We've shared Queen's heartache of losing beloved dog
The Queen has reportedly been hit hard by the passing of her beloved last royal corgi, Willow, who died last Sunday. Lindy McDowell, Jim Deeds and Barbara McCann on how they share the pain of losing a much loved friend.
Jim Deeds: ‘I cuddled him in the vet’s as he slowly and gently slipped away’
Madadh (pronounced "Mah-doo" - the Irish word for dog) was our first Great Dane. He arrived to us at just nine weeks old. He was a small brown and white pup who could be cradled in our hands. But Great Danes don't stay small for long! Madadh grew at great speed and by the time he was 18 months old he was 10 stone in weight and stood about three feet at his shoulder. He was a BIG dog.
He was also a big part of our lives. He brought us tears of laughter; Great Danes are the funniest dogs at times. He brought us a fair amount of frustration too; Great Danes love to chew sofas and table legs and just about anything other than the toys we buy them to chew.
They say that a Great Dane will bond to one person in the family more than others. I fed him and walked him and brushed him. So it's not surprising that we had that special bond. Each day I spent hours with him. Some of those days were days that I was feeling stressed or ill or sad. Madadh was there through it all, unchanging in his loyalty and affection for me. He helped me to smile when it did not seem that smiling was possible. He was my friend, I guess.
Looking back now, there were signs. I remember walking through Belfast City Cemetery one morning and turning to my side to say something to Madadh like: 'You okay big man?', and seeing that he wasn't there. He was tired and had fallen behind me. I waited for him. He came over to me and leaned on me the way that all Great Danes will do. We rested a while and moved on. He slept well when we got home and appeared fine.
A few days later I noticed he had a cough. I took him to the vet and they gave him some medication and advised rest and pampering. He got both in abundance. But the cough would not shift. I took Madadh back to the vet, who did blood tests and came back with the devastating news that Madadh had kidney failure as well as a chest infection and was unable to fight either well. We should take him home and keep him comfortable.
Some days later it became clear that my big friend was not doing well. He was weak and unable to breathe easily. We had some discussions with the family and with the vet, and we came to the achingly difficult decision to let Madadh's suffering end.
Now, I don't know about you, but when my friends are going through a tough time, I don't leave them alone. So, I stayed with Madadh right to the end. I cuddled him in the vet's treatment room as he slowly and gently slipped away and out of our lives. Through my tears I said goodbye to a dog who owed me nothing; a dog who gave me so much more than I gave him.
One of the most difficult things that day was walking out through the vet's waiting room with Madadh's lead and collar in my hand. I could see the other people in the waiting room looking at me with sympathy. They knew what I was going through, I think.
In the days that followed Madadh's death we received his ashes in a lovely container that was designed to allow for the ashes to be spread wherever the owner felt most appropriate. I thought that to spread Madadh's ashes on Divis Mountain, where we had spent many hours walking together, would be very appropriate indeed. That was the plan. However, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
And so, to this day, some two-and-a-half-years later, Madadh's ashes sit in their pretty container on my bedside table. Every morning when I wake up I see them and they remind me of the good times we shared. They remind me what unconditional love and loyalty is. They remind me of my friend.
One thing that unites all pet owners is that losing your pet isn't easy. Whether you're a simple Belfast man like me or the Queen of England herself, losing your beloved pet isn't easy. They occupy a special place in our lives and we feel their absence every day. Rest well big Madadh.
Jim Deeds is development officer with the Down and Connor diocese Living Church Office
Lindy McDowell: 'We've had many other dogs in our family down the years, but Pete was different ... Pete was a king'
Of all the many dogs owned by my family down the years, one stands paws and shoulders above the rest. His name was Pete. Pete was a canine legend. He was, of course, a mongrel, which looking back seems like a very disrespectful term for such a noble and intelligent (some neighbours might have said cunning) beast.
Pete was part Alsatian, part collie and part genius.
He understood what you were saying. Really understood. Not just low level stuff like "walkies" and "good boy" (although more often in Pete's case it would have been "bad boy").
Had he still been alive today I'm sure he would have had an opinion on the impact of Brexit on the canine community. He was on that level of inter-species communication.
Pete came to our family via my younger sister Roberta, who acquired him from a friend who lived on a farm and whose father's prized female collie had obviously been besporting herself with another neighbour's scary guard dog.
Pete was an adorable pup and we all spoilt him rotten. A bit too rotten.
In his teenage years he developed what could be called anti-social tendencies. He ran after cars. He also started to nip people.
The chasing cars business was baffling, because he really was a very clever dog and this was clearly a hiding to nothing. It should have been quite obvious to him that cars were faster. And that those wheels he was snapping at could bite back. One day they did. He got clipped by a car and from our back garden I heard the bloodcurdling yelp of pain. I started running towards him; he towards me. He flung himself up into my arms yelping in terror and pain.
When I had calmed him down, I looked him straight in the eye. "Never do that again," I ordered him. And, you know what, he never did.
Okay, so it was obviously a lesson learnt the hard way, not my words that he heeded. Even so, I like to think he was a dog you didn't have to tell twice.
The issue of "nipping" was understandably even more worrying. He once bit a postman who, despite it being an early morning delivery, had fortified himself in preparation for the day's challenges with a small whiskey or two. Fortunately, this not only acted as an anaesthetic but had encouraged a forgiving frame of mind.
But my da was mortified and began muttering darkly about how if it happened again he'd have to have him (Pete, that is) put down.
Regrettably, however, Pete was becoming increasingly territorial. And unfortunately, like some doggie Genghis Khan, he didn't feel his territory should be confined to our own council house backyard.
He was increasingly becoming a sort of Cerberus of our small village. But because my siblings and I loved him so much we preferred to think of him more as a comic book Gnasher type. You know, his bark worse than his bite.
Until he bit someone else.
It wasn't actually a bad bite. (Is there such a thing as a good bite?) And his target - a person my da didn't have a lot of time for - generously brushed it off as a minor inconvenience.
But a sense of dread now descended upon the family. Our da would have to be told when he came in from work. He'd made his feelings very clear on future nips, bites or intimidatory behaviour on the part of our pet.
We showered da with cheeriness and a great dinner as soon as he came in the door. After a few minutes he put his knife and fork down. "Okay", he said, "What's going on here?"
And then tearfully we explained. That's it, he said. No going back. You heard what I said would happen if he ever did this again.
He picked up his knife and fork and continued to eat on in a silence now broken only by our sobs.
"Who did he bite?" he asked eventually.
We told him the name. A slow smile began to spread across his face. "Really?", he asked, "Bring the boy in and give him a fry".
The interesting thing is henceforth, and without any chiding from us, Pete became a reformed character.
I'm convinced he realised, from our reaction and dismay, that this time he'd gone way too far.
He cleaned up his act. He was still a bit yappy with strangers, granted. But now he was physically restrained with it.
We adored that dog. When he died it truly was heartbreaking.
Sometimes, somewhere between animal and human a bond develops that transcends species.
You love them, they love you. No questions asked. Bad behaviour, on both sides, is forgiven because you know them and can appreciate their essential goodness. The old friend who will never, ever let you down.
And that applies whether you live in a palace in SW1A or a council house in south Derry.
So I can well understand how the Queen, who has just lost her faithful Corgi and companion Willow, has reportedly been hit "extremely hard" by the loss. Not least because Willow was the last of a famous dog dynasty stretching back to Susan, the first Corgi puppy the Queen was given when she was just 18.
No matter your status in life, a beloved dog will inevitably rule your heart.
Pete was as much a part of our family as any of the rest of us. We grew up with him but he, too soon, grew old.
He was part of our youth and will always be part of our memories of that time.
We have had many other dogs in our family down the years. But Pete was different, eternally set apart from the rest because of his, shall we say, exuberance.
The others we also loved deeply and, when their time came, mourned sadly too.
But Pete was special.
Pete was a king.
'The grief was as raw as when my father died'
UTV journalist Barbara McCann, from Hillsborough, lost her dog Mollie a few years ago.
I can honestly say that for me the grief of losing a pet was similar to the grief I felt when my father passed away.
I got my Boxer dog Mollie when she was just a pup and the bond between us was sealed from the very start. I don't have any children, so Mollie was my baby and I freely admit that she was spoilt rotten.
When she was only seven months old she had a hip displacement and had to undergo an operation, and that was traumatic.
Then when she was four years old Mollie started having fainting spells. The vet diagnosed a problem with her heart - she had cardiomyopathy, which Boxers can suffer from, and it meant she was prone to fainting.
I was told at that stage that she could die at any minute and I was heartbroken. I was working for the BBC at the time and I had to leave work and come home as I was so upset.
Thankfully, she lived for another seven years until she was 11. She was on six tablets a day, but she had a great life and her condition didn't stop us having fun and going for walks and spending loads of quality time together.
I love animals and I was devastated when Mollie became very poorly during the last few months of her life. Finally, I was forced to make the decision to let her go.
The vet agreed that it was the kindest thing to do but I was distraught. I went with her to the vet's, stayed with her to the end and hugged her as he gave her the injection. It was dreadful. I then carried her out to the garage and later I buried her in the garden. For some time afterwards I was inconsolable.
There would be days when I would just cry. It was like losing a best friend and I can honestly say the grief was as real and as raw as when my dad died years earlier. The pain for me was every bit as bad.
Of course, after Mollie passed away in 2012 friends saw how upset I was and kept telling me to get another dog, but I refused.
I kept saying I would wait until I found one like Mollie with a white face and no tail. I also wanted to get another pup. However, a photograph from a friend in Castlerock in 2013 changed everything ...
She sent me a picture of a five-year-old Boxer that needed to be rehomed. I immediately said no as this dog had a black face and a tail and wasn't a puppy.
But about a week later I decided to go up and visit my friend and thought I would just call in and see the dog when I was that far. As soon as I saw her I knew I had to have her. I loved her right away and I made arrangements to go back a week later and bring her home.
I renamed her Bella and she has been at my side ever since. When I am not at work I am spending time with my baby.
She is my life and I love her to pieces - even more than I loved Mollie, which I never thought was possible.
Bella is spoilt and has her own bedroom in the house. We go for walks every day and when I am at work she goes to doggy day-care, so she is not on her own. I have a brilliant dogminder called Angela who looks after her and takes her for weekends if I have to go away. Some people may think it's extravagant to pay for things like doggy day-care, but Bella is my baby and it's not like I have to worry about putting kids through college or anything.
And my advice for the Queen? Get another dog sooner rather than later as you are just missing out on an amazing opportunity for all that unconditional love and companionship.
Bella is always glad to see me and loves going for walks. She is such a huge part of my life and I am so thankful I got her when I did.
Unfortunately, she also has a heart condition, but she is on the right medication and the vet is confident she could live for years to come. Don't ever say no to another dog - you could miss out on amazing opportunities."
INTERVIEW: KAREN IRELAND