08:00 Tuesday 28 August 2012

Loving after a Loss

In my first two blogs I talked about how, at Critterish Allsorts, we use our animals to help people and about how those people also had a positive effect on our animals. What happens, however, when we lose one of our own beloved pets, how do we make it better?

My wife once said to me  – “Some animals just walk straight into your heart!” – and she is so right. We have 99 animals at the moment, all much loved family pets who we use in our business and we are attached to them all. So what happens when one of those pets dies?

I will relate to you now, the story of Mooch and Johnny, and how, although they never met, they became inextricably linked.

Mooch was a Bosc monitor lizard – an African lizard that can grow to about 5 feet. Mooch was a rescue case and was taken from a house where he was being mistreated. He was kept in a dark room, with no heat, no water and thrown a plate of cat food once a day. I am sure that even the less knowledgeable of you will realise that this is not right. Boscs required an owner who can provide the correct diet and living environment in order to be healthy.

We took Mooch out of that house, in agreement with the owner, and gave him the correct environmental conditions. He was aggressive of his space, normal for a Bosc, and would run at my hand if it strayed into his enclosure. I spent a lot of time working with Mooch over the next few months. I allowed him to find his own way out of his enclosure and into my territory; allowed him to sniff me (they have long blue forked tongues for this) and allowed him to get close to me. In return, he allowed me time with him. I stroked his back, tickled behind his ears, scratched the top of his head and he eventually allowed me to pick him up.

To cut a much longer story short, Mooch and I bonded, he became my companion. No explanation, no questions. We shared a mutual love, mutual respect and a mutual trust of each other. After about 6 months, Mooch was like a pussy cat – he would come to me for cuddles climbing onto my shoulder and nestling into my neck (he was 4 feet long and weighed about 5 or 6 kilos!), he had freedom of the house and did not bother our animals, in fact he used to lie down and snuggle with our kitten. With freedom of the house came freedom of the garden too. In short Mooch was a very special lizard, with a very special personality.

Sadly in January of this year, Mooch died – it was sudden and totally unexpected. I had been worried about his appetite for a few days and was ready to take him to the vet. The day before he died he had climbed onto my lap for a cuddle. I came downstairs in the morning and found him dead in his enclosure. The howl of grief I exhaled alerted the rest of the house to a problem. When they found me I was in floods of tears, cradling Mooch and holding his hand. But I had 98 other pets to love right? Wrong – I grieved for Mooch as I would have grieved for one of my family. I think we all do this for our pets, but Mooch was even more special than this to me.

Our whole family grieved his loss, we all loved him like one of us. In addition so did those who had met him through our work – he was very popular and loved by many. On the night of his death, I couldn’t sleep and stood outside at 3am. I renamed the constellation of Orion “Mooch” and as a breeze tickled my face it was like I could feel him brushing past me and snuggling into me at the same time. I adored Mooch and he adored me – I could not see the future without him.

Enter Johnny! About a week after Mooch’s untimely demise, I got a call from a friend of mine whose family own a zoo (Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom in Telford). “Hi mate, we know you don’t have a ferret – how would you feel about having one?” Having just lost my monitor lizard, and knowing what I knew about ferrets, I was reluctant. “He doesn’t think he’s a ferret,” Will continued, “and doesn’t get on with other ferrets at all.”

We can’t resist an animal in need so I spoke to my wife and we agreed to take Johnny. He was dumped at the gates of the zoo, and they tried to rehabilitate him with their other ferrets. But after a year of trying, they had to admit defeat...

Johnny arrived about 2 days later. Ferrets are amazing animals, and so much fun – I had my own preconceptions, which were misconceived. I hadn’t laughed so much in a while, and whilst he didn’t take away the loss I felt with regard to Mooch, he certainly helped me come to terms with the fact that I still had love in me to give to another animal. Johnny the ferret brought the smile back to our home – the sound of laughter, after over a week of tears, was like a breath of fresh air. He brought us all round to what we were here for – to love animals and be loved by them.

Johnny had been bought a very nice outside enclosure, and after a few hours of entertaining us with his antics, it was time for bed. He had made himself very comfy in the dog bed, his home was outside though, where it was cold and... erm... frosty. We didn’t have the heart, and so brought a rabbit run in from the garden, and put it into the lounge for him to sleep in! Each morning, we would let him out to roam the house, and at bedtime, he would go into his room.

For 3 weeks he did this, until we decided to convert the under stairs cupboard into a bedroom for him! It has all mod cons – en suite (litter tray!); ball pit; hammocks; climbing frame; climbing tube – he has the works! Each morning we open his door and give him the freedom of our home, and each evening when he is ready for food, he goes to bed. He is litter trained and during the day will actually use the cats litter trays – so he is nice and clean too.

Johnny really is a joy – he still makes us laugh, and smile constantly and is a great source of enjoyment and focus for our love. And no matter what happens, Johnny will ALWAYS have that link with Mooch and that special place in our hearts – Mooch walked straight into our hearts, and the hole he left was filled the minute Johnny walked in.

When a companion dies it is a very sad time, but it is not a time to close your heart to others. You need to be complete and that void CAN be filled. When I lost Mooch, I never in my wildest imagination, thought that I could carry on without that bond and relationship. Even more surprising was the fact that a new bond would be made, but with an animal that I had never even considered owning – Johnny the ferret!

Open your mind, as you open your heart! Your pet would want you to be happy.

Critterish Allsorts undertake animal assisted therapy sessions, with their critters (who are all family pets), on an individual or group basis in your home, hospital, care home, foster home, or school. Visit their website for more information.

This blog is written by Dale Preece-Kelly from Critterish Allsorts, if you would like to find out more about them check out our previous article 'Meet the Critterish Allsorts'.
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