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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Reflections on Losing a Pet

Max-dog-pet
Image: Lorna Holland
Some people just aren’t animal people. They’ve never had pets and they don’t see the attraction of having a pet. Put simply, they don’t bond with animals. However, other people are the complete opposite.

Far from the crazy cat lady stereotype, being an animal lover is all about caring for your pets and forming a deep, long-lasting connection with them. From childhood right throughout life, pets can provide unconditional love and companionship – is it really a surprise that many people prefer spending time with animals rather than people?

So when you have a trusted pet that you have spent a good proportion of your life with, it can be hard when that inevitable day comes and you have to say goodbye.

This is exactly what my family and I were faced with a few weeks ago when we made the difficult decision to say goodbye to our dog.

Max-dog-pet
Image: Lorna Holland
Max was a member of our family for eleven incredible years, arriving just before Christmas in 2006. To say he was an unexpected arrival would be a bit of an understatement, to say the least, but little did we know that that nervous, worried rescue dog would be the best Christmas present any of us ever received.

He fit into our family seamlessly, as though he was meant to be our pet and we were meant to be his family. In fact, if ever there was something to make you believe in fate, Max was it.

Wherever we went, Max came with us. We had a running joke that he must be one of the most well-travelled dogs in the country, judging by the amount of caravan holidays he accompanied us on. We could never leave him in kennels – he always loved holidays and all the extra walking, treats and attention they entailed far too much for that.

Max was always so firmly engrained in almost every aspect of our lives that it is difficult now to pinpoint a family memory that doesn’t include him. As I sit here now writing this, memory after memory is flooding into my brain. If nothing else, Max certainly managed to enrich every single day with his quirks and unwavering affection.

He certainly knew he had landed on his feet when he arrived on our doorstep, as we couldn’t have asked for a more loving, docile pet. You could have done anything to Max and he wouldn’t have batted an eyelid – throughout the duration of his life, he never intentionally hurt anyone, and to be able to confidently say that about a dog is an incredibly rare feat.

Every pet owner says that theirs is one in a million, but with Max, he really was.

Max-dog-pet
Image: Lorna Holland
Stubbornly independent to the last, in the months leading up to June, he began losing more and more of his control and freedom to move. He was never in pain, but seeing a once-lively, active dog reduced to slithering around the house and barely managing to drag himself out into the garden was a sight to slowly break your heart. Despite frequent trips to the vet and a cocktail of pills and medication (eagerly awaited in their disguise of meat or cheese each morning), there was nothing anyone could really do to halt the progress of the debilitating degenerative condition that affected the nerves in his spine.

We worked to adapt our lifestyle in order to cater to his new needs as best we could. We shortened his daily walks, bandaged up his paws to stop him scraping them red-raw against the pavement, and even obtained a ‘dog on wheels’ walking frame to hook him up to, courtesy of a kind-hearted neighbour. However, there comes a point in every older pet’s life where you have to make that call – are you keeping them alive for their own benefit or for yours?

When that heart-breaking moment comes, you know their time has come.

A post shared by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on


We said goodbye to Max on Saturday 10th June 2017.

I’m told he passed peacefully, in the company of his family. I wasn’t able to go to the vets and accompany him on his final journey, but I don’t regret not being there when he gained his wings.

It might sound strange to say that, but here’s why.

On my 11th birthday, I got my very first pet. My mum took me to the local pet shop after school and let me pick out an adorable little hamster all of my own. I immediately knew which one I wanted – I called her Scamper because she scampered up and down the cardboard box I was transporting her in all the way home.

Scamper wasn’t exactly the most sociable of animals, nor the most active – I think I only remember her actually using her hamster wheel twice throughout her whole life. However, that still didn’t stop her from being the cutest thing I’d ever seen.

Max and Scamper’s lives briefly intersected; Scamper remained aloof towards Max whereas he maintained a strong sense of curiosity towards her.

One morning, I came downstairs to get ready for school and discovered Scamper sitting shivering in a corner of her cage (by this point, she had grown considerably and taken to living in only the bottom storey of her vastly extravagant hamster palace). She remained unresponsive when I picked her up and held her. A few hours later, my first pet passed away in my hands.

The next day at school, a classmate came up to me and asked where I’d been the previous day. When I answered, their response was thus, “I wish I had a hamster so I could have a day off when it died”.

That heartless, throwaway remark has remained with me to this day.

Max-dog-pet
Image: Lorna Holland
Some people’s attitudes to other people’s pets still amaze me, even now. I’m a firm believer in the fact that pets are a real part of the family, so when people are negative about your pets or your relationship with them, it can be a real eye-opener.

On the other hand, the majority of people simply couldn’t be nicer about it. People you barely speak to or people who never even met your pet will share their condolences – losing a pet is a shared grief that all too many of us experience.

While the wounds may still be raw and the grief hides just under the surface, it is important to sit back and reflect on a life which influenced so much of my own.

Goodbye, Max. No words will ever truly do you justice, but here I offer you my best.

4 comments:

  1. Lorna, thank you for posting such a heartfelt tribute to your precious Max. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

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    1. Thank you, Edie - and thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  2. Im going to stop reading your blogs you have me in tears. Max was a beloved member of your family and we will miss him at family events especially missed by Zuno no doubt, but such a touching tribute to him. Still miss Tyler they never leave you.

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    1. So true! We will definitely all miss him x

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