How our pet helps us through our darkest days

How Pets can help us through dark days - Mental health

Getting you through: The comfort a pet can offer during dark times* – Mental Health and Pets

Written By Martha Anderson – Resident Blogger……….

Clara a woman I know lived with and took care of her invalid mother for many years and when she died, Clara was devastated and her mental health began to suffer.  A neighbour became very concerned as she feared she might be suicidal.  When she confided her fears to Clara’s cousin the cousin told her not to worry, this could never happen as Clara would not leave Rory her dog.

Sometime later Clara did say that it was Rory who helped her through the darkest days immediately after her bereavement when she had no wish to be in the house without her mother.  His presence made the place seem less empty.  Delighted to see her, he always had a welcome at the door, which helped her over her dread of returning home after she had been out shopping, or to church.  His love was unconditional but of course, he too had his needs, and this gave her a focus outside of herself. He provided a distraction and his antics would make her smile.  Watching him play brought her moments of joy at a time when she felt she might never laugh or smile again. This, of course, had also been the case when her mother was alive, but now the whole experience was different. Clara found she needed her dog in a way she had never done before.  She who had always helped and cared for him, from when he was a little puppy, found that now he was in some sense caring for her.  He had not changed but her whole life situation had.  Rory always enriched her life and suddenly he was to all intents and purposes enabling her to go on without her mother.

She was able to bestow affection on him and feeding him, even changing his litter box, were tasks that now could actually stop her thinking in a negative manner.  His daily demands became a means whereby she was almost forced to think positively and she tended to making life positive for him. Walking him in the park took on a new meaning and was even more of a welcome routine. Clara benefitted psychologically and physically from it at a time when she needed it most.  Exercise releases serotonin, the chemical which contributes to well-being and happiness.  Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression.  Her motivation was minimal as is often the case for people who are depressed but she would not deny her dog his exercise, so she forced herself to go out and to spend longer with him throwing his frisbee and ball.

It gave her a sense of purpose at a period when she felt anchorless in a world no longer inhabited by her mother, whom she had loved and cared for and who had been a friend as well as a parent. Rory needed her still and if she was not there who would care for him?  It has been proven that increased physical activity is associated with alleviating symptoms of depression and that petting an animal can actually reduce stress in humans.  Walking Rory in the neighborhood also helped her meet people at a time when social contact was more important than ever before.

Studies have indeed shown that dogs, in particular, are able to mimic the facial expressions of ‘their’ humans. This suggests that they have a capacity to empathise and can be a real comfort in times of sorrow. We often hear how actions speak louder than words; a presence or gesture can be more effective, for example, a hug. Rory provided this and more and he was also totally accepting of Clara even when she was at her lowest.  She could be in floods of tears feeling and looking in a bad way but his love for her was unconditional.  He took her at face value without expectations and lived in the moment with her, not asking questions just being ‘there’.

Clara said she had not wanted to keep going when her mother died.  While she had not ‘contemplated’ suicide as such, neither did she want to live.  Sadly there are people who in her situation have taken the decision to put an end to a misery they believe will not pass.  Having an animal in your life is not necessarily going to help prevent a person from this course of action.   However it would seem, and Clara’s story is an example, that pets can go a long way to keep us stable when the balance of our mind is disturbed.  They can make the road more than a little easier. At times when we may feel that we cannot continue on the journey, they are there by our side to give us constant affection, comfort and love; helping to dispel the darkness.

* I sought permission to tell this story and the names of my friend and her dog have been changed.

Pet Loving Popes by Martha Anderson


People look at me in disbelief when I tell them that of all the recent popes, Pope Benedict is my favourite.  Generally this pontiff has had a bad press.  Lacking the warm smile and potential of John Paul I, the charisma of John Paul II and the people appeal of Francis, as well as being ultra conservative, he seems an unlikely candidate for favour.

Pope Benedict’s cats

Well my reason is very simple, like myself he is a cat lover!  And not only that, he is the only pope to have a Vatican authorised biography written by a cat (with a little help from a journalist!).  Chico, a real cat and Benedict’s neighbour in Germany, tells the life story of the man he touchingly describes as “my best friend”.

On his visit to England in 2010 at Birmingham Oratory the pope paused during his official duties to bless Pushkin the resident cat and tickle his ears.

For almost 20 years prior to his being elected pontiff, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lived just east of the Vatican in the Roman neighbourhood of Borgo Pio.  He was observed enjoying rambles along the historic avenues, interrupted only by stray cats who would run to greet him.  Neighbours likened him to a kind of “Dr Dolittle with a Pied Piper charm.”  Of course he did feed the little strays, which must have added to the mutual regard!

At the time of his election as pope Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the world’s media “Every time he met a cat, he would talk to it, sometimes for a long time.  The cat would follow him.  Once about 10 cats followed him into the Vatican and one of the Swiss Guards intervened saying, ‘Look your eminence the cats are invading the Holy See!’’’  Which makes it all the more sad that as pope he was not allowed to have any pets in the Vatican.  This is partly because of a hectic itinerary which means other people would have to care for the papal animals.  The poor creatures would have to have protection in case of kidnapping, or the danger of being harmed by fanatics, who wanted to hurt the pontiff.

So after all that it is good to relate that one of the benefits of his retirement was the fact that in his new residence, a former convent, known as Mater Ecclesiae, in the south west corner of Vatican City  there are quite a lot of visiting cats.  And one permanent one, his lovely black and white feline, called Contessina.

The Popes’ Pets – Cats, dogs, birds…. elephant

So what do we know of other popes who had pets, allowed or not?  Well Popes Pius IX and Leo XII both hand fed their favourite Vatican cats, and it is even said that Leo gave papal audiences with his cat Micetto concealed on his lap, with only the occasional dangling paw or swishing tail peeking out to give the game away.  Leo, who reigned in the early years of the 19th century also kept a small dog for company.  When he died, according to the memoirs of the first cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Nicholas Wiseman, the little pet was taken to London by an English aristocrat, Lady Shrewsbury.

There is an enchanting story about pope Pius XII. On one occasion his gardener brought him a wounded little bird.  The pontiff nursed her back to recovery and gave her the name Gretel.  When he worked too late she would hop over and interrupt him until he went to bed.  After she recovered he brought in other birds to keep her company, two goldfinches and a woodpecker from the Black Forest in Germany.  They were frequently allowed out of their cages and would eat at his table from little plates of seed.

Strangest of all, Pope Leo X had an elephant called Hanno who became a star in her own right.  This was in 1514 when times were very different.  Hanno had been given to the pontiff by King Manuel of Portugal in an effort to curry favour.  Leo loved her and when she died he had her buried beneath a courtyard in the Vatican.  Her bones were found there by workmen shortly before the opening of Vatican II.

Do animals go to Heaven?

So all this leaves us with an intriguing question – Do animals go to Heaven?  Surprisingly Pope Benedict says no and Pope Francis contradicted that, said yes, and now is not quite sure!  But happily Pope St John Paul in 1990 implied that animals had souls because they too were created from the breath of God.

What a lovely thought but what do you think?

Emotional Support Animals– The pros and cons by Martha Anderson

Most of us know what it is like to go through a bad patch in life when you feel really down-hearted and low in spirits. I experienced this quite recently as a result of an upset which caused me great sorrow and anxiety. During this time my three cats were quite a consoling presence and I even felt they sensed when I was crying and duly gathered around. Through my tears I got comfort from just stroking their soft fur.
I was reminded of the whole idea of Emotional Support Dogs, about whom I had heard but knew very little. So I decided to check it out. We are all of course familiar with guide dogs and the great work they do, not only from our own observance but also through Roy Keane and his efforts on their behalf.
Perhaps the main difference between an emotional support dog and other service dogs is that it is not obvious to the onlooker what the former are actually doing. In other words they are not actually seen to be performing any specific task. This is because they are providing companionship and unconditional love to a person so their presence is more in the nature of a therapeutic benefit. They do not have any special training and are not required to do so by law. They can assist with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, mood disorder, panic attacks, fears and phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts or tendencies. A doctor or therapist can determine that a person needs to have a comforting companion to help them cope when something triggers their particular condition.
Another interesting aspect is that emotional support can be provided by animals other than dogs whereas Service Animals are either dogs or mini horses. Unlike service dogs, emotional support animals do not have access to all public areas. Emotional support dogs and cats are allowed access to “no pets policy” housing and in the cabins of airplanes, but a letter is required from a doctor or mental health professional endorsing your need for an animal as a result of your disability. It is advised also to provide your dog with a vest, tag, harness, leash or patch which informs the public of their distinctive identity and could save embarrassing encounters and unnecessary challenges.
This brings us neatly into another dimension of this topic and a potentially disturbing one. Sadly there will always be people who abuse these services and incur the wrath and disapproval of others in the process. There are bound to be people who are cynical about the value of all this as well as others who have no empathy for animals or people. The person who mentioned this to me first raised her eyes to Heaven at such a concept. Their attitude is helped by those people who do not have a mental disability and who try to bring animals onto a plane, or into shops and other places of business, by passing them off as emotional support animals. Such individuals not only bring the service into disrepute, they also can incur problems for those who need and use true service animals. Unfortunately anyone can order a “service animal” vest online, even when they do not in fact have a legitimate service animal.
In all of this it is important to remember the welfare of the animals themselves. Those who are imposters are putting themselves first and can give little thought to what the consequences for the animal might be. There was an example of a bear cub who was presented on campus as an emotional support animal and bit someone. It was pointed out that none of this was the bear’s fault An emotional support animal may cause problems that a trained assistance dog may not. For example, due to the lack of training, an emotional support animal may bark at and smell other people, whereas service dogs are trained not to do so.
It has been noted that an awful lot of research has to be done into this whole area to determine what exactly are the benefits of an emotional support animal in concrete terms. Some have argued that there is a danger of the animal becoming something of a crutch that the owner depends upon to get them through. What happens if their animal dies? An analogy has been made between a small child who will not go anywhere without a blanket or a special toy. Are there other more long term solutions located in their own personal resources which might be ultimately more beneficial if properly developed? On the other hand how do you determine such ‘personal’ things. Anyone whose life has been greatly enhanced by their animal will not really care about the science behind it all.

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words by Martha Anderson

Over the years I have had quite a few cats, all of them dearly beloved pets. I see them still in my mind’s eye and remember each with love and affection. They were all unique, with their own distinct “personalities”. Back in the day I used the good old disposable cameras to record their antics and am very glad that I did, even though I am not a photographer, and it was more of an effort at that time before smartphones made life easier in so many ways.
Most of us, I think, it is true to say, are guaranteed to say ‘Awww’ when we see cute pictures of animals. Even the hardest of hearts will be moved (I hope) by the sight of a little fluffy kitten gazing wistfully into the lens. Many of these are from the galleries of famous photographers like Rachael Hale. It may not be easy to get our pets to pose; after all they have no ambitions to grace the cover of ‘Hello, or any other publications! They would much rather be about their own business than posing like a Top Model! We may not have her technical ability but I think it is very important indeed to snap your pets whenever possible. It ensures that we will always have something which will instantly bring us back into their presence when they have gone.
I have one lovely photograph of my cat Stevie which is very evocative. He was beautiful even at the end when this picture I am thinking of was taken by my next door neighbour. In the last week of his life he started to go into her garden and just lie in the sun in front of her patio, something we had never known him to do before. A friend who was staying with her at the time noted that he did not seem to be in great spirits and observed that he was like us humans in that he seemed to be seeking out companionship. There was a poignancy to those words which still makes me sad. I wonder if in some way he knew that he was dying and was seeking out the consolation of some kind of presence. Never the most amiable of cats he had suddenly taken to the company of strangers. It was summer and the grass was a very rich green. Stevie’s ginger coat makes a vivid contrast against it in the last photograph taken of him by one of my friend’s guest. On a lighter note when I was trying to coax him in for his ‘tea’ it was suggested to him that he might – “go home to your Mother”. This, as I was peering in an anxious manner over the adjoining wall!
There can be no doubt that pets are members of the family and ones you won’t have rows or unfortunate long-standing feuds with! Their love is unconditional and they can always be relied on never to judge us no matter what we do. When they pass on the saddest reminders can be the empty bowl in the corner or the lead dangling forlornly from the stand in the hall. There is a real sense of emptiness and loss when our pets leave us and it seems that nothing will replace that joyous welcome home. Photographs allow us not only to capture the happiness we had with them but also they emphasize the uniqueness of our pets’ personalities. By capturing those special moments we have an eternal reminder of their lives and what they meant to us. And of course they are memories which we can literally hold in our hands.
The camera in mobile phones has made huge strides in the past ten years. Not only can they take high-resolution photographs, but the images can be immediately accessed and sent out for all your friends to see via social media.
Each animal has their own individual characteristics so keep a close eye on them and be ready to record them. If your cat likes sitting in the sink, as one of mine does, this is one you will want to remember.
When taking photos of cats, good natural light is one of the most important factors. Avoid using the flash if possible, but if you have to use a flash it is advisable to take the picture at a slight angle, to avoid the dreaded red eye. If you are taking photos of your cat outside, the best time is in the first or last hour of sunlight, otherwise the light can be too harsh. If you want professional looking photos, use a backdrop that will contrast well with the cat’s coat and bring out their eye colour. While there are a few exceptions, getting down to the animal’s eye level will create more personal pet portraits. Taking photos with a camera phone is one option; a professional shoot with a real camera is another option. This may not however always capture the essence of your pet.
Whatever you opt for your photographs will help to comfort you in your grief and will forever be a reminder of the wonderful bond which you shared and which will always be with you.

Bringing Your Pet Abroad on Holiday?

Some Pointers for Bringing Your Pet Abroad on Holiday………..

Martha Anderson

Thankfully we live in a time where there is much more awareness of animal welfare and an understanding of how important animals are in peoples’ lives. For some their presence is vital, guide dogs come to mind, but there are also those who provide emotional support. A topic for another day perhaps.

For the moment we will look at what to do when you opt not to leave your pet at home but to bring them with you on your holiday. After all they might like to ‘get away’ too!
The U.S. is one of the most popular destinations and it is well known that its border control is one that checks down to the last detail. This will apply just as strenuously to your pet. Cats and dogs must be rabies vaccinated and it is mandatory that they have a health check to ensure that they are fit and healthy enough to fly. It is advised to vaccinate against rabies at least a month before the holiday.
Essential for any destination of course is evidence of identification. Your pet should wear a collar, an id tag and be micro-chipped, also providing the temporary vacation address. What a nightmare to lose your little (or big!) darling animal in a foreign and unfamiliar terrain. The American Navy favours microchipping to such an extent that the Kings Bay Naval Base in Georgia has made it mandatory, ‘chip your pet or don’t own one ‘! In the U.S. The Centre for Disease Control lays down the guidelines although some states have their own peculiarities eg. ferrets are not welcome in California. All birds require a 30 day quarantine on arrival in the U.S. Pets do not need passports to enter the country but in many instances you will need special Import Permits.

If you are flying to the European Union whether you fly with your pet in the cabin or assign him/her to the cargo hold is an airline pet policy and differs with every airline. Low-cost carries including Easy Jet and Ryanair do not allow live animals on their carriers, although certain exceptions are made for guide dogs. On Aer Lingus flights, no animals are allowed on short haul trips but you can take them on most other flights where they will be transported in the cargo hold. Other airlines like KLM will allow you to take cats and smaller dogs into the cabin with you, once they are kept in a suitable kennel or pet travel bag. Travel by boat may be a more comfortable and less stressful way for your pet to travel as they can be kept in the car or in on-board kennels on ferries.

European Union pet passport applies throughout the European Union and you must ensure that you have the correct documentation for your pet.
Wherever you decide to travel with your pet, you must use an authorised route and where applicable an approved transport company. Eurotunnel and some ferry companies welcome pets on board. Typically, airlines require health certificates that are no older than 10 days even if the receiving country accepts an older one. Some countries, however, require a health certificate to be even less than 10 days. This is an essential point to check.

Also important is to make sure your destination has dog-friendly accommodation. Some hotels will offer an entire ‘pet programme’ with toys for pets, walking and grooming services and even veterinary services. Know in advance what you will be doing while you’re there as you may need to leave your pet in the care of the staff at the hotel while you are engaged in activities they can’t take part in. Also make sure to do some research into how dog-friendly the area is that you intend to visit. This should include a list of dog-friendly attractions, beaches, parks and restaurants in the vicinity. If you are taking a holiday property make sure to bring separate towels for your dog to wipe off dirty or sandy paws from all those frolics beside the sea. Check the holiday home for any loose wires or unsafe objects, and that all windows and doors are secure and closed or locked. It is a good idea to enter the property first without your pet and monitor all rooms. This has the added advantage of leaving your familiar scent in the atmosphere thereby enabling your pet to settle in more quickly.

In most hot countries ticks can transmit nasty diseases to your pet such as canine Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis. They can cause dogs, and cats, incurable damage, necessitating lifelong administration of drugs. If you notice a tick on your pet (do check) it is suggested that it should be doused with alcohol or spirit. This makes the tick contract and allows you to pull it out whole. Leaving a portion of the tick inside their body is likely to cause an abscess. Various forms of tick prevention are available.

Finally do proper research before your trip to find out the contact details and address of emergency animal clinics/vets near to where you are staying. Always scrutinise the requirements of the particular country you intend to visit. Destinations vary and special treatments may be required, eg tapeworm safeguard for dogs. Never take anything for Granted!

Going on Holidays and Leaving Your Pet Behind

Going on Holidays and Leaving Your Pet Behind
Martha Anderson………………..

Recently I was preparing to go away on holiday and foremost among my concerns were not the usual ones, like packing and inoculations, but rather how my two cats Jessie and Jazzy would fare in my absence. On a previous occasion, when they were just kittens, I had left them with a lovely lady who takes care of pets full time. Home Boarders insist animals are up to date with vaccinations and have great experience with animals and their needs. That had worked very well but unfortunately on this occasions she too was going away.

Eventually I decided to accept a friend’s offer to come in twice a day to look after my pets. She only lives a few doors away and was, I knew, very reliable. However I still felt a bit concerned knowing that Jessie and Jazzy would be alone for most of the time. At least they had each other. Also they would be remaining in their own environment and would not have to adapt to new surroundings or other animals.
My friend does not have any pets herself and that made me particularly anxious that she would familiarise herself with mine; then they would see her as a friend and not a complete stranger. It is important that animals feel secure with the person who is to care for them. One of my cats is particularly nervous and I wanted her to feel safe in my friend’s presence. She has a hiding place, so I made sure Catherine was aware of this in case she panicked when Jessie did not at first appear. I also advised her that, if opening a window to make sure the door was closed, as my cats are house cats only. On one occasion another cat I had escaped through an open window and became quite traumatised by the’ great outdoors’, staying close to the back door until he was allowed back to the ‘safe indoors’.
Luckily Catherine had no objection to cleaning out the waste trays and this is a job which should be undertaken once a day to ensure your pet’s comfort and for reasons of hygiene. I left extra bags of litter and of course plenty of foodstuffs, wet and dry. I advised Catherine to put the dry food and any wet food in pouches on the top shelf in the kitchen cupboard, as the cats have been known to jump inside and topple the packets, bite through the plastic or cardboard to get at the goodies inside! This also meant a mess all over the kitchen floor.

In general cats are most comfortable in their own home and do not require the constant attention that dogs do. Dogs are more relational animals and tend to watch and wait for their owner to return. Bearing this in mind it is probably better for them to have some company while you are away. This will not only stimulate them but also help to alleviate any loneliness they might feel, which could result in depression. Yes animals can get ‘down’ like us! Some people opt to have a pet-sitter come and live-in while they are away. This is an affordable option as you will usually only need to cover food and supplies, with any other offering left to your own discretion. Again it is advisable to acquaint your dog with them, maybe arrange for them to bring her/him for walks. If you are someone who would not be comfortable with a ‘stranger’ in your house kennels are of course a possibility just make sure they have good credentials. The vet can help with any questions you might have.

Always visit the kennels beforehand and make sure you have no nagging doubts about any aspects of the place. This will be your dog’s home while you are away so you want it to be a happy one. Find out about the staff-to-pet ratio, frequency of exercise for the animals, grooming options and where your pet will be housed, as well as how much interaction they will have with other animals. Dogs tend to do well at kennels because they are social animals. They are by nature pack animals who live in the moment. As well as having fun with their new friends they can learn valuable socialization skills along the way. Make sure anyone who has responsibility for your pet while you are away has up-to-date contact details as well as the number of your vet.

Always ensure that you animal is healthy and has had their shots before you go on holiday. The vet can advise you too about the best options for leaving your pet behind and may have recommendations for pet sitters and boarding options. A lot of vets themselves offer a boarding service with round the clock animal care. This can be an ideal situation if your pet has health problems.
All in all there are plenty of options to consider when leaving your pet behind and don’t be upset that they might not want to come home because they are having such a good time!

Why having Pets is Beneficial to Children – Pets and Children

Written by Martha Anderson RIP-Pets residential blogger

Why are pets beneficial to children?

There are those people, myself included, who could not imagine life without an animal companion; others would not consider it under any circumstances.  It is often the case that people who acquire a pet do so ‘for the sake of the children.  So is this a valid reason?

It would seem that having a pet to care for does help a child to understand what it is to be responsible.  However that depends on the parents ‘allowing’ or making sure that their son or daughter does indeed look after and tend to the needs of their pets. You may, quite naturally, not want your child to walk their dog alone but always bring them with you and do not hesitate to put them on pooper-scooper duty!  Children love getting involved in activities and should be encouraged to do so as much as possible.

In the same way get them to help clear the litter trays, observing all the necessary hygiene steps of course.  This will ensure that from early on they will realise that playing with their cute little kitten is fun but there is another serious side to living with an animal.  Their cat needs to play and interact but also requires a clean and pleasant environment for bodily functions and she depends on ‘her humans’ to provide this.

Looking after pets also teaches children about the value of commitment, the antidote to that well-known saying, ‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas.’  Animals like dogs need to be walked, maybe twice daily, and not just when one feels like it or when the weather is good.   An obvious benefit to children is exercise out in the fresh air.  We are constantly being reminded how young people more than ever before tend to be over–weight and spend too much time indoors on computers.

Even more important is the understanding on the child’s part that this is for the good of their pet for whom exercise is not just beneficial but essential.   He or she deserves on-going care and attention to make their life as happy as possible.  This includes vaccinations, health checks, and neutering procedures.  The prospect of a trip to the vets after a long day at work can be tiring but it is part of having a pet in your life and an absolute necessity; after all pets cannot articulate what it is that is making them ill.   Again bring your child along and encourage them to be of comfort to their pet in unfamiliar surroundings.  This will develop their caring skills. It will be very good for their social skills too as a vet’s waiting room is the friendliest place in the world!  All self-conscious barriers tumble down as people gaze admiringly at other people’s pets and enquire anxiously as to what it is that ails them.  This is done out of a genuine concern, not just curiosity.  Animals can bring out the best in people, perhaps because like children they are innocent and vulnerable.

When a pet is in a post-operative state at home a child can learn the value of empathy, – a much-neglected gift in today’s intolerant world.  He or she will understand what it feels like to be sick as a result of colds and even more serious bouts of illness.  Thus they can identify with their pet who is poorly and not their usual loving and active self.  This emotional connectedness with the plight of another can readily translate into their dealings with humans also.  At the very best the focus is on someone outside themselves, a being other than ‘me’ who needs my attention and care, not for any benefit that accrues to me but rather for their welfare. They will also realise the need to respect their animal eg. let them rest and do not disturb them when they are in the process of recovery.

Children, especially those without siblings can often experience loneliness and anxiety.  Cuddling a pet could provide comfort and reassurance in troubled times and of course pets bring a new dimension to all ‘make-believe’ games, especially solitary ones.  They are an encouragement to young people to go out and play while developing their imaginative and creative skills.

Now for the scientific bit!  Research has shown that children who grow up in families with pets have less risk of developing common allergies and asthmas. Some findings in JAMA Pediatrics support the idea that pets can bolster the immune system and prevent allergies). The basis of the “hygiene hypothesis’ suggests that early exposure to allergens and bacteria reduces allergies and improves a child’s resistance to disease. (

More interesting again are the studies showing that reading to their dog can encourage children, especially those who have difficulties in that area.  The practice began in America in 1999 with the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) scheme and initiatives of his type now extend to a number of countries. A dog is reassuring, non-critical and his/her presence helps to make the surroundings more relaxed and non-threatening. Dogs have a calming effect which is why they are used in Pets as Therapy schemes (PAT).

Finally, pets can provide total, non-judgemental acceptance of their young owner.  They really do provide that greatest of all gifts-unconditional love.


Why does the death of a pet matter to us so much?

Credit: This article was written by William Reville and first appeared in The Irish Times 

We were unprepared for the level of grief that struck us after Milo died.

Our Bichon Frise dog Milo died on June 6th. My wife and I were very much taken aback by the level of grief that Milo’s passing precipitated. Such grief is common among pet owners when their pet dies. I have looked into the psychology that underpins this phenomenon and found a very helpful article published on May 17th, 2016, by Julie Axelrod on PsychCentral, an independent mental health social network – -of-a-pet/.

Milo was born in September 2005, so he died just short of his 12th birthday. Dogs don’t live nearly as long as humans and you can calculate equivalent human age by multiplying the dog’s age by six. Milo was therefore about 70 years old in human equivalent terms. He was very healthy throughout his life but developed a kidney tumour and went down quickly at the end. Little could be done medically and we nursed him at home in our living room. He seemed to be in no pain. We talked to him a lot and he responded, even as he grew very weak. Two days before he died he went into a deep sleep and didn’t awaken. Our vet, Dr Pat O’Doherty of Gilabbey Veterinary Hospital, helped Milo in his last days, advising us at every step of the way, which was a big comfort.

We bought Milo as a pup in 2005, shortly before the second of our two boys left to join his brother in the UK, where they have both lived since. Our household for most of the last 12 years therefore consisted of my wife, myself and Milo. We were unprepared for the grief that struck us in Milo’s last days and when he died. I think it would be helpful for all dog owners to realise from the start that they are almost certainly going to outlive their dog and that when the dog dies they will experience significant grief.

What causes us to grieve so intensely when our dog dies? Julie Axlerod explains that we are actually mourning several losses simultaneously, and I can personally endorse each one. Firstly, we mourn the loss of the unconditional love given to us by the dog. Dogs accept us totally; a feat rarely achieved by a human companion.

Secondly, we mourn the loss of a protégé. We feel responsible for another life and go to great trouble to ensure our dog’s physical and emotional wellbeing. This requires many activities, eg walking the dog, ensuring he/she meets other dogs, playing with the dog, etc. Consequently, losing a dog can feel like losing a family member.

Thirdly, we mourn the loss of a “life witness”. We act with uninhibited emotions in front of our dogs and they accompany us through the years observing both our weaknesses and our strengths. During hard times they provide us with comfort and stability.

Fourthly, we mourn many relationships and routines. When the dog dies there are no more feeding times, daily walks, throw and fetch games, etc. No more “Good boy Milo, mind the house” when going out, no more letting him out to piddle before bed time, no more combing out his hair, no more reflexive talking to him as we go about our other business, and so on.

Fifthly, we mourn the loss of a close companion. For some people the dog may be the only social companion in the world, exclusively relied on for support and love.

Axelrod cautions against forcing yourself to get over your grief quickly, pointing out that your emotional processing has no set end point and putting pressure on yourself only makes you feel worse. Talk to other pet owners who recently experienced a loss. It also helps to rehearse the story of your dog’s life – when did you get him/her, what was his personality, special memories, what will you miss most, etc. This crystallises the things that are important to remember.

Dispose of your dog’s possessions gradually but keep some special things. Perform a ritual – we buried Milo in our garden together with his two favourite toys and marked his grave with a little plaque. Allow yourself to grieve naturally. Be patient. The sad feelings will subside and you will be left with happy memories.

Goodbye Milo, we will remember you always.

William Reville is an emeritus professor of Biochemistry at UCC.

Credit: This article first appeared in The Irish Times  Updated: Thu, Jul 20, 2017, 15:14

Do Pets Go To Heaven?

Written By Martha Anderson

Do Pets Go To Heaven?

Many discussions relating to pet loss come to the question – are there pets in Heaven? You may have asked it yourself or, perhaps, you may have wondered how to answer when your child asks it. Lengthy articles have been written on both sides of the discussion. An ABC News poll showed that surprisingly few, just 47% of pet owners believed the answer was yes (35% said “no”). Most discussions of this question turn into scripture based contests, addressing the issue of whether animals have “souls,” can be “redeemed,” etc. The problem is, scripture does not offer a definitive answer to this issue.

There is a reason for this.  It’s not simply God’s perverse decision to leave thousands of pet owners in the dark. The reason is that the Bible is about human redemption; it’s an instruction manual about the choices humans must make. If pets go to heaven, however, it isn’t due to anything you or I do to get them there — so perhaps it is no surprise that the Bible contains no opinion on the matter. This lack of opinion, does not mean a negative answer, however. The Bible is silent on a great many things, leaving us with a number of questions that we must explore and resolve using the hearts and minds that God gave us seeking an answer that is rooted, not in theology and doctrine, but in logic and love.

If you are interested to explore more on this topic, visit the following link


Would It Be Heaven Without Fido?

Would heaven be a wonderful place – would it truly be paradise if our pets weren’t there? For many, the answer is no and obviously, God knows this! Placing restrictions on what can or can’t be in heaven is a fruitless exercise, much like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; no one has brought back a report, and sooner or later we’re all going to find out anyway. In the interim, we are free to imagine whatever we choose.

However, there are many who feel that it is important to be right about everything, especially everything spiritual – that there is no room for spiritual error. These are the folks, I suspect, who argue most loudly and angrily against the concept of pets in heaven. And there are certainly many issues on which, for a Christian, there is no wiggle room for debate. Where the answer matters, the answer is given. If the answer is not given, then it is quite possible that the answer doesn’t really matter i.e. there is no penalty for being wrong.

If you believe that pets go to heaven, and this turns out to be incorrect, there’s no penalty. Such a belief will not doom anyone to Hell. It is not a salvation issue. Nor are you at risk of leading someone else astray if you allow them to hold such a belief. If, for example, you are concerned about allowing a child to believe something you think is an error, ask yourself whether harbouring such a belief is more damaging to that child’s faith than, say, believing that God does not share or respect that child’s love for her pet, or care about their grief.

Making a Choice

So what’s the bottom line here? Do they or don’t they go to heaven? Every argument that I’ve offered in favour of pets going to heaven could be used to argue the opposite view. The key is not to seek a definitive answer, because there is none. The key is this: On this particular issue, where the Bible is silent, you have the right to choose the answer that feels true to you, that comforts and consoles you. You do not need to accept someone else’s view. When God is silent about an issue, that issue is left to each of us to decide, in our own hearts and with our own minds. Don’t let someone else add to your grief by trying to make up your mind for you!

Isaiah 11:6, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” (This sounds as if we will have pets in heaven, does it not?)

Welcome to

Pets, Vets, RIP, RIP Pets, Loss, Animal

Welcome to

We have created this space for you to memorialise your pets. After all, they are a part of your family and we miss them terribly when they are departed.

This space is for all pet lovers all over the world to share their grief and to post a tribute to their pets. We hope you will use it well, enjoy being able to return from time to time and even add to your tribute as you see fit. Your memories may be sparked by a vision, a smell or just a memory that pops into your head – your account with us allows you to post those memories at any time now and into the future.