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Suzanne Power: How pets work their animal magic on us all

I don't put pets on thrones. But for me the world is better for the pets that have shared it with me.

One of the worst things I ever had to do was leave my home with my ex-husband and dog in it. I remember them both standing on the doorstep as I drove away for the last time. When you've yet to commit to children, but bought a house and got a pet together, you're saying you're in it for the long haul.

You've planned to be together for at least a decade if you had a cat or dog. You know you've got relationship issues when you get a goldfish.

Last week, one of my great friends put her cat to sleep. The cat was 17 years old and had been with her from the first flush of love to the last drive away. "When my ex left, she and I were both waiting for him to come home. Pets go through all the separation anxiety and despair with you. They go through all the ups and downs of life with you," she says. "My boyfriend was the cat's mammy. She adored him and turned her furry tail up with a swish at me. It took her a long time to adopt me. When he left we got better together. She became closer to me than she was to my ex. When my new boyfriend moved in a few years later, he spoiled her and she allowed him to. She took to him as if to say: 'I approve'."

I remember taking my own dog, Rufus Jumble, on his last walk before I left him behind with my ex. He was a terror for chasing seagulls the entire length of the strand we lived near. If he got off the lead I wouldn't get him back for hours. That morning he never left my side, even though I slipped his lead off. In a way I was hoping he'd chase the gulls so I could see him leaving me behind. I worked from home so he was my constant companion.

I wanted to see him run. But he knew I was doing all the running.

By the time we put him to sleep he had become my sister's dog. She's a veterinary nurse and she nursed him to the end, as he was so arthritic he needed full-time care. She had taken him on along with another sick animal, also needing a lot of medical attention. Then her own relationship ended. Both of the dogs got her through a painful separation.


If anything, her love of animals and her ex partner's dislike of them was a sure sign they were not suited for lifelong commitment. She's happy that they helped her to see just what was missing, and how much, between herself and her ex.

I think animals mark our time here and almost everyone has one pet before they leave this planet. We all want devotion.

This is why they let pets into care homes now, as companions for an afternoon. The company of an unquestioning, love-giving animal has been medically proven to release endorphins and de-stress the sad, the sick and the lonely. This is why they are beginning to train dogs for other special needs beside blindness.

Pets help. Sometimes they're all you have when you have to let go of the life you planned, and are waiting for the life you are going to have to arrive. My sister now has a good life and a cat that is as loyal to her as a dog. When I was in a shop this week I saw a token about what cats do to their humans -- taking ownership of them rather than the other way around. I bought it for my friend and sister.

I know one woman who took the dog instead of the house in a settlement. "That retriever was the best thing about my marriage," she told me at the time. "He came back with things. The guy just went off with them."

Hearts mend and pets help. So when we lose one we should never be expected to downplay the grief or say goodbye to all the history.