One woman cancelled Christmas over the pain of losing her two dogs

Bill Clinton; Marty Whelan; and Great British Bake Off host, Sue Perkins, have all spoken eloquently bout the pain that the death of a family dog causes. Caroline Allen talks to an Irish dog owner who took two weeks off work when her dog was near death and another who cancelled Christmas when her two dogs died.

One woman cancelled Christmas over the pain of losing her two dogs

The death of a loyal canine companion can leave a giant-sized hole in people’s lives. That sense of constant companionship and unconditional love offered by pets leads to the forging of deep bonds. Earlier this year, Sue Perkins admitted that she “cried until my skin burnt and my ears grew tired from the sound of it all” after her dog, Pickle, passed away.

We speak to two women about the heartbreak they felt after the deaths of their dogs.

Lisa Cunningham, Laragh, Co Wicklow

Christmas at my house has always been about the ‘kids’ — my dogs and horses — so when two of my beloved canine companions passed away over the festive seasons of 2014 and 2015, all celebrations were cancelled. To my mind, Christmas didn’t happen those years.

I’ve been rescuing animals since I was six. Because I’ve always worked for myself — I run Vogue Business Development — I’ve juggled the art of toiling hard yet having quality time with the animals in my care.

I’m known for taking in big dogs and have had St Bernards; German shepherds; a German Shepherd/ collie cross; old English sheepdogs; a wolfhound; a lurcher; a golden labrador; and a Schanuzer/old English cross as well as a little handbag dog that suffered horrific abuse at four months and that still lives with me, the delectable Digby who is now 15.

Christmas always means stockings and treats galore for my dogs. I was gearing up for all that in 2013 until Scooby Doo, a 13-year-old St Bernard I had rescued at six months, started showing signs of old age with gastro and kidney problems. Suddenly he was unable to fight infection and respond to treatment as he had previously. By Christmas Eve, and with another visit to my vet, Kevin Glynn, I realised there was no turning back.

Lisa Cunningham‘s dog Scooby Doo
Lisa Cunningham‘s dog Scooby Doo

I remember going to Donnybrook Fayre, near the vet clinic, and buying Scooby Doo a boned and rolled turkey piece, so he could relish his last Christmas supper. Typical St Bernard, even though he was weak after treatment, he was able to savour the scent although I, being a vegetarian, didn’t. Around that time I had just bought a secondhand BMW and nothing would do Scooby Doo but to get into it.

On impulse, I helped him in with Megan, my wolfhound cross, and roof down, we sped off. We stopped at his beloved wood and I swear he smiled as we strolled slowly through the gate. We went home, packed the other dogs into the jeep, and did our rounds of neighbours and friends who had pieces of ham and turkey at the ready. Scooby finished off the day in front of the fire with little Digby snoozing on his tail.

I stayed at home for the next few days, we’d go for a drive every day and Scooby would rest on his favourite sofa. As the days went on, he was eating less and less and showing dramatic weight loss. By New Year’s Eve, he couldn’t eat at all and I knew this was a sign of the beginning of organ failure. Before we left for Kevin’s, we stopped at a stream and Scooby barked over at the horses, as if saying goodbye. When we got to the vets, he looked up at me and gave the paw. I held him as the injection worked its way into his veins. With him beside me in the jeep, I howled all the way home.

Then, with last Christmas looming, out of nowhere, Sable, my German Shepherd collie cross, got sick. She had been rescued from a steel trailer where she had been abused for a year.

Sable loved George, my 30-plus horse, another rescue. She used to sit at the paddock rail and look up lovingly at him with the other dogs, moving whenever he moved. Otherwise, she was my shadow, always in need of reassurance. She didn’t respond well to treatment and sadly, by Christmas Eve last year, we knew the end was nigh.

I tried to keep things normal, going for drives and little walks, even toasting the missing stocking that was Scooby Doo’s. By New Year’s Eve, Sable’s throat had swollen and she could only drink sips. Nightmarishly, it was off to Kevin again.

Lisa Cunningham‘s Christmas stockings laid out for her beloved pets.
Lisa Cunningham‘s Christmas stockings laid out for her beloved pets.

I’m still trying to adjust to the loss and the empty sofa spaces. The love and laughter all the dogs have given me is immeasurable. Having lost my parents at a young age, I know the pain of being left to face loss on my own. My friends all assure me my dogs have had good lives and my vet says that he would like to come back as one of them. Logic will tell you that when you have old dogs, that day is coming, but in my ultra positive outlook on life, that wasn’t going to happen. The loss of so many dogs so close together broke my heart.

All I can do is cherish the memories of the fun I had with all of my canine companions.

Michelle McNamara, Templemore, Co Tipperary

“I took two weeks off work to be with my dying dog”.

I previously had a black labrador, Podge, who lost the use of his back legs. He had surgery in Cork but to no avail. I got a wheelchair for him in the US and he had hydrotherapy. You would want to see him go through the fields around our home in Templemore in his wheelchair. In the end he didn’t have the quality of life he deserved and I had to put him to sleep.

Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara

I swore after that that I would never get another dog but five years later over Christmas 2009, my husband Eamonn arrived with two labrador puppies, Bailey and Brandy.

I love my dogs and treat them as members of the family. Bailey was always a leader, right from the time he was a pup. A big fan of the car, Bailey always watched for his chance to jump in. He always threw Eamonn and I sad looks in the hope he would be invited for a little drive. He loved going for walks and chasing rabbits, none of which he ever caught.

When I was studying for exams, Bailey was always by my side.

Although my husband and dad are in the house also, Bailey was my big baby and was probably most loyal to me. He was highly protective and if he thought a stranger was trying to come in or that anyone might have the tiniest indication of a cross word for me, he would rush to my side and give a little growl. He always could sense my humour.

A few months ago, I thought Bailey wasn’t himself and brought him to my vet for a check up. She thought his tummy was slightly swollen and advised an ultrasound.

Michelle McNamara’s dog Bailey
Michelle McNamara’s dog Bailey

This was holiday time so the best place to go was the UCD veterinary hospital. They were unsure of his condition there and kept him for a week of tests and scans. I found this really traumatic as I missed him and worried about him terribly.

Unfortunately the news wasn’t good and it turned out to be a genetic disorder with his liver. He was just unlucky — it’s not common and something that affects the labrador breeds and can go undiagnosed as its symptoms are silent.

Following subsequent tests from the Netherlands, he was given two weeks to live. I was just distraught. I took two weeks off work to be with Bailey. I didn’t question it. There was very little I could do but just be with him. I had to bring him to the vet daily for medication via injection. Then it was back home, making him as comfortable as he could be. For those two weeks, Eamonn and I slept with him.

After a while, the vet sensitively suggested the time had come to say goodbye to Bailey. She was excellent at explaining the process to me and ensuring I knew what to expect. I then brought Bailey home and buried him in a favourite spot down by the lawn under the apple trees. I found it all so difficult and upsetting. Animal lovers can relate to how I felt and the loss I am still experiencing.

I’m still not over it and have a canvas of Bailey hanging in our living room wall just over where he used to lie. I ,of course, understand that the loss of an animal is not comparable to that of a human but nonetheless it’s very difficult. Those that are not animal lovers but who know me have been very nice to me but I know they are bewildered with how it has impacted upon me.

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