And they are all going to die.
I wish that when Armagnac, my old St Bernard, fell down dead I'd known about Laura Lee, whose 'Coping with Pet Loss' column is a staple of Dogs Today magazine, or even about the Pet Loss and Support for Bereaved Owners seminar at Liverpool University this weekend. Three days of brain-storming with professional counsellors would have turned my sterile grief into a life- enhancing growth experience.
The organisers of the Liverpool seminar, the Society of Companion Animal Studies, hope the seminar will lead to a national pet loss support network. 'People who have had bad relationships find it easier to deal with animals, who won't let them down,' says Laura Lee. 'It doesn't matter what animal it is, it's the attachment that's important. I know of nine people who committed suicide within days of their pets' death; one man threw himself under a train.'
Thomas Martindale, who set up his Pet Bereavement Counselling Service four months ago, specialises in one-on- one counselling. 'I don't perceive bereavement as a negative experience, it's a growth experience for the individual that can enrich life.' A typical session, in a neutral environment like a hotel foyer, might take an hour and half; clients bring photos of their pets, and leave with a tape of their interview.
'People walk away feeling empowered. My mission is for the individual to leave, and maybe within a few days, buy another pet.' He pussyfoots around the cost: 'I could give you a figure, but what difference does it make?'
For some, there's nothing like a good wake first. The Claverhambury Pet Cemetery near Waltham Abbey has 1,600 graves, 'mainly cats and dogs, a monkey, some rabbits, and I believe there's a duck up there, too,' according to a spokeswoman. 'If people want to bring ministers or priests to say a few words, that's fine, though usually it's very much done in silence.' A burial costs pounds 185, plus pounds 50 to pounds 80, depending on size, for a polished wood coffin, padded and lined in white.
Headstones are available from the memorial masons Monumental Company of Littlehampton in granite, Welsh slate or white marble, embellished with a silhouette of a pawprint or an empty collar. The cost is about pounds 80.
'In the last three years things have really started to escalate,' says Gareth Osborne, chief executive of the Cambridge Pet Crematorium. 'We cremate 5,000 pets in a week and people come from the length and breadth of the country. One lady regularly brings her pets from the Isle of Skye. The ceremony is not so important, but people like to know that their pet is treated with a bit of care and dignity at the end of its life. People don't want their pet to end up on a rubbish heap, or skinned - and it does still happen.'
A cremation costs between pounds 40 and pounds 80, and the ashes are returned to the owner to bury, scatter or keep. 'We cremate horses quite regularly, and we've had pot-bellied pigs, parrots and hamsters. Often with furry things, for children it can be their first experience of death, and if the hamster is thrown in the bin they wonder if the same thing will happen to granny, so it's a good way to teach them about it.'
So, maybe I owe it to Armagnac to 'pay tribute to a departed dog' in Laura Lee's canine obituary column in Dogs Today.
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