Miranda Hart’s heartbreak is one I know well – the pain of losing a dog is devastating

Emma Messenger, with Beryl, has been through the same heartbreak Miranda Hart has over her dog Peggy
Emma Messenger, with Beryl, has been through the same heartbreak Miranda Hart has over her dog Peggy

Almost exactly a year ago, I lost one of the greatest loves of my life.

For 14 years, Beryl the cocker spaniel had been my sidekick, my companion, my flatmate, my work colleague, my running (ahem, slow-strolling) partner, my boyfriend chooser, my shoulder to cry on and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. Then suddenly, thanks to advanced bladder cancer, she was gone.

When writer and comedian Miranda Hart announced this week that her beloved dog Peggy had died, my heart broke all over again. She wrote: “The pain mirrors the unique joy, connection, comfort and love they bring. And Peggy was my absolute rock and source of all those things.” Too right lady.

On Beryl’s last night, I knew her time was up. She wasn’t in pain, but I could tell she was no longer with it. It was a long, calm, moving few hours.

I slept – or rather stayed awake – on the floor next to her bed. A dear dog-loving neighbour had kindly offered to take me to the vet first thing the next morning for what was clearly going to be a one-way visit.

Hysterical doesn’t even touch it. Stroking her head as she “went to sleep”; going home with her empty blanket in my arms; arriving at my flat with every single bit of her still there – bed, bowls, toys, food, fur on every soft furnishing. I’m not ashamed to admit I howled.

Why should I be ashamed, anyway? This loving and loyal creature had been a central part of my life and its decisions for so many years. Miranda even wrote a bestselling autobiography, Peggy and Me, about her pet pooch and how she helped cure her heartbreak after a devastating break-up.

With Britain still in lockdown, the hole left by Peggy’s passing will no doubt gape all the wider. I could never have missed a friend like Beryl more than in this lockdown year. A month after her death, I ended up moving into my former teenage bedroom to shield my mother. Beryl would’ve seen me through this time with a steely soul, a knowing glance and an unwavering ability to sniff for a chicken bone.

I remember the day I picked her up as a three-month-old puppy. Or rather, “Redrift Miss Messenger”, which was her official title. Yes, apparently, she was Kennel Club worthy and could’ve been displayed at Crufts.

Turns out she was a recalcitrant performer. Her Denis Healy eyebrows, unamused stare and propensity for weight gain meant her modelling career never took off. Much like her owner’s.

She did once come third in a village fete hound round. But that was only because the judge (a handsome local vet who I showed a lot of cleavage to – classic “showbiz mum”) liked the name Beryl. I still have that yellow rosette on my fridge.

And that’s the weird thing about grief. It’s what they meant to you and the life you shared with them. There are those who get pet bereavement. And those who don’t. Such is the world.

Like Miranda, I posted the news of Beryl’s death on social media. I was inundated with condolences. Messages, cards and even real-life people (in the form of two best friends and my sister) arrived the next day. Work colleagues were understanding that I wasn’t going to be firing on all cylinders on Monday morning.

But soon came the question I would be asked repeatedly by non-animal friends: would I, could I, should I get another?

A year on, I still can’t answer it. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that stupid, gorgeous dog. The dog who was so gentle that you could leave her safely alone with babies; the dog who would surreptitiously and calmly lick cupcake crumbs from the hands of the future generation; the dog with whom I shared so much of my life.

I remember once my sister and I heard Beryl whimpering while in a different room with my two-year-old niece. “What’s happening in there?,” we yelled. “I is pinching her,” said Maisie. Beryl just put up with it. Much like she did when I used to make her high five for a treat (eventually she just looked at me like, “I will, but do we really have to do this?”).

These are the little details of having had the opportunity of looking after animals in your home – and trying to give them the best life you can – which mean, when they’ve gone, the bereavement is as painful, poignant and lasting as anything. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

As Miranda said: “Peggy – you were always by my side and always on my side. I will miss you every day.” Ditto Beryl, it was a joy and a privilege to know you. I will be forever grateful.

Have you had to say goodbye to a loved dog? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.