23 August 2023

How do you get over losing a pet? BBC Morning Live vet Dr James Greenwood offers advice

23 August 2023

TV vet Dr James Greenwood knows better than most how hard it is when you lose a pet, having been through his own grief when his Labrador, Oliver, died last year.

The one-eyed Labrador, who had garnered a legion of fans through his appearances on TV with his owner on BBC Morning Live, died suddenly a month before his 13th birthday. Greenwood’s latest book, For The Love Of Animals, is dedicated to him, and the vet’s son is named after him.

“Initially I just stopped – I couldn’t really do very much. I just cried and cried. It just completely blindsided me. I couldn’t talk about him, I couldn’t look at pictures of him. It was completely overwhelming,” Greenwood recalls from his home on the outskirts of Bristol which he shares with his husband, Mark, rescue Labrador Dolly, plus hens, sheep and a couple of pigs.

“I’ve counselled hundreds of people through the really upsetting stages of pet ownership, whether that’s them going into an operation, making big decisions or questioning the right path to take.

“Ultimately, the big decision that comes to us all when we do choose to share our lives with pets is to potentially have to let them go or put them to sleep,” he says.

“The challenge with pet bereavement is that it does carry this kind of stigma over whether it’s even a real thing or whether people are using the excuse of the loss of your pet to get out of a couple of days of work, which I think is horrific.”

What are the stages of grief when you lose a pet?

“Grief is so individual, but there are obviously recognised stages of grief that people go through. And I think that’s universal across whatever type of grief it is.

“Often you go through the guilt, the anger, the worry, and all of the upset that comes with it, and then eventually there comes a kind of acceptance, and hopefully you get to the point where you can almost memorialise them and think of the happier memory rather than being shrouded in upset – but how long that takes is really individual.”

Greenwood offers the following advice for people who have lost their beloved pet.

Go easy on yourself

“Pet bereavement is real and affects people in different ways at different levels. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling conflicted and upset. That’s ok.”

Talk to someone

“Talking to somebody is a really important step, sharing and memorialising your pet in some way. We’ve got some gorgeous photographs which we’ve had printed out and have around the house.

“I’ve still got Oliver’s favourite toy – a cuddly bear – in a bedside table. If that’s what it takes to come to terms with it, so be it.

“Even if you can’t pick up the phone and discuss it with someone, have a look at all of the websites like the Pet Bereavement Support Service run by the Blue Cross. It’s a very specific, tailored helpline for pet bereavement, open to the public.”

Recognise that your pet grief is real

“Take the time you need and recognise that pet bereavement is real and will affect people individually.”

Should you consider getting another pet?

“Others feel such a huge amount of guilt that they never enjoy another dog in their life because they think they can never go through that again.

“People put a lot of pressure on themselves. Some feel they might be judged if they go and get another pet straight away and that they are trying to replace something that they haven’t given themselves time to grieve properly.

“All I can say is that getting a pet, whether it’s a dog or a cat or whatever animal species, is a huge responsibility and a lifelong decision. Make sure you are mindful of the responsibility you are taking on.”

For The Love Of Animals by Dr James Greenwood is published by Seven Dials, priced £18.99. Available now.

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