In the latest of our series of mini-interviews with friends of The Ralph Site we heard from Julia Aldred, who has given us 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.
I currently live with nine cats, one dog, two rabbits (who live outside) and eight fish!
2. What was the name of your first pet?
I grew up with a house full of pets, although the first one who was truly mine was a Siamese kitten named Sharni.
3. Why did you choose that name?
My mum had had a Siamese cat when she first got married, called Shanei. I liked the name but didn’t want to copy, so I changed it slightly.
4. Cats, dogs or another species? Can you choose?! And why?!
I love all animals – when I was young I was besotted with horses and I got my first one when I was 14. Having said that, cats have always been a huge part of my life. A vet I once worked for was fascinated by the affinity I seemed to have with cats and told me I should take time to study for a career in Cat Behaviour. Unfortunately as a young mother, I couldn’t afford not to be earning a wage, so I never got the opportunity to pursue this. I do seem to bond with cats quite easily, and my friends laugh and call me The Cat Whisperer. I’m sure I’d have been burnt at the stake as a witch if I’d been born in medieval times!
5. What is your favourite memory of an animal who has shared your life?
Oh this is hard! My lovely old horses, my faithful old dogs, or one of my many cats? All have given me so many happy memories.
I will go with my horse, Zingo – a Welsh Cob I was bought aged 14 for doing well in my exams. I had to get myself a part-time Saturday job in the local newsagents to help pay for his keep, as that was part of the deal, along with babysitting for our next-door neighbour.
He was such a naughty horse when I got him, always putting his head down for grass and because he was so strong I couldn’t pull it up again! When I got off to shorten the reins, he’d turn round and bite my behind as I was trying to remount! Gradually I learned how to work with him, and we were together for 28 years.
In those years we had many funny escapades. He could never pass the petrol station without me having to call into the shop and buy him a packet of Polo mints. He insisted on saying ‘please’ by lifting his front leg, and pawing the air if he spotted anyone eating crisps or Polos. He could break into any pocket on a coat if he smelled mints – he was obsessed! But he was the sweetest natured creature – he taught both my children not to fear horses, and he was the favourite mount of the Riding for the Disabled classes we used to do for a local school.
He was just over 31 when I finally had to say goodbye and send him over Rainbow Bridge, as he had gone off his legs.
6. Which three words would you choose to describe him?
Loyal, loving and unforgettable x
7. What is your favourite fictional animal and why?
Probably a Unicorn, because they are the spirit of love and peace.
8. If you could be any animal, which one would you choose and why?
I’d be a cat – they are such elegant, aloof creatures, but so loving if they choose. Cats are both independent and needy, so to be loved by your cat and not just used as a meal ticket, is truly fulfilling.
9. What advice would you give to someone grieving for a much-loved pet?
Take as long as you need to grieve, and don’t listen to anyone who thinks there is something wrong with you because you’re crying for ‘just an animal’! Our companions are not ‘just’ animals; they are part of the family. Talk to people who also have pets who will understand your grief. If things are really getting too bad, then don’t be afraid to seek medical help.
Don’t feel you are dishonouring your passed fur baby if you were to get another, it may help you through your grief; you are not replacing him / her, just allowing your heart to expand to give another pet some love.
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?
I first came across The Ralph Site when I lost my old dog Bracken. She had been such a big part of my life and had recovered from two strokes, although when she began to suffer at the age of 17, I realised the time had come to say goodbye. I was heartbroken.
One of my friends sent me a snippet of a poem they’d seen on The Ralph Site so I immediately searched and found it myself. I have been on the site many times since, for my own losses and following other people’s stories.
I think the most important role of The Ralph Site community is to help other people cope with their grief; be it to just let them pour it out to people who understand what they are going through, to pass on advice or to help them remember the happy times and celebrate in their happiness if they do get a new pet.
At the end of the day, it’s a community of like-minded people who are friends – a wonderful place where no colour or religion matters, just our love of our animals and the comfort we can give each other.
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