It's been almost a year since I let Poppy go. I know it's approaching because it's the same time of year the poppies start to bloom on my drive to work. I was actually meant to be in work the day I lost her; in fact, it was my first Saturday shift in my new job. My parents drove her over to see me because she almost collapsed getting out of bed. My collegues, who I'd known for a just over a week, kindly rallied together to cover my shift so I could take her home.
She was so small and weak compared to the vibrant goofy spaniel she once was, but she still wagged that helicopter tail the way she always did to greet me, toy in mouth as usual. My dad thought I was making a mistake because she still wanted to carry a toy around (I let her chose one at the practice before I took her back home) - but I knew what was coming. It was her time to go.
Poppy was in renal failure at 5 years old. Long story short - she was a baffling medical case with a severe Protein Losing Nephropathy (amongst other things). I diagnosed her a month or two previously after she started losing weight and going off her food. I never really found the specific underlying cause for her illness which I think has been one of the most distressing parts (for me) of losing her. I think perhaps I felt like I had failed her when I lost her? Had I missed something? Could I have done more? Should I have done more?
It's a widely accepted phenomenon that vets cannot treat their own pets! Rationale completely goes out the window, you can't think straight and you forget all logic and even the most basic of things. With Poppy I really tried to separate myself from being her owner in an attempt to be her vet too; I just wanted to help her. I did all the relevant tests, read 12645430909 veterinary research papers, referred her, repeatedly spoke to specialists and the consensus always remained the same. Short of doing a renal biopsy (which I knew wouldn't change the outcome and therefore didn't seem fair) there was nothing else I could do for her. It was time to accept her prognosis and make sure she was comfortable and happy.
Poppy remained stable for a few weeks at home with my parents, still happy as Larry on all the relevant medicines that she naturally wouldn't take (hence why I always empathise with owners having to medicate their unwilling pets). This photo was taken on a trip to Skipton a few weeks before she died - she was so Happy - especially with her free curtesy of the hotel!
I forgot to add that Poppy was an RSPCA rescue welfare case that I came across whilst in my first veterinary post. After passing all of the RSPCA criteria we were able to adopt her in June 2014.
I have loved all of my family pets deeply, but I have never known a dog be so grateful to be loved and to love as immensely in return. She was a constant ray of sunshine and joy, and even managed to twerk her way deeply into my mums heart; who will openly admit she's never fully experienced the depth and kind of love I felt for my animals until Poppy came along. I think it was the fact that we felt like she needed us? We needed her, of course.
The first two photos of her below were taken at the RSPCA centre, the 3rd photo is Poppy a week later at home! We immediately fell in love with her. She always looked tiny and everybody (even up until she died) always thought she was a puppy.
We are all guilty of 'putting the inevitable off' often completely unintentionally or understandably selfishly because we don't want to be without our pets who are a huge part of our family.
My heart actually aches with stories of owners that hold the most emotional connections to their pets. But we have to put our own feelings aside because it's the right thing to do to make sure our pets don't suffer at our expense. Which I suppose brings me to the aim of this blog. Maybe its a cathartic exercise because its coming up to a year since Poppy died and I'm feeling a bit sad. Or maybe its because I want to let you know that, despite how tormenting those final moments can seem when you're faced with losing a much loved companion - it is your final act of kindness and makes up only a moment in a life filled with moments.
I suppose as a vet its easier for me to know when the 'right time' is to say goodbye. I do appreciate it's hard for other owners to know when this time is because it's naturally very hard interpreting when an animal is in pain or suffering. Losing my own pets and going through those emotions myself is the reason I can be objective in that decision making process because genuinely, 'I have been there'.
Animals teach you patience, compassion, unconditional love, resilience and much more. I feel deeply sad when I think of Poppy and all my other pets I've lost before her. But then I take a moment and reflect on all of the memories I have and realise that my pets are within the majority of my happiest memories. And no matter how devastating it is when they leave you, that final moment when you let them go will never (and should never) outweigh all those wonderful years you've shared with them. Which is why my heart will always be open to more dogs and cats when the ones I have leave me.
Nobody should feel guilty wanting another pet after they've lost one, and there isn't a set time to grieve or wait before you find a new companion. You must remember that one animal does not replace another - they merely just expand the heart.
My two darling girls, Poppy and Sadie who I miss deeply.
Which brings us to Finn. He knows he's got huge shoes to fill .
If you need any support on pet bereavement please use the following links below.