The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have said goodbye to their beloved pooch, Lupo. Lizzy Dening explains why losing a pet is anything but trivial
Before there were George, Charlotte and Louis, there was Lupo. A black cocker spaniel, he was a wedding present for Prince William and Kate Middleton, from her brother James. This weekend, the couple’s Instagram account @kensingtonroyal announced sad news: ‘our dear dog, Lupo, passed away.’ They also said he’d been at the heart of their family for the past nine years. Of course, we feel we know Lupo a little too – he’s been a presence in many of their family press photos, licking ice creams and generally enjoying the good life. Knowing that he’s gone, I’m reminded of that childhood feeling when one of the Blue Peter pets died – of being a witness to other people’s sadness of losing a pet, and sharing in it from a distance.
People often feel self-conscious about grieving a pet. I remember apologising profusely to friends having broken down in tears about the loss of my childhood cat (a ridiculously fluffy rescued princess called Dinah). They were, naturally, quick to console me and reassure me that it wasn’t at all silly. And of course, they were right.
I’ve grounded myself in my cat’s purr
There’s no two ways about it: pet death is dreadful. Naturally, I in no way mean that it’s worse that human death – it isn’t – but I would argue it is often less complicated. Humans are wonderful, but our relationships can be complex. While losing a person we love might bring about a barrage of emotions – from ‘straightforward’ grief, to shame, guilt, anger or regret over things said or unsaid – the death of a pet is simple. We loved them, and they are gone. There is also an immediacy to it – we instantly feel their loss in a physical way. It’s a cold lap; the certainty we heard them snuffling in the kitchen; a cast-off shoe that in dim light looks a little like their silhouette.
This year in particular, with so much pain and loss and grief over human life and livelihoods, I imagine many will have felt the need to keep quiet over the loss of animal companions. But one type of pain doesn’t erase the other – if anything, it exacerbates it. It is, after all, often in the furry neck of a pet that we console ourselves. Many people suffering from depression describe how getting up to fill a bowl or clean a cage is the only thing that drives them out of bed in the morning.
We are responsible for our pets, which makes us feel better about ourselves. You might not have heard back from the job you applied for, but you kept the water dish topped up. At times this year when the problems of Covid-19 have seemed insurmountable, I’ve grounded myself in my cat’s purr. Moomin is never worried about the bigger picture, and reminds me that sometimes I can put down my anxieties too, even if it’s just for the space of a quick chin scratch. Whatever stupid things you’ve said, your pet still chooses to seek you out for affection, without judgement. They have absolute faith in you. That feeling is always precious, but in a chaotic time more than ever.
It’s good to talk
That same chaos has had an unfortunate impact on pet deaths, too.“Covid-19 has meant many people haven’t been able to accompany their pet into the vets when they were being put to sleep, and it’s affected how people grieve,” says Diane James, who manages the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service.
If you’re struggling to move on after losing a pet, it might help to find a way to memorialise them. Diane suggests creating a memory box or scrapbook, or writing them a letter. Perhaps, like the Cambridges, try a writing tribute on social media, which should encourage friends to get in touch. After all, people are starting to be more understanding around pet loss. “It’s not like it used to be – as a nation of animal lovers, most people understand what it means to lose an animal, whether through death, theft or any other type of loss,” says Diane. “It’s good to talk and be reminded you’re not alone.”
* The free Blue Cross Bereavement line is open year-round, 8.30am – 8.30pm, 0800 096 6606 or visit: bluecross.org.uk/pet-loss