Circle of Life by Mark Newton-Clarke
Boom, its February and if winter is leaving us alone, signs of new life should be returning. I think we all look forward to the next couple of months as light gradually gains ascendency over dark. Photoperiod has a visceral influence on almost all life on this planet, the return of the sun central to survival for so many. Not surprising then that at sunrise on the “shortest” day of the year (which was spectacular) record numbers of people gathered at Stonehenge to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Perhaps the size of the crowd that assembled was a sign that we are starting to re-learn the connection between ourselves and the natural world and hopefully, a greater appreciation of it.
The rhythm of the seasons signposts my year, reminding me of the cyclical nature of life. But life also has a linearity, time in the dimension most of us inhabit going in only one direction. Good and bad this, as nobody wants to live in Groundhog Day but then again, we don’t want to get any older! But we do and so do our pets, at a rate 5 or 6 times faster than ourselves. Of course there is so much pleasure watching a kitten or a puppy grow up but I think most of us prefer the middle phase of their lives. This seems to go on for ever as spared many of the human signs of ageing, it’s easy not to notice the effect of the years on our animal family members. So it was with Trilby, my beloved Border Terrier, who came to me 16 years’ ago in part-exchange for an unpaid bill. I never received the balance of the debt but Trilby made up for it by being the best dog and having the best life. Should I be sad? Of course I miss him but I am mostly happy for all the memories I have and the fact that he passed away peacefully in his sleep.
Now, when I say that, I mean a sedative-induced sleep and then an intravenous injection of an anaesthetic called a barbiturate. We were at home, in familiar surroundings and Trilby was totally unaware that his life was about to end. As vets, we work hard to engineer exactly this situation to minimise stress for the patient and grief for the owner. This is a difficult subject for everyone who loves their animals but my aim is to reassure, as for many owners, the process is as daunting as the loss. It’s very important that we make the process as caring as possible so the loss is easier to bear.
Now I mention this as I want to put a positive slant on the sadness of losing an animal companion. I remind bereaved owners that our pets are the most privileged creatures ever to have walked this Earth, having a far better standard of life than 90% of the world’s human population. We can also offer them a peaceful and pain-free exit from life when the time comes, a responsibility that falls on every owner. I have always wondered if animals can rationalise the privations of old age, as humans mostly can. If not, it must be very confusing being in a body that cannot perform the antics of youth and have a mind that’s unable to understand why. I can relate to that!
So I have celebrated the life of my lovely Trilby rather than mourned his passing. He was ready to go and I was happy to help him on his way. The loss of a pet is an important milestone in our own lives, reminding us of our own mortality and the importance of living a good life for the time we have. And how time flies as next month the Druids will be back at Stonehenge to celebrate the Spring Equinox and new life will be ready to burst. Can’t wait.
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