When is the right time to get another dog?

This time last year we marked the first anniversary of our dog’s death.  I wrote a blog at the time (below) about how hard it is to lose your animal best friend, and how people deal in different ways with their pet’s remains.

Since then, people have kept asking us when we’re getting another dog, and we still don’t know when – or if.

So now we’ve been without Rocky for two years. Some people get another dog straight away, others decide they can never go through that loss again.     

Rocky was my first dog; I used to be one of those people who didn’t understand and I’m ashamed to say must have been useless when people around me were grieving for their dogs.

I’m drawn to hearing about other people’s experiences. I read a very moving article by James Middleton, brother of the Princess of Wales, about the loss of his therapy dog Ella, who had helped him to cope with suicidal depression. Dog trainer Graeme Hall, the star of Channel 5’s Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly, wrote about the loss of a beloved dog, saying he struggled so badly he now realises he should have had therapy at the time.

 I also read about a book that has become a surprise word-of-mouth bestseller in France, about a teacher’s journey through grief following his dog’s death (His Smell After the Rain). The book’s author, Cedric Sapin-Defour, says he wrote it because he wanted to state plainly his love for his dog, Ubac, without feeling ridiculous. The English translation is due out later this year, but I found a translated paragraph in the online magazine The Connexion, which describes how Ubac ‘recalibrates the atmosphere to make it better. His mere presence is a blessing. He swallows all the rancour, and, as if filtering it through an invisible gill, releases joy. Those who aren’t used to dogs, surprised to be feeling suddenly so much better, must wonder what has imperceptibly loosened in their life.’  This is such a wonderful way of describing how dogs make life better. The change is real, we don’t just imagine it.     

 For Christmas my husband got me a book – Keira and Me – by the TV Supervet, Noel Fitzpatrick, about the loss of his border terrier Keira. He expresses something that all animal lovers understand when he says, ‘People who have never cried in their lives despite all manner of crises, cry when the animal friend they love is in pain. As one man who wept in my arms recently said to me, in reference to the dog he loved, ‘She unlocked a part of my heart I didn’t even know existed. ‘

When we lost Rocky, his vet said to us, ‘Perhaps your next dog will find you.’ I liked this idea, it felt like we wouldn’t have to make an actual decision.  I’ve spent the last two years waiting for our next dog to find us. In my mind it would be like a film, with us discovering a puppy left on our doorstep, or finding one that’s been abandoned in the park.  But it hasn’t happened yet.

 My husband wanted to wait a decent length of time so he wouldn’t feel somehow disloyal to Rocky, but he is now prepared to take the plunge again and it’s me who’s hesitating. I wonder whether if we wait too long, we might pass a point of no return.

On our pointless human-only walks, my husband never notices people, only their canine companions. He rushes up to every dog we see trying to befriend them.  I call him a dog botherer. I, on the other hand, avoid Instagram because of course it knows I love dogs, so I’m inundated with them.

I argue that getting another dog is easier for my husband because he won’t have the job of dog-training. It quickly became obvious when we got Rocky that despite my total lack of experience, I would have to be the trainer in the house. My husband would always give Rocky anything he wanted after resisting for all of a nano-second.  Rocky would glance over at me – I swear he could roll his eyes – as if to say, What a pushover!

At mealtimes, Rocky always left me in peace while begging constantly at my husband’s feet, betraying the fact that Dad fed him scraps when my back was turned. Dog training is time-consuming but essential.  You must also be prepared to change your life so that your dog’s needs are met, and you need back-up care too. When we got Rocky we had three children living at home so back-up was usually available. Our sons promise us they would always be available to help out with a new dog-brother, but would they really, or would it be like loading the dishwasher – always somebody else’s turn?

Our dogless lives have become easier in a lot of ways but smaller too. Anxiety and irritability seem closer to the surface, and we certainly don’t laugh as much as we used to. The house was full of laughter with Rocky. Nothing makes me laugh quite as much as his performance every morning when he would swagger proudly across the room with one of my bed socks dangling from his mouth. He would deposit this sock under the dining table, looking for all the world as if he had cunningly hunted and killed a fluffy pink rat. He did this with a pretend casual air, but it was really just a big show to impress us, to prove he was a natural born killer – of bed socks. Ah yes, as Sapin-Defour says – the joy….

Do dogs make us better people? I’m sure they do. There’s a quote that I love – ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’ How much better the world would be if we could! 

When we lost Rocky, people reached out to us and it really did help to know that they knew he wasn’t ‘just a dog’. There’s a fear that you’re not allowed real grief because it wasn’t a human being that died.  I was moved when a friend who has a fear of dogs came round with flowers. I’d always kept Rocky away from her, respecting her fear. But she knew how I was feeling; she remembered how she’d felt as a teenager when she lost her pet cat. 

Dogs have silent wisdom, they know stuff. They know that sometimes you just have to wait till things get better, and they wait right alongside you. Rocky used to pick up on every emotion and sit out the bad ones with us. You can relax with a dog, knowing they will never say the wrong thing or make you feel bad about feeling bad. It’s why they’re so good as comfort animals for children and adults who are struggling to cope with this world. Dogs don’t try to hurry you along, they let you go at your own pace – unless it’s dinnertime. And sometimes that’s what you need too – to be brought back down to earth (and food).

Shortly after Rocky died, I bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. I had no energy for small talk and just came straight out with ‘Our dog’s just died.’ He immediately empathised and advised me to get another one straight away, as he had done. This reminded me of a friend who, on the very day that his cat died went out and bought another black cat identical to the one he’d just lost. He even gave it the same name.  This struck me at the time as a futile attempt to leapfrog grief – but what do I know? I’ve become a person who moves my dog’s ashes around the room so he doesn’t get bored with the same view.

 When people decide they’ll never get another dog it’s because they can’t face the grief again. This is the thing – unless you’re elderly when you get a dog, you know you will outlive them.  You are voluntarily entering into a pact that will end with your heart breaking in around 10 years’ time.

It makes you wonder why we do it to ourselves. But we know why. Despite everything, it’s worth it. And it was. It really was.


Read more about Rocky and the different ways that people deal with their pet’s remains – including composting – here.

When you can’t let a beloved pet go

Our dog died a year ago and his ashes are still sitting on the mantelpiece in a cardboard container.

At the vets we were offered a choice of decorative urns but turned them down as we wanted to scatter his ashes in his favourite park.  My friend’s parents have had a wooden urn containing their dog Sandy’s ashes on their mantelpiece since 1978. But no, we wouldn’t be doing that.

After receiving the ashes, we decided to wait until Easter to return to Oakwell Park with him one last time.

Easter came. ‘When are we going to take Rocky to Oakwell?’ I asked my husband. He took so long to reply I thought he hadn’t heard me. But then he said quietly, ‘I can’t let him go.’ 

It’s strange. We know the cardboard box is not ‘him’.  It’s not rational, it’s not sensible, there’s not a single intelligent reason for his ashes to remain on the mantelpiece in a green and purple cardboard cylinder – and yet remain they do. Along with his photo, his pawprint, a tiny bottle with some of his golden fur and a large portrait display my son bought us saying, No Longer By My Side But Forever In My Heart.

What’s normal?

Last week a friend contemplated the mantelpiece shrine and asked if we had thought of adding Rocky’s ashes to the compost bin.

His comment made me wonder what other people do. What’s normal in these circumstances?

An internet search showed that, as you might expect, many people want to return their pet to nature by placing their ashes in the garden where they roamed and played. But cremation ashes contain high levels of calcium and increase the pH level in the soil so they should be mixed with manure, compost, organic nitrogen fertiliser or coffee grounds.

Alternatively, there are biodegradable urns for ashes that gradually decompose, and biodegradable tree urns made from natural plant fibres that enable you to grow a tree in memory of your pet.

I came across discussions on the ethics of burying a pet in the garden, with stories of people being horrified to discover animal skeletons while gardening. Some think you should have to disclose if you have buried a pet on a property before selling it.  There’s also the matter of leaving behind your pet’s burial site if you move house.

In some countries it’s illegal to bury pets in your garden, and there are environmental concerns about burying a pet that’s been put to sleep with euthanasia solution.

Then I came across a story about two vets from Columbia, where it’s illegal to bury pets, who wanted to come up with a more environmentally-friendly way of disposing of a pet’s body than burial or cremation. With cremation 96 per cent of the body is released into the atmosphere as pollution.

Their solution was to create organic compost from the animal’s body, inspired by the natural way that a body decomposes after death. Owners can then have this compost returned to them (after about 60 days) in a pot with a plant of their choosing. 

From pet to plant

I struggled to find examples of pet ashes being added to a garden compost bin but I don’t feel particularly motivated to find out more.  I feel my beloved dog is not a plant or a tree but then he’s not a cardboard box either. What he is to me is a cocky little character who races into the room at cartoon-speed, head tilted to one side, with a wild, dramatic stare that says ‘Mum, what the heck are you doing sitting comfortably when you should be getting my tea ready!’ Or who ostentatiously takes on the task of guarding our territory from a squirrel invasion, looking round self-importantly every now and again to check we’re impressed by his skills.

But that’s never going to happen again.

To think I never wanted a dog. For years my husband and sons had argued for one and I always said no. I had never had pets growing up. But two things happened to change my mind. The first was a chance meeting in a park with an adorable bundle of golden fluff that came running up to my eight-year-old son. My son was captivated as the bundle of fluff, a Norfolk Terrier called Rosie, nestled in his arms.  Walking away, I said the fateful words: ‘I could have taken that dog home with us.’

As soon as we got home my husband was straight on the internet looking up Norfolk Terriers.

A boy and his dog

But I still might have said no, if it weren’t for a psychology book I read that said having a pet in childhood leads to psychological resilience in adulthood. I could see the sense in that – if you have to deal with the nitty gritty of life early on it helps prepare you for what we all have to face later.  Life isn’t clean, calm and controllable; having a dog shows you that. It forces you to deal with poo, wee, blood, vomit, sacrifice, suffering, death – like a cross between an A and E department and a Russian novel.

 I liked the idea of our sons developing psychological resilience and I liked that Norfolk Terrier.

 So we got a dog. The night before we were due to go pick up our Norfolk puppy from a farm near York, I sat surveying the living room. Our youngest was eight; we had passed the stage of domestic chaos and our house was on the way back to resembling an adult-friendly refuge. And we were about to blow all that. I looked fondly at the stain-free carpet. In 24 hours, I would have a living creature crawling about on that carpet and it would be here for years and years and there’d be no going back. I felt afraid. What on earth had I agreed to?

You know where this is going.

Before long the dog wasn’t just a ‘dog’ anymore, it was ‘Rocky’ and Rocky took over our lives. At first he was anxious around other dogs until puppy training classes,  dog trainer sessions and a dozen books helped us to help him.

Keeping calm

He had one unhappy experience at the vets and for the next few visits was very stressed, but I realised that I was able to soothe him with my own reaction. If I kept completely calm, reassuring him in a cheerful voice, he would fix his eyes on mine and be guided by me. He would remain calm even though he wasn’t happy. I realised to my astonishment that he trusted me more than he trusted his own sensations. It was as if he thought, If Mum says this is ok, it must be.

 It took me by complete surprise that I, who had never had a pet in childhood, could form a bond with an animal; that this animal could like me and want to be with me and place all his trust in me. I was completely blindsided by this love, unconditional and often undeserved. I understood why animal lovers often say their pet rescued them rather than the other way round.  

So it proved during the pandemic, when this funny little furball was our tower of strength. By day, we took him for long walks round Oakwell Park, standing to one side to give other dog walkers and joggers two metres’ space. By night we watched the daily updates on TV. Rising panic was held in check thanks to having a yawning dog sprawled across my lap, sighing contentedly as I stroked his tummy.

 He hasn’t a clue what’s going on, I thought. He is just here in the moment enjoying a tummy rub. I resolved to try to Be More Dog. What use to anyone was my personal panic?

I try to blank out the day I took Rocky to the vet about a limp, only to find out it was lymphoma. And the day a few months later when for the first time he refused all food and the vet said, I think it might be time….

The next 24 hours were like nothing we could have imagined. The son who was eight when we got Rocky, and who named him after the Rocky films, got the next train home from Newcastle where he was at university.

A man and his dog

I’ll always be grateful that lockdown was over, so the vet and her nurse could come to the house.

And I’ll always be grateful that I was able to do one last thing for Rocky. The vet explained that she needed the nurse to hold Rocky very still as the line was inserted into his leg. Then he would be able to come on to my knee. But inserting the line could make a dog become very agitated and upset and she might need us to leave the room if he did.

I will never know how I did it, but somehow I was able to hold Rocky’s gaze and keep my voice calm and reassuring, just as I had learned at the vets years earlier, telling him what a good boy he was, what a good boy he had always been. I never stopped repeating those words. He was afraid but his eyes never left mine for a second and he remained still as the line was put in. If Mum says it’s ok, it must be.

A dog is a child that never grows up. Your four-year-old child wants nothing more than to be with you and shower you with affection. Your 14-year-old, not so much. Your dog always thinks you’re great, even when you can’t think of a single good thing about yourself.

So, to go back to my friend’s question. No, we haven’t considered adding Rocky’s ashes to the Green Johanna.  We know that this would be the circle of life and he’d be going back to feed the soil and create new life and all that.

 I really don’t know what we will end up doing. But, right now, as my husband said, we just can’t let him go.


Saving the world from squirrels – Rocky

Your best friend in fighting food waste

I cook to live, my husband lives to cook.

We share the cooking. On my days everybody knows what they’ll be getting as I have four signature dishes (by signature dish, I mean ‘thing I can cook without a recipe’). I’m no foodie, I like to get cooking out of the way as quickly as possible so I can get on with living.

My cooking habits are good in terms of waste prevention because I buy the same things every week and everything gets used up.


But my husband is a different animal. On his cooking days we never know what we’ll be getting because it seems to depend on what the food fairies whisper in his ear. I shop online because I hate supermarkets. If I ask him what he wants me to add to the online shop, he gets all stressy, saying ‘I can’t shop like that, I don’t know what I’ll feel like cooking!’ (No, I’m not married to Gordon Ramsay).

So I leave him to do his own shopping in person in the actual supermarket. He likes to see, touch and smell food; it inspires him. I think there must be some French strain somewhere in the Birmingham/Dundee DNA mash-up of his family.

This dual shopping routine is far from ideal, since it means he might buy things I’ve already bought. It’s why we ended up recently with three full jars of ground ginger. Not the end of the world, of course, since it stores well and we like ginger biscuits, but that’s the only over-consumption I’m admitting to since I’d be too ashamed to tell you the whole truth.

Unavoidable waste

Obviously, we compost unavoidable food waste in our Green Johanna, but composting should ideally be the final stage in the food waste hierarchy after meal planning and food storage. The environmental cost involved in the production and transporting of food is so high that prevention is better than composting.

We know we should plan meals in advance based on knowing what we already have. We know that, and yet sometimes the pace of modern life means we fall short. Stuff happens. We forget our list. We stress shop. Our husband fails to check the ground ginger situation.

So, when I read about the Kitche free mobile app I was immediately interested.

Kitche’s premise is that fighting food waste starts at home by buying what you eat and eating what you buy.  If we did this, we would help prevent the staggering 4.5 million tonnes of food waste created in the UK each year – enough to fill eight Wembley stadiums.

It goes without saying that by doing this you will save yourself a chunk of money without even depriving yourself of anything. The average family in the UK throws food worth £730 in the bin every year. When it comes to tightening the belt on household expenditure, such unnecessary waste is low-hanging fruit.

Helping hand

We could all do with a helping hand, and that’s what this app is. It’s like a friend by your side when you’re out shopping reminding you that you have enough eggs already.

The app enables you to scan food products from major supermarkets receipts with a snap of your camera so you can keep track of food you’ve got at home, even when you’re on the move. It categorises the products, adds reminders and tracks where you create waste, so you’re shopping smartly, not blindly.

It’s also interestingly informative in a way my dreaded Domestic Science lessons at school never were.  (Frankly, I never got over getting a rollicking for stirring a liquid jelly with a knife.)

There’s advice, such as:

Food tips

I confess I didn’t know this:

  • Onions are best kept in a cool, dry, dark place (ideally in a cloth bag), not the fridge.
  • When freezing milk – pour a little out first, such as in your tea/coffee, because milk will expand in its container.
  • Every day we throw a combined 20 million slices of bread away – mostly because they’ve not been used in time. Freeze it instead – you can use it straight from frozen in the toaster.

What’s in season

There’s a monthly A- Z of fruit and veg so you can shop seasonally. Why is this important? Because more energy is needed to transport, refrigerate and store foods from afar. Buying seasonally also saves money because the food is usually in abundance and lasts longer. It also supports the local economy.

How to store things.

The Can I Freeze It? section is especially useful.  In future I’ll be freezing chopped herbs in an ice cube tray covered with water. They can then be cooked from frozen in casseroles, stews and sauces.


Recipes can be suggested based on what you already have in. I love the recipe for bruschetta that can be adapted to use up just about every leftover you can think of. I need ideas like this because, as I said, I’m no foodie. I’m not that person who can create a delicious meal from whatever’s wilting at the back of the fridge.  Fortunately, I’ve got a new friend who can.  

Importantly, the app also gets children involved with the use of activity packs.

A few years ago, while talking to a Swedish businessman, I told him how impressed I was at the way waste prevention and recycling were at the heart of Swedish life. How had they managed this as a modern, western, consumer society? His answer was simple – education.

Children must be part of every step forward we make. They are creative and  logical thinkers. Meal planning, food storage, cooking and portion control will make perfect sense to them. Going forward they will do this stuff as a matter of course.

As I said, Kitche is the best kind of friend and teacher.

I bet they wouldn’t even mind if you stirred jelly with a knife.


Spare Parts