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Farewell to my Princess Diana dog It's not ridiculous to grieve for a pet

Maisie in the park. (Julie Bindel)

Maisie in the park. (Julie Bindel)


January 24, 2024   5 mins

My dog Maisie bore a striking resemblance to Princess Diana. Looking across at her one evening, she shot me a look and I saw it. With those beseeching big eyes, she was a dead-ringer for the People’s Princess in that infamous “three of us in this marriage” interview. I ended up entering her into a lookalike competition for that year’s Pride. And she won, but only because a Scottish border terrier — apparently the spitting image of Jackie Collins — failed to show up.

Obviously, after I wrote about her for the Guardian, the locals in our trendy Crouch End park soon got wind of it. They would stop us to ask if Maisie was the “Princess Diana dog” and we would joke about her being harassed by the paparazzi. One humourless reader didn’t really get the joke. He wrote to the newspaper: “Bindel has gone too far this time. That dog looks nothing like Princess Diana!”

But like Diana, Maisie was heartbreakingly beautiful, a Spaniel-Collie cross with a long coat and soulful eyes. Her legs were slightly too short for her body, which made her all the more lovable. But before she came to us, someone had abandoned her. According to her profile on a rescue charity’s website, it said she would be put to sleep the following day unless she was claimed. We did. And we were besotted.

Her reputation — and her bark — soon preceded her. Our local park has a tennis court attached, and Maisie would gallop in and grab a ball, mid-serve. The Crouch End tennis gang were rarely amused. She even made a name for herself in media circles: if ever my partner Harriet or I were doing interviews, Maisie would inevitably bark her head off. Producers would have to decide whether to rerecord the segment or broadcast her voice on Radio 4 or Sky News.

Maisie brought us joy in private as well as in public. With us, she was sweet, cuddly and affectionate, though she barked at everyone else. And she was insecure. If Harriet and I were sitting together on the sofa, she would try to separate us with her paws. She had never got over whatever had happened to her in her former life. We supported her with her trauma, and she helped us when we needed comfort after a bad day. Harriet, a lawyer, and I both do work that takes us to very dark places, dealing with the detail of the worst excesses of men’s violence. It’s not uncommon for us to be talking about murder, prostitution and child sexual abuse before 8am. But having a creature who would greet us joyfully, blissfully unaware of the terrible things humans are capable of, was always incredibly therapeutic.

And we repaid that joy with love and attention and vast vast vets bills. I’ve never felt more middle-class than when I had to tell an editor that I couldn’t knock out a piece in the next hour because I had to take the dog to hydrotherapy. She had fortnightly appointments ever since she developed arthritis. She also had monthly vaccinations to keep the condition at bay, and check-ups for her kidney disease and pancreatitis. People without pets will howl at the expense, but I had always felt lucky we could afford this sort of care.

Never more so than when we decided we had to euthanise her. She could no longer bound on to the tennis courts to irritate the Wimbledon wannabes; she could no longer negotiate the four steps into the kitchen or out into the garden without help. She had gone off her food. Her kidney failure had progressed and the vet suggested a new course of treatment. “No,” I said. “It’s time for her to go”. My partner and I knew we would rather let her go a day too soon than a day too late. She was 16-and-a-half and it was just before Christmas.

I know people will call me a hypocrite for promoting the value of having a pet, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis. When people are using food banks to feed their children, isn’t it bad taste to be talking about pet food banks? I hear the criticism. And I have made similar arguments myself — railing against donkey sanctuaries getting more funding than domestic violence charities. And, yes, I do think we should prioritise humans. I spend a significant amount of my unpaid time and energy campaigning to keep women and children safe from male violence. But I also donate a fair bit every month to animal charities. I want women to live without male violence; I don’t want donkeys to suffer; I want people to be able to feed their pets. These things aren’t mutually exclusive.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about about people who had to give up their pets because they couldn’t afford basic vet treatment or decent food. I wept with owners who recounted the pain of rehoming their beloved companions, feeling angry that there was little help for them. Things have only got worse since then. Figures released last week by the Dog’s Trust reveal that a record number of people are being forced to give up their pets: the charity received more than 45,000 requests from owners about giving up their animals in 2023.

If I could have kept Maisie alive, fit and healthy forever I would have. But when the time came, the vet came to the house so that Maisie could die in her own bed, with us close by. She was given a sedative, fell into a deep sleep, and then a final injection stopped her heart. She was wrapped up in her favourite blanket and carried out in a wicker basket, while we sat inconsolable, looking at her bowls, her toys, her collar.

I cry about her every day and I have barely slept since she died. Christmas was especially hard: even the cat looked bereft. I would go out for walks on my own, feeling completely weird without a dog by my side. It was so odd to not hear her incessant barking when the doorbell rang. The house has lost its soul. While researching that piece two years ago, I also spoke to experts in bereavement counselling for pet owners. Some might think going to a therapist to get through the loss of a pet is a ridiculous self-indulgence when there’s so much human suffering in the world. But I know now that such loss can bring with it terrible grief, particularly when they have been so therapeutic, as Maisie was for me

Maybe it was the quietness of the holiday season, but I ended up looking at dogs on rescue centre websites — thinking that, in the future, we would probably get another. Yes, I felt guilt, but I figured there was no harm in looking. And then, of course, the inevitable happened. She was a cross between a springer spaniel and a French bulldog, nothing like Maisie. It was only a couple of days before I surreptitiously emailed the owner, asking for more details. It was a familiar story: family dog gets pregnant, six puppies are born, they all need rehoming.

We brought Ruby home on Sunday, a month after Maisie died. She is four-months-old, and full of energy. I can’t wait for her to start barking, demanding a walk first thing in the morning. I still feel Maisie’s loss like a hole in my heart. But I didn’t want to wait just for the sake of it. I’m a fairly anxious person, an insomniac, and the nature of my work leaves me with invasive thoughts. Being able to spend time with a furry bundle of happiness reduces my anxiety and makes me forget, albeit temporarily, the painful stories stored in my head. Maisie helped me keep doing the work that I do. Now, Ruby will take up the baton — and the tennis ball.


Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.

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2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
6 months ago

There is almost nothing as uncomplicatedly joyful and life-affirming as getting home to your dog’s tail wagging furiously in excitement to greet you.

I think it’s deeper than just love of a pet. It’s an echo of 30,000+ years of inter-species mutual dependence. A bond which has shaped us around each other.

I walk our dog on fields nearby where its safe for him off lead. He runs off to sniff, scratch and play, then I whistle and he sprints back to my side. No matter what else is going on, in that moment everything feels right.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
6 months ago

Did Julie have children? Pity if not. Women like her – loving and successful neglecting to have children is sad – sad for society, and I believe, for them.

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
5 months ago

You are revolting

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
6 months ago

I will never apologise for grieving for my beloved Jack. He was a very handsome sable-coloured mutt, predominately a beagle-collie mix, whom we adopted on 1 August 2009. Despite his smaller stature, he had a big personality, and a special fondness for women. Jack was a robust little creature, and his only health issue were annual late-summer allergies which manifested as hot spots on his skin. I learnt to catch and treat them early. In September of 2022, I noticed that he had developed a small mast cell tumour, a canine skin cancer, which we had removed in November of 2022. He seemed to have a new lease on life, but his recovery was short lived. The tumour returned with a vengeance, and it did not respond to the various chemotherapy drugs we threw at it.

In early March of 2023, I understood that it was time to free him from his broken body. Jack died at home, assisted by a veterinary surgeon, surrounded by the people who loved him, and whom he loved. Our other dog Louie was there as well. The grief was physically painful, and even now whilst writing this, the tears flow freely. I miss Jack every day, but he lives on in our memories and in our hearts. As our late Queen Elizabeth famously said: grief is the price we pay for love.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
6 months ago
Reply to  Katja Sipple

P.S. Just like Julie, I also began looking at rescues who had dogs for adoption a few weeks after Jack’s death. Mostly, because Louie was so lonely and sad. Animals mourn, too, and Louie would spend hours staring at the wall. We ended up with a puppy, Remy, who had lost his mother. He doesn’t look like Jack, which is fine as he was never meant to be a replacement. Louie still misses his best friend, the dog who helped raise him after he came to us as a tiny foster puppy just 8 weeks old on Christmas Eve 2016, but he is more like his old normal self. We muddle through together, and I am sure Jack is smiling down on us from his little cloud.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
6 months ago

When the ancient Romans were not indulging in Bacchanalian orgies, blood sports or abusing their slaves, they too had time for their pets.

Here is 1st-2nd century epitaph inscription on a marble plaque that covered the grave of the splendid dog Margarita.*

“Gaul gave me my birth and the pearl-oyster from the seas full of treasure my name, an honour fitting to my beauty. I was trained to run boldly through strange forests and to hunt out furry wild beasts in the hills never accustomed to be held by heavy chains nor endure cruel beatings on my snow-white body. I used to lie on the soft lap of my master and mistress and knew to go to bed when tired on my spread mattress and I did not speak more than allowed as a dog, given a silent mouth No-one was scared by my barking but now I have been overcome by death from an ill-fated birth and earth has covered me beneath this small piece of marble.”
MARGARITA

(*The Latin for Pearl.)

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 months ago

Nice contribution. Thanks.

Jae
Jae
6 months ago

Thank you for posting this.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
6 months ago

An extremely popular song late 1800s, Stephen Foster

”Old Dog Tray Lyrics(Verse 1)
The morn of life is past
And evening comes at last
It brings me a dream of a once happy day
Of merry forms I’ve seen
Upon the village green
Sporting with my old dog Tray

(Chorus)
Old dog Tray’s every faithful
Grief cannot drive him away
He’s gentle, he is kind
I’ll never, never find
A better friend than old dog Tray

(Verse 2)
The forms I call’d my own
Have vanished one by one
The lov’d ones, the dear ones have all passed away
Their happy smiles have flown
Their gentle voices gone
I’ve nothing left but old dog Tray

(Chorus)
Old dog Tray’s every faithful
Grief cannot drive him away
He’s gentle, he is kind
I’ll never, never find
A better friend than old dog Tray

When thoughts recall the past
His eyes are on my cast
I know that he feels what my breaking heart would say
Although he cannot speak
I’ll vainly, vainly seek
A better friend than old dog Tray

(Chorus)
Old dog Tray’s every faithful
Grief cannot drive him away
He’s gentle, he is kind
I’ll never, never find
A better friend than old dog Tray

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
6 months ago

Great stuff, thanks!

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
5 months ago

There are two dog poems I like . Mathew Arnold’s celebration of his dachshund Geist , dead at only three . And DH Lawrence’s poem about his mongrel Bibbles.

S Gyngel
S Gyngel
5 months ago

Thanks for that!

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
6 months ago

May she rest in peace.

Pat Thynne
Pat Thynne
6 months ago

Just a small speak up for cats – my beloved Tahar who held me together through grief and house moves and building work (coming to inspect the work every evening with me, walking half a mile to do so). I will love her always even though there is now Nutmeg who has stolen my heart and my bed and occasionally my food. These relationships matter because we don’t really understand them. We are not in charge. We each strive to understand the other. They go wrong when we think we are superior.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
5 months ago
Reply to  Pat Thynne

I grieved for my cat too. My relationship with him was just like the one with my teddy bear when I was a child.

Pat Thynne
Pat Thynne
6 months ago

And well done, Julie – not a single moron trying to dismiss you. Is this a first?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 months ago

I know people will call me a hypocrite for promoting the value of having a pet, particularly during a cost-of-living crisis. 
Why? If you can afford a pet, that’s your business. And it is perfectly natural to grieve when they’re gone. We may differ on what the timeframe should be, but that’s also your business.
What I will take exception to is people who equate pets with children. I’ve had the former and have the latter. They’re not the same things. Pets are almost guaranteed to die before you do; a child dying first violates the order of things. A pet can be quickly replaced, as this article shows, in short order. Try getting a new child within a month or two after losing one.
Otherwise, animals are a nice-to-have part of life. We have a street cat who periodically drops by. He’s friendly and affectionate, occasionally stays overnight during particularly frosty weather, has a snack, and then resumes his patrol of the neighborhood. He’s ours without really being ours, a curious arrangement, but I enjoy seeing him.

Geoff Mould
Geoff Mould
6 months ago

Can fully empathise. We have cats but sense of loss still the same. Had to have one put to sleep and cried like a baby afterwards. We now have two young and very active Bengals, who we take out for a walk on leads when the weather is ok.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
6 months ago

Like cats, dogs kept as pets are treated as honorary humans.
I once knew a young person from a country in the Indian Ocean who thought it ludicrous that people kept dogs in their houses, gave them names, buying them Christmas presents, dressing them in clothes, and talked about them as if they were members of the family.
In some parts of the world dogs are yard animals, kept for security purposes. As was reported recently, the Koreans are one nation that has them on the menu. Even the excellent Gallic Margarita was prized primarily as an efficient hunter. What accounts for modern Europeans humanising dogs?
There was a cartoon by Gary Larson that depicted what we say to dogs – “Keep out of the trash, Fido” – and what they hear – “%$ÂŁ*@”. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m indulgent of my relatives’ dog, feeding it all sorts of treats. I’m sure it would talk if it could.

Kirsten Bell
Kirsten Bell
6 months ago

Writing as an anthropologist, dogs have a unique relationship with humans in many parts of the world. They are often seen to be half way between human and other animals. It’s not a coincidence that they were the first animal to be domesticated! Even in Korea, where, as you note, dogs are eaten as food (although attitudes have changed a lot since I was doing fieldwork there in the early noughties), their flesh, especially when eaten in the form of dog soup at the height of summer, was seen to have beneficial health effects. That said, they do seem to have taken on new roles as honorary humans in western contexts (regrettably – I’m part of that despised sub-species of humans: dog haters). If you’re interested in an anthropological take on dogs, you can read more about the topic here: https://silentbutdeadly.substack.com/p/must-love-dogs

E H
E H
6 months ago

FWIW the Gary Larson cartoon I’ve seen goes (I think):
What dogs hear: “%$ÂŁ*@, Fido”
What cats hear: “%$ÂŁ*@.”

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
6 months ago

It’s good that the vet was able to come to your home, Julie. A business has recently opened in our town centre providing this service. It calls itself Final Rest. Mrs U calls it Dognitas.

Jae
Jae
6 months ago

I see that someone else on here had a beloved dog named Jack. “Our Jack” as we called him was a handsome, dashing English cocker spaniel, black as sable all over. We loved him so much. He traveled the world with us, a wonderful ambassador for dogs everywhere he went. He accompanied us on trips in our small airplane too, he loved to fly but didn’t like the vibration of the plane, so he’d sit on my lap. A comfy ride for him, not so much for me. He died in 2009 and I still dream of him and see him frolicking. In fact I dreamt of him just last night. A dear friend told me it’s God’s way of allowing us more time with our beloveds. I’ll take it.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
6 months ago
Reply to  Jae

Our Jack also flew with us. My husband is a private pilot, and Jack was a natural flier. He loved every mode of transport, was utterly fearless, and even though he needed help to board and exit the plane, he was always on top of every situation. I wish that I could post a picture of him here.

Jae
Jae
6 months ago

Sorry for your loss, Julie and Harriet, I empathize completely.

Beautifully written piece. Very happy you have jumped right in with another furry soul companion for life. Enjoy your Ruby girl.

Brian Thomas
Brian Thomas
6 months ago

A Border Collie is the only friend you will ever have who loves you more than it loves itself.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 months ago

On July 5, 2022, early in the morning, my big, beautiful boy, Eddie, was literally screaming as he fell the cat door. He was agony, throwing up everywhere. I grabbed his carrier and shoved him in. I was speeding down the highway—75 in a 50 mph speed limit, think God there was little traffic—to the emergency vet. I was supposed to call before they let me in, but I ran to the door and pounded on it. He kept screaming. They took him immediately, but I got bad mews lumbar thrumbosis. Fatal. When they brought him in to me, he was unconscious, which made me sad, because I couldn’t tell him I was there and loved him. My other cat would sit on the deck calling for him a week later. He was an 18 pound, brown and black tabby and the gentlest cat I’ve ever known. I still think of him. Now let me talk about my $5000 other cat. . . . . . .

Michael Allen
Michael Allen
5 months ago

Ridiculous? What’s ridiculous is to turn one’s nose up at the grief of another over the loss of an animal friend. Being a “cat person,” I can say that my relationship with the feline mystique is uniquely profound and precious. A cat is a more purr (pure) line to relationship, a being without the ego and complications of humanity. There is something radiant in a cat’s aura. I’m sure dog lovers have similarly strong feelings for their canine friends, even if it takes an entirely different form (considering the two couldn’t be more dissimilar, as a general rule).

Marc M
Marc M
5 months ago
Reply to  Michael Allen

You’re right. I’m neither a dog or cat person. Some I love, some I like, some annoy me to no end. Rather, I’m a hawk person, a falconer. I had never experienced the depth of loss over an animal as I did with one particular hawk I worked with. The inscrutable bond I had with that bird became evident with the depth of grief I felt when he died in my hands (cause never fully determined). It was profound, and from that I know that I could never turn my “nose up at the grief of another over the loss of an animal friend.”

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
4 months ago

Nice article, made me cry a little. I miss our old boy Ted everyday – also had euthanise him just before Christmas. He used to wag his tail with his whole heart and was a rescue, an older dog whose owner became too ill to care for him. It took him a bit but he settled in with Cher our Springer and we found we had a beautiful old gentlemen possessed of such joie de vivre that every day he made us laugh along with him. Our neighbours called him ‘Smiley Dog’ and he was/is irreplaceable. We now have another canine refugee from life’s vicissitudes – not a replacement but an marvellous addition to the our furry crew. Grief is the price of love – our late Queen as in so much else was dead right here too and while I will mourn Ted always, Paddy is a lovely blessing. If there is room in your heart for one, there’ll be room for others too and a heart full of love will cushion loss.