The first time I experienced the death of a pet was when I was around 10 years old and our dog had been knocked down by a car on a busy road near our home. I remember being utterly traumatised because I felt it was my fault.
Little Elvis adored me, and I adored him. I had no idea what mix of breeds he was, all I cared about was that he was a loyal friend who had masses of shaggy, fluffy fur in various shades of brown. He was the excitable younger brother my three sisters and I never knew we needed.
On this fateful day I had been calling Elvis home for his dinner.
When I couldn’t see Elvis I yelled louder. Someone popped their head out of a doorway and reminded me that the King was dead. How prescient they were. All of a sudden I saw a flash of brown fur and Elvis came bounding towards me from across the street near a block of flats where he really shouldn’t have been, the rascal. It was only when I saw the car out of the corner of my eye that the panic rose.
It is a testament to the love Elvis had for me (or was it the food) that he was completely oblivious to the danger and, unfortunately, we hadn’t yet covered the ‘Stop’ command.
Needless to say, little Elvis ran to me, to home, and then there was a yelp and he was lying on the road. The driver continued on, caring little about the devastation he had left in his wake and the four children whose hearts he had broken and tainted forever.
Our neighbour, who had spotted the crime, came out and carried Elvis from the road to the path outside our house, where our beloved pet took his last breaths while my sister Linda and I petted his head and said a simple goodbye. There was nothing else to say.
Another brush with heartache
On Tuesday night I had another brush with heartache at the loss of a beloved pet. We’d only had Benji for 6 months, which is more than enough time to fall in love. We agreed to take Benji from a friend after he had begun fighting with the other dog he was living with. He was reaching the grand old age of 14 and we all thought that he deserved a bit of attention by being in a single-dog home.
We took Benji for a week’s trial and ended up keeping him. He was a cheeky little Jack Russell/terrier cross who snarled at dogs when they bothered him and felt entitled to a seat on the sofa next to us. He was a curious dog but the source of his curiosity began and ended with ‘where’s the food?’ We couldn’t feed him enough despite his diminutive size and it took a while to learn each other’s ways, but he soon fit into our lives like a glove.
He loved cuddles and resting his paw on your lap, the kind of perch that made one wonder who the real owner was. His face would light up, his tail wagging furiously, when one of us put his little harness on, which beckoned walkies, or when I went towards the cupboard where his food was kept.
The past six months Benji became a different dog; friendly, loyal and loving and we fell into a trance of contentment.
It came as a shock when I came home from work on Tuesday and he was trembling and stiff, sitting in the corner of the room, his food not touched. I knew immediately that something was very wrong and I took him to the vet as an emergency case, hoping that something could be done.
The vet said he had lost a lot of fluid, so much so that he was in shock and that his little body was shutting down. She told me that due to his age it might not be beneficial to put him through lots of treatment for an outcome that no one could predict.
I was devastated. I had to make a decision there and then; spend weeks and months trying to bring Benji back to his former self, and spending lots of money or to euthanise. I knew in my heart what I had to do. The thought of the fur ball I had grown to love suffering even more was too much. I had to let him go.
I’ve been grieving since then, with mixed emotions of guilt, sadness and regret — regret that I didn’t cuddle him more when I had the chance and guilt over whether I made the right choice.
Over the past 6 months Benji was a calmer, happier and cared for little dog and I feel comforted by that thought. He even got to sleep beside me in bed when my partner was away, which he loved.
He’ll be sorely missed. RIP Benji, 2007-2021.
— Christina Curran is freelance journalist based in Northern Ireland.