In the latest of our series of mini interviews with friends of The Ralph Site we heard from Ruth Greenhalgh, 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.
We have lots of pets at the moment – four dogs and seven cats! There’s a ten year old Dalmatian called Darcy (Mr Darcy), a nine year old Irish Setter, Kasper, an English Setter, Leia, who is three, and a little dog we found on the street who is about a year old and is called Brian. We thought he was a mongrel, but apparently he is a Kokoni, which is a recognised breed here in Cyprus where we live. Our cats are all moggies. We have two (Pixie and Jossie) that are now eighteen, a six year old (Trinity) and three that are not quite two (Betty, Al and Dave). Until very recently we also had Smudge (RIP little one). For me, a house is not a home without pets!
2.What was the name of your first pet?
We always had pets growing up, so the very first one I remember was an old black Lab called Jenny. She was more the family pet than mine exclusively – the first animal that I loved exclusively was a guinea pig called Snowy.
3.Why did you choose the name?
Because she was completely white – I know it sounds boring and predictable, but in my defence I was only eight!
4.Cats, dogs, or another species? Can you choose?! And why?
I really couldn’t choose! Over the years we have had everyone including budgies, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, dogs and cats. At present we have dogs and cats because they fit with our lifestyle, but we would take in anyone that needed a home if there was no other option for them! I think my love of animals comes from my father – he was a collection officer and clinic manager for the RSPCA for many years, and if there were solitary animals in the clinic he would often bring them home rather than leave them “feeling lonely” there. As a result, my sister and I were very used to having many and varied animals around the house, and that has carried on into adulthood.
5.What is your favourite memory of an animal who has shared your life?
I have so, so many memories, having had so many pets over the years! But one that really sticks in my mind is of a lovely cat I had in my late teenage years and early 20s. We had a party one night and there was a bowl of Wotsits on the table. Busy chatting to a friend, I suddenly saw a white paw on the end of a black leg emerge from under the tablecloth and swipe a solitary Wotsit. Three minutes later it happened again, then again and again. I’m sure the cat had more of them than any of the human guests!
6.Which three words would you choose to describe him?
Spirited, cheeky, affectionate.
7.What is your favourite fictional animal and why?
Nana, the Newfoundland in Peter Pan – she just exemplifies how devoted dogs can be!
8.If you could be any animal, which one would you choose and why?
I think I would probably be an eagle – not only are they stunning and elegant, but the way they swoop and glide is wonderful. I would love to be able to soar like that, free and able to see for miles.
9.What advice would you give to someone who is grieving for a much-loved pet?
I think the first, perhaps most important, point is that it is normal and perfectly acceptable to feel intense grief at the loss of a pet. Losing a dearly-loved member of the family, a companion, a friend, of course makes it natural that you will grieve. Also, remember that there is no right or wrong grief – it hits each of us differently, affects us differently and lasts a different length of time. So take each day as it comes, be kind to yourself, allow the grief and the tears to flow and, little by little, you will start to feel better. Do not be ashamed to seek help and support from appropriately qualified people if you need it. We all need support at times, and there is absolutely no shame in seeking it.
10.When and how did you come across The Ralph Site? What do you think is the most important role of The Ralph Site community?
It was about two years ago. A friend had recently lost a much-loved dog and I was trying to help her through her grief. I did an online search for appropriate resources and the site popped up. I thought it would be ideal for her but also knew that I could get an immense amount from it myself too.
I think the most important role The Ralph Site plays is allowing people to share experiences and realise that what they are feeling is normal and natural and that things can improve. Too many people do not understand the loss of a pet, and it can lead to those of us who are grieving to label ourselves as weak, silly or stupid. It is tremendously helpful, even empowering, to have a community of people available who understand your grief and can support and help you through the more difficult times.
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