resilient of us. It might be ok on your own or with good company, but I imagine the experience would be entirely different if you were doubled up with someone you didn’t like or worse, were afraid of.
It’s taken me a couple of days to process everything I have seen & felt. I have had the tiniest glimpse behind those locked, solid metal doors and razor wire but this is how life is for a lot of people, not just here in Glasgow but across the whole country. I know how lucky I was to be born into my family & environment and raised with the tools to equip me for life. I have never taken that for granted. I’ve always worked hard to maintain that & live with purpose. This research trip has had a profound effect on me & made me so thankful for every good thing in my life. I have a new found appreciation for all of it. To say it was an eye opener & reality check is a massive understatement.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who spared us some of their time during our visit. It was hugely informative and helpful for my original purpose and intention, but it was also an unexpected exercise in personal growth. I have gained a new, real-life perspective away from the media/television and I definitely want to offer support in whatever way I can.
The recent increase in cases of dog theft is horrifying. It is without a doubt a cruel and evil thing to do. Anyone engaging in this is, in my humble opinion, an absolutely heartless scumbag. The best thing about having my own blog is that I can freely express my views on the matter, and I will do so unapologetically.
As a dog mum, dog walker and pet bereavement counsellor I find it shocking that anybody would be so desperately greedy that they would cause so much distress to not just the animal but also the people left behind. It breaks my heart to think of how utterly terrified Pixie would be in that situation. Alone and scared, wondering when I’m coming to rescue her from these awful people in an unfamiliar place. Anyone who knows us would agree that we belong together, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use ‘reasonable force’ to protect her. Definitions may vary…
My heart also breaks for the human victims who have suffered at the hands of these vile individuals and gangs. I can only begin to imagine the devastation this would cause. Not only would they be experiencing the full spectrum grief emotions experienced during pet bereavement, but they would also have the added distress of not knowing what became of their beloved family member. Would those unneutered bitches be taken to a puppy farm to be bred from relentlessly in often disgustingly unhygienic conditions? Would others be sold on to unsuspecting people satisfying the demand? Victims would never reach the stage of acceptance and never gain closure unless they were lucky enough to be reunited with their companions.
So, what is causing this and what can we, as a society, do about it? Well, simply it’s the economy of supply and demand. These poor loving souls are viewed as nothing more than a commodity. With so many people experiencing loneliness and indeed boredom during the pandemic, it has become obvious that there is an upward trend in the amount of people wanting a dog. Most people will want a new puppy or a designer/fashionable breed, which there has only been a limited number of available. At this point, unfortunately, I’m going to take a swipe at breeders. Many will know that I come from a family of KC registered Labrador breeders however my parents retired from this decades ago. Breeders have not helped this situation at all by increasing their prices for no other reason than just because they can. People are willing to pay more for the breeds they want, and that demand is being fully exploited which I find very distasteful indeed. This has had the catastrophic ripple effect of criminals stealing dogs to order to meet this demand which can not been met by breeders. Puppy farms have also sprung up and cashed in exploiting the situation further which has resulted in many people buying desperately unwell puppies which have contracted illnesses such as parvo virus and died within days of reaching their new homes. Which leaves the buyers grieving and out of pocket by upwards of £2000 in some cases.
I have blogged previously about our friends Bring Your Pet Home http://www.byph.org who work tirelessly to reunite pets and their people, but it is an incredibly difficult thing to do and especially so with such a dramatic increase in the number of cases. In the same blog we examined the legal classification of pets. Sadly, they are treated as personal property (chattel) so even if you are visibly distraught with worry when reporting to the police, this will not be treated with any more care or urgency that if someone had knicked your mobile phone. I strongly believe that the law needs to change on this. Police don’t make the law; they only enforce it. So, in the meantime, prevention seems the best way to combat this issue. My recommendations are as follows:
Adopt. Don’t shop. There are plenty of dogs looking for their forever homes in rescue centres and shelters. I rehomed Pixie privately and it was the best decision I ever made. She’s my best friend and I love her more than I can possibly put into words. Which is really saying something considering I’m a blogger and author! This also lessens demand for certain breeds of dogs and keeps ‘retail’ prices lower.
Never buy a dog from the internet. Websites such as Gumtree are frequently used by criminals to sell stolen and puppy farm dogs.
Make sure your dog’s microchip details are recorded accurately and are up to date. Recently there have been cases whereby details are recorded incorrectly which makes it incredibly difficult to find out where the dog belongs.
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DOG TIED UP OUTSIDE A SHOP. This is in capitals because yes, I am shouting at you if you do this. I see it all the time when I’m driving around, and it makes me feel very anxious. This is an invitation to dog thieves. Don’t do it.
Make sure your garden is secure and don’t leave your dog unattended.
Avoid letting younger children walk your dog by themselves.
When walking your dog…
Make sure you have your mobile phone with you and that it is sufficiently charged. You may need to call for help or take a photograph of thieves and/or their vehicle.
Vary your route. Particularly if you have a breed which is in demand. You may have already been spotted and targeted.
Pay attention. You should be paying attention to your dog anyway but very often I see people chatting away on their phones completely oblivious to their dog’s whereabouts (and often the fact that they are pooping which gives us all a bad name).
Be aware of your surroundings and people around you. It’s O.K. to walk away from people who make you feel uncomfortable. Particularly if they want to photograph or pet your dog. If you’re not happy, don’t allow it. Never ignore your gut feeling.
If you feel vulnerable, arrange to walk with a friend or neighbour. You might also want to have a whistle or personal alarm. I have a personal alarm strapped to my arm when I’m out walking. No shame in it. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
My biggest tip of all is, do not let these evil people rob you of the joy of pet parenting. Chances are, you’ll be absolutely fine and statistically there are more of us than there are of them. Be alert, be smart but also be present and enjoy every moment with your beloved companion.
Blue Monday, a notable date coined by psychologist Cliff Arnall, is deemed to be the most depressing day of the year and will descend upon us on the 18th of January 2021. Falling on the 3rd Monday of January every year, ‘the blues’ hit us as the post holiday euphoria fades, we return to work, our finances are not great, it’s a 5 week month thus longer until pay day, we have likely failed miserably at keeping our resolutions AND this year, we are still in the grip of a global pandemic. It is no wonder then, that grieving the loss of a much loved pet will hit harder at this time. So what can we do about it?
My best suggestion is that we work on building our resilience ahead of time. Let’s look at 5 ways to do that.
Instead of making New Years Resolutions, make SMART Goals.
Every year we put ourselves under enormous pressure and set ourselves up to fail. STOP. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Timebound Goals are a much better way to do what we need to do in a less stressful way. By being a bit more realistic about working towards something in the future which is do-able, we are much more likely to be successful. Decide what you want to do and figure out how to do it using this pathway as your guide
2. Be more assertive and set boundaries.
When we are grieving for our pets, we can sometimes hide how we are feeling from others which can often result in us feeling imposed upon when people ask for more than we have the capacity to give. By setting clear boundaries we are effectively protecting ourselves and preserving our energy for what ‘we’ need rather than having our resources depleted by meeting the wants of others. You are not obliged to pick up your phone every time it rings. If you are having some ‘me time’ you can reply to a message later. Be selective about the media you consume and perhaps limit your social media usage to avoid absorbing too much negativity. It’s o.k to say ‘No’. Acknowledge how you are feeling, take a minute to process that and then take responsibility to be proactive about how to move forward. We can consciously take control of our emotional wellbeing by identifying, being honest and being assertive about our own needs without feeling guilty for it.
3. Practice Gratitude.
Having an attitude of gratitude can be hugely beneficial during the grieving process. It’s a beautiful way to memorialise our pets in our hearts and minds if we can be thankful for the time we had and the experiences we shared rather than focusing on what we have lost. If we apply a gratitude practice in daily life it can take as little as 3 weeks to form this as a habit thanks to the magic of ‘neuroplasticity’ which I often speak about in counselling sessions. If we can make gratitude and positive self talk part of our daily routine, it will become second nature. Think of all the things that bring you joy and happiness in your life. Thank the little Robin that visited your garden. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on an achievement. Simple things that we often overlook or take for granted can be the very things that can help you to rewrite a challenging day.
As a qualified meditation teacher, this is my ‘go to’ resource to quieten mind chatter and combat negative self talk. While we are grieving, we feel so many emotions, sometimes all at the one time. By practicing meditation on a regular basis we can learn to overcome that inner turmoil and regain our balance when we feel overwhelmed. Mindful Meditation is a great way to stay present and in the moment while noticing your environment, sensations and keeping things in focus. Self Compassion Meditation can be helpful when feelings of guilt arise. It is far too easy to let out thoughts run away with us so meditation can be an effective way to help us find our inner calm by ducking beneath that choppy surface.
The release of endorphins during exercise ensure that we feel good about ourselves and promotes better sleep which helps to build resilience. My preferred form of exercise is yoga due to the well documented physical, mental and emotional benefits. I also enjoy hiking as it’s a great way to take exercise, take in fresh, clean air and gives me the opportunity to practice mindfulness. I can practice gratitude at the same time by appreciating all the things that I notice during my hike. During this pandemic it is particularly important for our mental health to stay active.
I hope that you find these tips useful and can implement some of them in the lead up to Blue Monday. If you would like to talk about how you are feeling, please don’t hesitate to book an online session. Alternatively, you can download or order a copy of my book ‘How To Recover From Pet Loss – Supporting You On Your Journey To Acceptance’.
Last week I had a conversation which reduced me to tears when I finished the call. This happens quite often when you’re a Pet Bereavement Counsellor but this conversation was a bit different. The conversation was with a lovely Italian gentleman living in London called Walter Bochetti about his much loved dog, Nennella, who is still alive but living with another family who are completely unknown to Walter. He is utterly distraught and my heart broke for him.
Walter is experiencing feelings of grief due to the morally wrongful separation from his companion animal.
I was recently contacted by fellow dog walker Patrick Walsh, who runs an organisation called Bring Your Pet Home. Patrick and his team of volunteers work tirelessly to support and advise pet parents with the ultimate goal of reuniting them with their beloved pets. Patrick put me in contact with Walter to share, not just his story, but the story of other victims of an absolutely nonsensical law which I really feel needs to be changed to stop this happening to others in the future. In law, pets are classed as ‘chattel’ which is personal property. I’m sure that we will all agree that our companion animals are not merely ‘things’. I strongly feel that if the legal definition /classification were to be changed and the legislation overhauled, this would not only save distress to pet parents but also give animals in shelters for legitimate reasons a better chance of finding a forever home rather than being overlooked because of a pet that already has a loving home. Currently, there is no legal requirement for vets and shelters to check for a microchip. It’s good practice, but not an obligation. Furthermore, a microchip is not classed as proof of ownership! This is what made me cry… I privately adopted my Pixie almost 4 years ago from the lovliest couple who had a change in circumstances. She. Is. My. World. Anyone who sees us together knows beyond doubt that we belong together. But although she has an up to date microchip, I have no receipt or adoption papers for her. Should she ever be lost or stolen, I would face a very uphill and expensive legal battle to have her returned to me, meanwhile she would be sitting alone and afraid in a shelter or a strangers home wondering why I hadn’t come for her. The thought of her sitting in a corner shaking with fear in an unfamiliar place is too distressing to contemplate for me. And yet this is what happens to many people and their pets with startling regularity. The police have no interest either as it’s a ‘civil matter’ which means that pet parents are faced with thousands of pounds worth of legal fees to try and bring their pets home where they belong.
Walter Bochetti is a chef to trade and left Nennella in the care of a friend while he attended a job interview. Unfortunately Nennella was lost at this time and Walter has not seen her since despite an extensive social media campaign and putting up posters in his local area. He contacted Haringey Council giving a description of Nenella only to be told that no dogs matching her description had been handed in. Now here’s where things get a little weird and inconsistent. A couple of weeks later, Walter rang the council again and was informed, by the same person, that Nennella had already been rehomed and there was nothing they could do to help him as she was not microchipped or wearing an identification tag. In their eyes, they have ‘followed procedure’. In my eyes, they have not considered the ‘Human Companion Animal Bond’. How is it in either party’s best interest that Nennella be rehomed with complete strangers? Should she not be returned to her Walter? I, of course feel that there is no such thing as ‘can’t’, the council are just not willing to take the matter any further. Walter bought Nennella after the death of his brother and she has been a source of emotional support and unconditional love ever since. His grief has doubled and his mental health has suffered since losing his Nennella.
Sadly, Walter is not alone in this. Far from it in fact. Alsagar Animals In Need had agreed to provide temporary care but are now refusing to return William the dog and Sally the cat to the grieving family of their pet parent David Mills who sadly passed away. Bobby the cat has been rehomed by Warrington Animal Welfare despite his family providing evidence that he was not a stray. These are just a couple more examples of cases that Patrick highlighted in our recent conversations. There are far more which vary in complexity. But the point is, many other countries such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Australia have a completely different legal classification on companion animals whereas we lump them in beside appliances and furniture which they most certainly are not.
Imagine your own pet, sitting afraid and alone in a shelter or confused in a new home. Isn’t it about time to change this legislation to avoid such heart break? I think it is…
Earlier this month, I attended the NYC Retails & Sales Pet Expo from the comfort of my sofa as it was being held as a virtual event due to the Covid-19 situation. The event was hosted by ‘The Pet Lady’ Dana Humphrey and Nancy Hassel of American Pet Professionals who spent the interviewing several interesting people from within the Pet Industry. My ears pricked up when Nancy Volin of https://pamperedpetsusa.com was speaking about her range of CBD chews for dogs and I thought to myself ‘Why don’t we have those here in the U.K?’ as, in my opinion, this could be a very useful product. Particularly at this time of year. Please take a look at their FAQ section too which I found a very interesting read.
Having researched the health benefits of CBD for animals, I learned that this product can, of course, have a calming effect but can also help with the distress of dementia and joint pain. Further investigation of the American Kennel Club website revealed an article based on the findings of their Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Jerry Klein, which suggests that CBD can help control seizures, relieve pain, particularly neuropathic pain, it has anti-inflammatory properties, cardiac benefits, anti-nausea effects, appetite stimulation, anti-anxiety effects and possibly anti-cancer benefits although there is no conclusive data. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/cbd-oil-dogs/ There are many articles available to read online which suggest that there could be further health benefits including skin conditions and some behavioural issues and not just for dogs! It’s suggested that horses and cats could safely use CBD based products too.
CBD based products, including oils, are available in many European countries, even our neighbours in Ireland can buy it for their beloved pets. So why not here? I tweeted both the Scottish and UK Governments but have not received any acknowledgement. Unsurprisingly. I know they’re a bit busy with other matters right now but should that change I’ll let you know via the Facebook page. The UK Government full stance on the matter can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/news/vmd-statement-on-veterinary-medicinal-products-containing-cannabidiol but in short CBD products for animal use require a marketing authorisation before they can be sold or supplied in the UK. Currently no such products have been granted a UK veterinary marketing authorisation.
Every year we hear of multiple deaths relating to firework use and this year with organised displays cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic there was a huge increase in ‘at home’ celebrations. In addition, of course to the impromptu fireworks being set off well before and after that we pet parents have to try and prepare for. As usual, my little Pixie has been wearing her Thunder Shirt from 5pm onwards since mid October, been taking Zylkene tablets every day and taking ‘calming’ chamomile treats and still shakes uncontrollably with fear. I confess that I went against guidance and went elsewhere for Bonfire Night as I refuse to make her suffer the worst of it and I’m glad that I did as I’m told that our neighbourhood resembled a bad night in Baghdad. I’m not putting her through that only to become another statistic.
This year, we pay our respects to all the beautiful animals who suffered and died. Hope, the 7-month-old Zebra at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol, who bolted and collided with the boundary of her enclosure. Her post-mortem concluded a sudden impact caused her immediate death. Mikka, the 7-year-old Whippet from East Kilbride, who died in the early hours of the following morning when her heart stopped having spent the previous evening in a very distressed state. And rabbits Bramble and Martha from Flint who are believed to have died from a heart attack and a broken heart respectively. We also learned of a horse called Dettori in Aberdeenshire who lost an eye due to a firework hitting him in his beautiful face.
If the Governments within the UK refuse, despite the numerous petitions which go rejected, to put restrictions on the sale of fireworks such as organised displays only or silent/quiet fireworks only, is it not time we were allowed to explore alternatives such as the calming hemp chews available from Pampered Pets USA? I would like to see further research done in this area so that we are in line with other countries and can provide a potentially life changing and life saving natural product for a whole range of conditions safely for our beloved companion animals.
As we enter fireworks season in the UK, I want to put it out there and ask that people stick to the celebratory dates and consider using ‘silent’ or quiet fireworks. Sadly, in recent times, I have noticed that fireworks are being set off several weeks in advance of Bonfire Night (November 5th) and continue well into the New Year. Sometimes even being set off during daylight hours which makes absolutely no sense to me. There have also been several occasions where fireworks have been let off to celebrate football matches which sadly, not being a fan, leaves me little to no time to prepare in advance. I’m sure many of you can relate to the feeling of utter despair and frustration I feel when forced to witness the trauma caused to our beloved pets.
Just last week, Sandra Rolfe of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, told The Metro of her nightmare experience with her Pug x Spaniel, Penny, who was almost killed when she was knocked down by a car after fleeing in fright after being spooked by people setting off fireworks nearby. Last year, it was reported in the media that an 18 week old Terrier puppy called Molly belonging to Susan Paterson of South Yorkshire and Archie the rabbit, belonging to Donna Pilgrim of Cornwall both died of fright/heart attacks thought to be brought on by fireworks. Fiona Hohmann of Swansea has also highlighted the plight of her beloved horse Solo, who was so distressed by fireworks that he bolted in panic until he suffered a ‘twisted gut’ and died.
Of course, we should remember that fireworks don’t just have a negative effect on domestic pets who at least have their hoomans for comfort and care. The impact of fireworks on birds and other wildlife is often overlooked so it is important to include examples in this blog. The California Costal Commission banned fireworks in the city of Gualala in 2006 after a display caused nesting sea birds to flee their nests and abandon their chicks. And in 2010, the residents of Beebe, Arkansas feared an apocalypse after over 5000 dead or dying-red winged blackbirds fell from the skies after a New Years Eve fireworks display.
I was delighted to learn that the town of Collecchio in Italy has made it a matter of law that ‘silent’ fireworks be used in order to minimise distress to animals. The city of Bristol in England also favours ‘silent’ fireworks. Of course, the word ‘silent’ is slightly misleading as they are not completely silent, but the noise is greatly reduced without the usual loud bangs and booms that we have come to dread as pet parents. Many people would welcome the use of quiet fireworks too such as the elderly, military veterans with PTSD and those with learning difficulties such as autism.
My own dog, Pixie, suffers terribly around this time of year and it absolutely breaks my heart to see her shaking uncontrollably in such a state of fear. Having grown up with gun dogs who were unfazed by loud and sudden noises, I had to learn pretty quick how to deal with this and minimise her distress. I’d like to share with you how we get through this together:
About 2 weeks in advance, I start Pixie on Zylkene tablets to get them to an effective level in her system. https://zylkenepet.co.uk/ I purchase Pet Remedy and spray that on her comfort blanket. https://petremedy.co.uk/ I walk her before sundown so that she doesn’t need out during peek dark hours then put on her Thunder Shirt. https://thundershirt.com/ I purchased all of these items from my local Pets At Home store where recommendations and advice on products can be given by their very knowledgeable staff members. https://www.petsathome.com
I stay in with her during this time and close the curtains to reduce noise and visual stimuli.
I make a ‘den’ for Pixie so that she has a safe hiding place if she does feel distressed, but I do try to act ‘normally’ so as not to feed into her anxiety.
I would also recommend the following:
Where possible, bring any outdoor pets inside.
Ensure microchips are up to date and identity tags are worn just in case they do bolt/run away.
There are many other calming products on the market such as ‘Feliway’ and ‘Adaptil’ but in extreme cases you can seek advice on sedatives from your vet.
Some people introduce noise desensitisation practices however I would recommend seeking guidance from a reputable behaviourist on that.
I sincerely hope that your pets and local wildlife do not suffer this firework season and I would actively encourage you to get involved in any local campaigns and sign petitions calling for the use of ‘silent’/quiet fireworks. Hopefully more retailers will follow the example of Sainsbury’s and stop selling fireworks altogether. Unfortunately, time and time again, it is shown that we can’t rely on people to act responsibly and show consideration towards others so I really do feel that the time has come to intervene and cut these irresponsible and inconsiderate people off at the source.
Thank you so much for reading, stay safe and find more information for your reference via the links below.
Cards on the table and straight off the bat I want to say that this really needs to happen. I actively encourage employers to implement HR policy changes to include Pet Bereavement Leave. This may sound like a strange thing to say but it makes good business sense.
‘How so?’ I hear the nation’s employers ask. Well, I am only too happy to explain…
I would like to start by quoting one of our country’s best known entrepreneurs, Sir Richard Branson. ‘Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to’. Wise words, huh?.. How about… ‘Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business. It’s as simple as that’. I doubt anyone would say that this billionaire doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A little compassion goes a long way to strengthening the relationship between employer and employee.
Now for some science. During the grieving process, it’s very common to lack focus and concentration. According to Dr Jannel Phillips, a neuropsychologist at Henry Ford Health System, neurological changes take place within the brain, more specifically within the limbic region and pre-frontal cortex which deal with emotional regulation, memory, multi-tasking, organisation and learning. No pun intended but isn’t it a ‘no brainer’ that during such an emotionally distressing time, those functions could be significantly impaired? In that case I would recommend employers give employees a couple of days to process. With this evidence, I would say that people would be more likely to make mistakes and have accidents which could prove costly to any company. Ergo, it could actually be more financially beneficial to let staff take a time out when their focus is not on their job. If they are not concentrating because their mind is so consumed with thoughts of their pet, they might be involved in an accident before they even reach their place of work. From a conscience point of view, how would that make you feel as an employer/manager if you refused them a couple of days to get their head straight? Pretty guilty I’d imagine… If only I hadn’t been such an authoritarian… If only I had considered employee emotional wellbeing and mental health… Make no mistake, this is very much an issue of mental health and employers do have a responsibility in that regard. Employers could also find themselves on the wrong side of litigation… Financial and PR disaster.
If, once again, I may use Emma McNulty as an example from my previous blog. She, at the age of just 18, lost her job following the death of her family pet of 14 years. Her companion animal and best friend, Millie the Yorkshire terrier. She contacted her employer, appraised them of the situation and informed them that she was too grief stricken to work. Instead of showing compassion and sympathy, her employer stated that if she was unable to work her shift then she herself, would need to arrange cover or face dismissal. At such short notice, Emma was unable to arrange for anyone to cover her shift and she did indeed lose her job. I state here and now that I am absolutely disgusted at her former employer’s lack of compassion. As an entrepreneur myself, that makes absolutely no sense to me. They would rather lose an experienced employee, reduce productivity, pay another employee overtime until a replacement staff member was recruited and pay for recruitment and training costs than give an existing employee a couple of days off. I am so impressed that this brave young woman, through her tears, stood up for herself and every other grieving pet parent and started her petition. Bravo Emma! As a matter of humanity, health and safety please sign and let’s help her make this positive change for everyone in the future.
Some forward-thinking employers are already offering this support and recognise the value in granting Pet Bereavement Leave. It is my hope that other employers will follow these trail blazers. This could literally be life saving for someone. In addition to giving a great PR angle, it also makes them a very desirable employer to work for. People like to feel valued, like their well-being matters. This will attract the best of the best workers and happy workers are productive workers.
Very often, the lack of compassion within the work environment comes from Disenfranchised Grief, which was discussed in the previous blog. If you have not read that, the definition of disenfranchised grief is ‘grief that is not acknowledged or accepted within society’. Those who are grieving the loss of their beloved pet can often be made to feel like they are over-reacting or being ridiculous when in fact they have every right to feel whatever they are feeling without judgement or criticism from their colleagues. Usually people who have not experienced this type of loss. Grieving Pet Parents can often be viewed as weak or over sensitive which can often feel like passive aggressive bullying to those on the receiving end of it. Bullying in the workplace is not ok and again holds great implications for any HR department.
I feel so passionately about this and I have a range of options available to employers. I would be honoured to consult with employers/management, deliver training (if required) and I can support employees with an individual or package of counselling sessions. Working together to make positive changes in the workplace would be an epic step in the right direction. Although there is no current legal requirement specifically for pet bereavement, The Employment Rights Act 1996 states that employees have the right to ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an emergency which includes the death of a dependent. So please be progressive and give due consideration. Afterall, it could be argued that a pet is a dependent… I certainly believe they are.
Please visit the ‘Contact Us’ page if I can support you in implementing change and/or support your employees following the loss of their companion animal.
Disenfranchised Grief is grief that is not acknowledged or supported by society… and it absolutely sucks. I can think of few worse feelings during the grieving process than the feeling of being so heartbroken that you can hardly breathe and that nobody cares. Yet that, is exactly how it feels. Friendships have been broken, jobs have been lost and all because of a basic lack of compassion and understanding.
It’s true and fair to say that not everyone grieves in the same way or indeed to the same depth therefore it’s a fair assumption to make that the lack of compassion is, at its roots, caused by a genuine lack of understanding rather than malice or disregard. In saying that, there is nothing more hurtful to a grieving pet parent than hearing the words ‘It’s just a…’
Our companion animals, throughout their lives, have been a constant source of unconditional love and emotional support whenever we have needed them. The human companion animal bond is incredibly strong because we, as their care givers, are as constant to them as they are to us. Never a falling out, never a breakdown in that relationship and even when our patience has been tested to its very limit, there’s nothing but love. To dismiss a grieving pet parent’s feelings at this time as an over reaction is an unbelievably cruel act of ignorance. It may be ‘just an animal’ to them but to us, they were so much more. They were our companion, our confidante and our best friend. Only by speaking about pet bereavement openly and educating people will this stigma be challenged. Nobody in the throws of grief, regardless of species, should feel like their feelings are being invalidated by those around them. They are not weak, they are not being ridiculous and they are not overreacting. They are grieving.
When British television presenter Caroline Flack very sadly took her own life in February 2020, social media was flooded with the hashtag ‘Be Kind’. Profile pictures had ‘Be Kind’ filters, mental health was at the forefront with every post relating to mental health, suicide and bullying ending #BeKind and then Coronavirus hit. Yet more examples of #BeKind flooded the media and internet as families, friends and communities rallied to support one another. Two headline grabbing examples of tragedy highlighting the need and delivery of compassion and support in society. But sadly, that kindness and compassion and support is still lacking when it comes to pet bereavement. Not in any way comparing any of the events at all but lets just think for a moment about the inequality of it all. Why is there not enough compassion in people’s hearts for everyone? We don’t need to have experienced suicide, mental health problems or Covid-19 to feel compassion for those who have been affected by them. Society can still do that, and rightly so. So why can’t some people acknowledge the grief in others and show compassion for someone who is hurting? Someone who is in pain. Someone who is overwhelmed. Someone who is grieving. Please do not let #BeKind be a passing trend or hashtag. If you know someone is grieving the loss of their beloved companion animal, be kind.
I have spoken on many occasions about a Glasgow girl called Emma McNulty who was fired from her job because she was too grief stricken to work her shift and was unable to find anyone to cover following the death of her family dog. Millie, a Yorkshire Terrier, became part of the family when Emma was just 4 years old. Emma was quoted in a BBC article in August 2019 as saying
“I was sacked on the same day as I lost my dog. Millie was 14 and I am 18, so I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t part of my life. We did everything together. I was so close to her and she was my best pal.”
This is a classic example of Disenfranchised Grief and in my next blog, I shall be looking at why I am actively encouraging employers to implement HR policies to support their employees who are grieving the loss of their best friend. This change needs to happen. For all of us. I am in the fortunate position of being self employed and can take time off when I need to, but I will stand proudly as an advocate and campaigner for those who are not. Companion animals are NOT ‘just animals’, they are members of our families.
So please, join me in signing Emma’s petition so that there is one less thing for fellow pet parents to worry about during this very distressing time. She is nearly at her target of 35,000 signatures, let’s do our bit and help her voice be heard.
While there is absolutely no doubt in the minds of pet people that we benefit enormously from the presence of our companion animals, we rarely consider the science behind that. Speaking for myself, I know that snuggling up on the sofa with Pixie for our Friday ‘Pizza & Movie’ night gives me the warm and fuzzies. According to WebMD, that’s down to an increase in levels of serotonin and dopamine. I’m pretty certain that she feels the same way too, but I suspect that’s because she quite enjoys a cheesy crust!
Pet ownership has long been acknowledged to combat feelings of loneliness, lower stress & blood pressure. High levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can be released when we are stressed which can be linked to a weakened immune system and an increased risk of heart disease. Dog owners in particular benefit from daily outdoor exercise and fresh air with their companions. This can also improve our mental and emotional wellbeing too as very often this can lead to further human interaction and even romance with our pups often providing the opportunity to get chatting and break the ice!
These incredible health benefits are sadly mirrored by the occurrence of a broken heart when they cross the Rainbow Bridge. Broken Heart Syndrome, also known as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, is often caused by a stressful event such as pet bereavement, with symptoms which mimic a heart attack. A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the case of a woman called Joanie Simpson from Texas who woke up with chest pains following the death of her Yorkshire Terrier Meha. Broken Heart Syndrome is more common in women than men and has been shown to cause damage to the blood vessels around the heart although there is no sign of blocked arteries.
With the loss of a companion animal, we must be mindful that the health benefits are no longer present. If we are not careful, we can see a decline in our own health and wellbeing both mentally and physically. It’s important to still take that daily exercise and fresh air for general wellbeing but perfectly acceptable to change route if we are not ready to have a conversation with those we would normally meet about the absence of our pet. We should seek support from loved ones at this time to avoid loneliness and perhaps find alternative methods of stress reduction such as yoga or meditation.
Although we feel utterly heart broken by the loss of our beloved companion animals, we can work together to get through this period by implementing healthy coping strategies and perhaps open our hearts and homes again. But if we decide we can not take such heartbreak again, that’s o.k. too.