Sad farewell for Belle

I THOUGHT I could handle it. I was wrong.
The steely resolve I had built up in my head when I carried my beautiful, but ailing, 19-year-old labrador-cross dog, Belle, into the surgery at the Byron Bay Veterinary Clinic on Tuesday of last week cracked as the vet, Rowen Trevor-Jones, began the final process that would put her to sleep forever.
With my wife, Pam, standing next to me crying and being comforted by one of the vet’s assistants, Nicole Bryant, I bolted through the door to the waiting room blubbering something along the lines of “I can’t do this”.
I’m not too sure whether it was because I didn’t want to face the fact that this really was the end for Belle, or whether in the back of my mind I didn’t want to humiliate myself in front of the vet and Nicole.
 But as it turned out, I could do it. I wanted to do it. A quick U-turn and with a quivering jaw, misty eyes and trying to hold it all together, I was back in the surgery for Belle’s final seconds.
It was all very quick and our wonderful dog was at peace.
Pam and I stood for a minute or so – it could have been shorter or longer, I don’t know – patting her still warm body. We said our final goodbye to her and left the room.
Despite the turmoil in our heads, we thanked the vet and Nicole for their caring support and made arrangements to have Belle cremated and have her ashes returned to us.
Leaving the vet’s, we went to the car parked out in the street where we sat for some minutes emotionally drained, trying to come to terms with what had just happened.
We would never see Belle again.
The little black pup born to a pedigreed golden retriever and fathered by an unknown black dog from across the paddock at Coraki, she was the runt of the litter, but the one chosen by our son Heath when he was 12 or thereabouts, all those years ago.
From then until last week, like all good dogs, she was part of the family. Nothing was ever planned in our house without taking the dog into account.
She gave us joy, laughter, drama and heartaches in varying measures, but at the end of the day she was our dog and we loved her.
Now all three of us are grieving. Pam and I here and Heath in Sydney. His pain is as raw as ours.
Even as I punch in these words at my computer in the office three days later, I’m battling to control my emotions as I picture her in my mind, or turn to a photo on the wall next to my desk of a young Belle with Heath sitting on the banks of the Brunswick River years ago.
At home, there is nowhere that doesn’t throw up a reminder of her. Pam and I still open the front door and expect to see her on the mat where she used to sleep, or in her favourite sheltered spot in the front garden hedge.
Believe it or not, we even spoke about selling the house to “escape” the grief. All this for a dog? Yep, for a dog.
Deep grief for the loss of a loved pet is not unusual or abnormal, according to respected Byron Shire death consultant and celebrant Zenith Virago.
Ms Virago, founding director of the non-profit Natural Death Centre, Australia, said she understood the grief felt by people who had lost a pet and it should not be underestimated.
“If you have shared your love with someone or a pet in a long-term relationship, you have the loss of the living creature and all those shared memories,” she said.
Ms Virago said the initial intense feelings of loss would change over time, with the grief eventually transforming back to love.
She said sometimes it could help to have a “little” burial ceremony.
Google “pets, death, grief” and you will be amazed at the number of sites devoted to the subject.
One site offers 10 tips to help cope with the loss of a pet, and another says it is not unusual for some people to grieve more over the loss of a pet than a loved one.
A pet loss grief support website invites people to go online to join in a candle ceremony held around the world every Monday.
We won’t be going that far. We know the pain will subside in time, but we also know the memories of Belle will live with us forever.
Her ashes are with us now and when the time is right, we will scatter some of them on the beach at Suffolk Park where, for almost nine years when we lived close by, she called it her own.

FOOTNOTE: Belle was cremated at Cedardale Park Pet Crematorium at Georgica run by Andrew Pittaway. He can be contacted on 66888304.

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