In the latest of our series of mini interviews with friends of The Ralph Site we contacted Alan Williams, who shares his memories of pets he has known and loved, along with some wise words of advice for anyone experiencing the loss of a much-loved companion:
1. Do you currently share your home with any pets? If so, please tell us about them.
Muffin lives with me – my second Border Terrier. He came to me at the end of October 2015, three months after I lost Bracken, because I was already heartbroken and I thought I would be so lonely spending the depressing winter in the house all on my own. Muffin didn’t give me any time to be lonely… I’d forgotten what hard work puppies are!! He’s now developed a personality all of his own, but he is as unruly and naughty as ever! He is also very loving, and I am so glad I got him.
2. What was the name of your first pet?
When I was about six years old, my parents bought a Sealyham Terrier for me, who we named Patch, because of a black mark on his back. The first pet that I chose myself was Bracken, over 50 years later.
3. Why did you choose that name?
Before even seeing him I’d tried out the idea of several names, but couldn’t settle on any of them. Then, when I went to see him in the litter, I discovered that he’d already been registered with The Kennel Club as ‘Larkbarrow Blue Bracken’, so I thought, “That’s it, we’ll keep the Bracken!”
4. Cats, dogs or another species? Can you choose? And why?
I always thought I’d like a dog, but because I lived on my own I couldn’t have one until I moved into semi-retirement, working from home. And I found that all my hopes were fulfilled – a dog really does bond with you, to an extent that I have found to be truly amazing.
5. What is your favourite memory of an animal who has shared your life?
I can’t really answer this – I could sit here for hours thinking of all my memories of Bracken and which one to choose, and every one of them would make my eyes fill up. I just loved him so much.
6. Which three words would you choose to describe him?
Quite simply, “My best friend”. I would like to say “My very best friend” or “My best friend ever”, but both of those are four words!
7. What is your favourite fictional animal and why?
In June 2015 I found a novel in our library called ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’, by Kate Atkinson, the title of which intrigued me enough to take it out. In it, the hero saves a little dog, with the unlikely name of The Ambassador, from being kicked and choked by a vicious owner. He has no idea what sort of dog it is, until he goes into a pet shop… “’Lovely Border Terrier you’ve got yourself there,’ the woman behind the counter said”. So, of course, that made it special for me. Then, just over a month after finishing the book, my darling Bracken died. Now, whenever I go into the library, if this book is back on the shelf, I always take it down and run my fingers over that line at the very bottom of page 69. I went and got it out of the library this morning and, of course, when I saw the library date stamp still in it from when we had it out before, it made me start to cry again!
8. If you could be any animal, which one would you choose and why?
Muffin or, before him, Bracken. A very nice life altogether, being spoilt rotten (if occasionally shouted at!) by me.
9. What advice would you give to someone grieving for a much-loved pet?
Definitely to join The Ralph Site – you need to let all your grief out, do not bottle it up. I got a lot of sympathy and support from friends and neighbours, but there is a limit to the length of time that you can reasonably expect this of them. With The Ralph Site you can feel able to burst into tears months or even years later and everyone will still be there for you every time.
10. When and how did you first come across The Ralph Site? What do you think is the most important role of The Ralph Site community?
Strangely, I’d discovered it before Bracken actually died and when there was no expectation of him doing so. For some reason I’d anticipated the grief that I knew I’d eventually have to bear, although I’d thought it would be years off, and so I’d explored the internet for what support was out there. I think the most important role is bringing us all together, ordinary owners who have experienced loss, rather than being a service provided by professional pet bereavement counsellors.
We’ll be featuring regular mini-interviews with friends of The Ralph Site in future; so do keep an eye out every first and third week of each month!
Until next time, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support