The death of Ben Fogle’s dog: his honest grief is helpful to us all

Ben Fogle has written a moving piece in the Sunday Telegraph about the loss of his Black Labrador, Inca. At twelve years of age, she had lost the power in both hind legs. Ben made the right decision for Inca, but it was still terribly difficult to go through the process of euthanasia. His article is unusually frank, with Ben describing how he “burst into uncontrollable tears” on the telephone when talking to his veterinary surgeon father, Bruce, about the situation. Then later, Ben describes the actual act of euthanasia:

“I carried her from the car into the house, burying my face into her fur, and laid her on the kitchen floor. Mum, Dad and my sister were all there. “I lay on the floor, hugging Inca while Dad injected her. Her breathing became heavy. I could feel her heart pounding and the warm blood beneath her skin. I breathed the familiar scent of her fur as I nuzzled into her thick coat. I have never sobbed like that in my life. It was a primal, uncontrollable, guttural sob as I felt her heart stop beating.I lay there on the kitchen floor clutching my best friend, unable to move. Wishing, hoping it was a dream, I held her lifeless body.”

Many readers have commented on the online version of Ben’s article, with some describing how tears were streaming down their face as they read his words.

Ben’s account will come as no surprise to vets and nurses: we witness people going through the emotional trauma of losing a pet every day, or even several times in one day.  Perhaps the only surprising aspect is that the depth of grief isn’t discussed more commonly in public. It’s as if it’s only behind closed doors that it’s acceptable to express this level of grief for an animal.

The private nature of grief for pets can make it doubly difficult for some pet owners to cope with their emotional distress. They feel deeply upset, but they may feel that it’s somehow  ”not right” for them to be so distressed. To an owner, the loss is as deep – or sometimes even deeper – as if a human friend or relative has died. To society at large, the loss is still ranked as minor, with people making heartless comments like “It was only a dog”. When a human dies, a wide leeway of sympathy is given, with time off work, and sensitive understanding for many weeks. When a pet passes away, people are often expected to “get over” their loss almost immediately.

Behind the scenes, there’s wide recognition of the emotional distress caused by the loss of a pet. The Society of Companion Animal Studies runs a Pet Bereavement Support service, in conjunction with the Blue Cross. This offers support by trained counsellors for people who need someone to talk to after a pet has died, both on the phone and by email.

It’s also increasingly recognised that veterinary staff can be emotionally traumatised by the daily witnessing of deep grief: after all, there are not many jobs where, every day, you need to offer support to grown men (and woman and children) as they cry their hearts out. The suicide rate of vets is around seven times the national average, and the complex nature of pet euthanasia is thought to play a role in contributing to this. Vetlife is a website designed to provide resources to help vets and nurses cope with the stress of their daily job.

Ben’s account is sad to read, but it’s heartening that he expresses his emotions so openly. If more people like Ben spoke out so clearly and truthfully, it would make it easier for those many individuals out there who still feel that have to hide their deeply held emotions.

  • I to have lost dogs and cats and each time have stated NO MORE PETS but you see this little bundle of fur, and your heart melts, we now look after my daughters Jack Russell, he is so adorable nearly a year old , he is more intelleegent than any other dog ihave had, he lives with my husband and I, he is more than a dog he is my extra grand child , stupid I know , we spoil him terrible and love him so much, but this time I know he will be here when we go, I only hope he does not miss us like I know we would miss him.

  • t pickering says:

    much respect to you Ben , i experienced something a little similar when i lost BJ my Amazon parrot, he was my baby and the love of my life and the grief at his passing was crushing and soul destroying .
    i fully agree people tend to think ‘its only a pet’ not realizing that they are part of our family
    thank you for being so brave
    next time i donate to the RSPCA i will do so in memory of INCA

  • pointypix says:

    What a heartbreaking read. I never watched Castaway so it was interesting to read how Inca came into Ben’s life and the huge role she had in it. I filled up reading the pain he went through as he let Inca go as I imagined how I will feel if anything happens to either of my two dogs. I admire Ben for speaking with such honesty and frankness about his grief as for anyone who has ever loved a dog knows, they are never ‘just’ a dog.

  • SJones says:

    So, so sad. Made me cry. I’m a vet nurse & it never gets any easier. We try not to cry in front of clients as it doesn’t look professional. You should see the tears shed behind the scenes! I now have two elderly cats that have been with me longer than my husband! Even thinking about euthanasia makes me want to cry. I will be a mess when they’re gone but I also know that there’ll be more pets to love & more tears to shed.

  • A Mylonas says:

    I am facing and living with a situation of a sudden and terminal cancer with my cat. He has been with me since he was weaned and is now 13 years and 2 months old. We have been parent and child and the best of friends, inseparable. I have already broken into a long spell of uncontrollable painful sobbing and live with an intermittent knotted stomach and emotional pain in my chest and throat. Sometimes the pain edges into psychological pain which is unwelcome. This is a nightmare. I always avoided having pets when I grew up as I didn’t want the pain of separation but I accidentally bumped into my first cat and then looked for a companion for her and ended up in a very long lived family unit with them. I have known what a terrible hurt this would be in the end. But I so so wish it hadn’t come to Cancer. I wish a speedy recovery and peace for all involved in the heartbreak of losing a pet , it’s losing a child.

  • brenda says:

    hi such a sad thing loosing you beloved pets, my lovely dog crystal whose nearly 14 lies beside me i’m dreading the day i have to say bye, i had another lovely boy dog who was 10 he was so lively so full of life, then one day all of a sudden i noticed the top of his head seemed to be dented in slightly but he was ok in his self, then i noticed he had a sore tooth i took him to the vets to have his tooth out, i said bye i’ll see you later love ya, 2 hrs later the vet phoned me to say he was really poorly he had a mass behind his jaw, there wasnt any hope it was to far gone, shock horror tears, what do i do i couldnt let my friend be in pain, he had to go to doggy heaven, i couldnt even be with him, the vet said he was really stressed in the mornin, when i left him, he wasnt use to being without me, it would be to stressing for him to see me, he was already still under anesthetic so i said let him go now, i went to the vet an hour later, and said i want to see my dog the let me go and see him, i so wanted to be with him when he went to sleep, to say night night love ya, lovely jasper went to be cremated, i kept my promise to my lovely friend and went to pick him up afterwards and brought him home, i still say good morning to him and good night, but still dearly miss him, that was 4 months ago, i still cry when i think of seeing him walk away with the nurse he was in a strange place with strange people and his mum wasnt there to say bye.

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