Today’s post is about the joys of Shadow, the canine addition to our family who brought with him a whole new raft of happiness.
Whether you are experiencing grief of not, it is well recognised that pets improve your sense of wellbeing.
I have always been a cat lover, and there is a great deal of comfort to be gained from a purring feline sitting cosily on your lap.
When we moved to Devon, Shaun and I had already established that getting a dog was part of our plan. We wanted to give a purpose to our walks and exploration of the countryside. And of course, a dog helps you to be sociable, as you invariably chat with other dog owners when you are out and about.
We envisaged homing a compact canine who would slot easily into our new surroundings, but trawls of local rescue centres did not yield any suitable pooches. After meeting a couple of greyhound owners locally, I eventually found my way to the website of Forever Hounds Trust. This is an excellent charity who rehome unwanted, abused or abandoned greyhounds and lurchers; and we put our name down for a cat-friendly hound (a bit of a tall order for dogs that generally have a very high prey drive!). However, after a relatively short time, and a thorough home check, we were contacted about a four-year-old dog called Snowie. This handsome black and white chap had quite a chequered history. He was not an ex racer, as many greyhounds are, but had been rescued from living on an allotment in the North of England. Sadly, his owner died and the family could not take on the dogs he owned, so he came into the care of the Trust. After a while in kennels he was rehomed with a family who had both dogs and cats. All seemed well, but unfortunately one of the other dogs became ill and the owner had to return Snowie to kennels. One sunny day in April 2018, three lovely Forever Hounds Trust ladies arrived at our house, with this very large, lanky, anxious looking dog.
We carefully brought the cats, Minstrel and Daisy, into the same room under supervision; Snowie passed his ‘tolerating cats’ test with flying colours, and after a week’s trial of fostering him, he very quickly walked into our lives and crept into our hearts.
He was soon renamed Shadow due to his following my every move – particularly in the early days when he was settling in to his new pampered life. He took up residence on the sofa whenever possible (a very typical greyhound trait) and he makes us smile on a daily basis.
There is evidence that pets improve our mood by increasing a variety of feelgood chemicals in our brains (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin). We don’t know how starved of affection Shadow was before he was rescued by the Trust, but he loves being stroked, brushed and petted and this produces the symbiotic relationship recognised by any pet owner. Shadow is a gentle, placid soul and despite his size, he is not especially clumsy. He returns affection by looking at you with adoring ‘puppy dog’ eyes and if you are really lucky, he will rest his head in your lap, something he does a great deal with our grandson, with whom he has had a special bond right from the start.
He is a typical hound; they’re known as ‘40 miles an hour couch potato’ dogs and seeing Shadow gallop off on one of his short ‘zoomies’ round a field, just because he can, makes us laugh out loud with joy.
Not long after we rehomed him, one of the Forever Hounds Trust volunteers said, “When you rehome a hound, you actually rescue two dogs. The one you have taken home creates a space for another dog who needs to come into kennels.” I hadn’t thought of this before, but it can be applied to rescue pets generally.
In terms of processing the emotions of grief, I believe that Shadow plays an important part. When you are grieving, you need to channel elsewhere the love you gave to those you have lost. It is easy to humanise your pets, and get to know their unique personalities, so why should you not lavish them with love and affection? Distraction is an important part of the grieving process too. The bereaved often need to find an alternative focus to divert from constantly dwelling on sadness; and a dog certainly fulfils this role; if you are ready for the responsibility.
I feel the timing of our getting Shadow was just right for us.
I love that we can treat him well, take him out and about with us, and generally look after him. In return, he looks happy, relaxed and certainly less skinny than when he arrived!
Our pets are entirely non-judgmental. There is an absence of expectation from animals (apart from at food or walk time!) that makes it easy for us to relate to them. They don’t need you to act a certain way, or talk a certain way. They often pick up when you are feeling sad and can be extra affectionate, sensing your need for comfort. When you are happy, so are they.
A dog also motivates you to go out every day; I’ve always remembered a friend saying to me, “It’s the dogs that make me get up in the morning.”
They give you a sense of purpose even if you are not looking for it.
I won’t play down the responsibility that comes with having a dog in the family (not least picking up after them) – naturally there are associated costs for feeding and vet bills (insurance is definitely worth having for an accident-prone hound). There is no doubt they are a tie when it comes to planning holidays and trips away; but all these things add up to a total that is a small price to pay, for the life-enhancing joy they bring, simply through their loving, affectionate and loyal presence.