IN the early hours of Easter Monday I said goodbye to Jennifer, at the grand old age of 13 years and three months. It shouldn’t really have been a shock, after all 13 is a good age for a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and she did have several, significant health issues, but nonetheless it was.

When we went to bed at 11 o’clock on Easter Sunday night, I had no idea that in four hours’ time we would be in the emergency room with the out of hours vet.

Jennifer was given to me, by her breeder, at 17 months of age. I had recently lost her grandmother Matilda, who had also been my foundation bitch, and at that time Jennifer was the last in the line.

For the next 12 years she was a constant presence in my life. Happy, cheeky, loving, bossy with the cats, clever and so very vocal, she certainly made her presence felt. But she was always there by my side, day and night through the best and the worst of times.

In the first few days following her passing, the house was uncomfortably quiet and Brigadier (Jennifer’s son), also became very quiet and unusually clingy.

Whenever I turned around he was there, when I sat down he was next to me, pressing against my side in the chair or on the sofa. When we went to bed I could feel him next to my legs. Maybe he was missing his mum too and maybe he also knew that his closeness was exactly what I needed at that time.

Three weeks have gone by now and I still miss her and probably always will, she was, after all, a very special little lady. But I can also now bear to be grateful for the years that we had together and for the fact that she was able to enjoy her life, right up until the last few hours.

I am also fortunate in that many of my family and friends are animal people and their kind words, messages of support and cards have helped a lot. But there are still some folk who don’t understand the enormity of the loss of an animal and whereas all grief is painful, grief that is dismissed by others is more painful than ever and remember, in many cases, it’s not just the loss of the animal that is being mourned, but also the loss of a way of life.

For many dog owners, especially more mature folk and possibly those living on their own, walking the dog is a key part of their day.

It’s a time for social interaction; a time to share news and views with like-minded dog walkers and for horse owners, going to the yard often constitutes their social life in its entirety.

For more than 40 years animals, and dogs in particular, have played a huge part in my life offering friendship, companionship, loyalty and reliability. Non-judgmental and unpretentious, dogs don’t criticise, contradict or leave home; their needs are straightforward, uncomplicated and simple and for that I love them.

Many companies and employers are now acknowledging the fact that staff need and benefit from time off work to come to terms with the loss of a companion animal and there are several national helplines now, also offering help and support.

The Blue Cross offer a pet bereavement support service that receives over eight thousand calls a year and can be accessed either by telephone or email.

The Cats Protection have “Paws to Listen”, the British Horse Society has “Friends at the End” and for more online support the Animal Welfare Foundation and World Horse Welfare also offer useful advice.