Yorkshire TV vet James Greenwood on his late Labrador Oliver and dealing with pet grief

TV vet Dr James Greenwood knows better than most how hard it is when you lose a pet, having been through his own grief when his Labrador, Oliver, died last year.

The one-eyed Labrador, who had garnered a legion of fans through his appearances on TV with his owner on BBC Morning Live, died suddenly a month before his 13th birthday.

Greenwood’s latest book, For The Love Of Animals, is dedicated to him, and the vet’s son is named after him. “Initially I just stopped – I couldn’t really do very much. I just cried and cried. It just completely blindsided me. I couldn’t talk about him, I couldn’t look at pictures of him. It was completely overwhelming,” Greenwood recalls from his home on the outskirts of Bristol which he shares with his husband, Mark, rescue Labrador Dolly, plus hens, sheep and a couple of pigs.

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“I’ve counselled hundreds of people through the really upsetting stages of pet ownership, whether that’s them going into an operation, making big decisions or questioning the right path to take.

James Greenwood with his late Labrador, Oliver. Picture: James Greenwood/PA Photo.James Greenwood with his late Labrador, Oliver. Picture: James Greenwood/PA Photo.
James Greenwood with his late Labrador, Oliver. Picture: James Greenwood/PA Photo.

"Ultimately, the big decision that comes to us all when we do choose to share our lives with pets is to potentially have to let them go or put them to sleep,” he says. “The challenge with pet bereavement is that it does carry this kind of stigma over whether it’s even a real thing or whether people are using the excuse of the loss of your pet to get out of work, which I think is horrific.”

Animals have been part of Greenwood’s life for as long as he can remember. Growing up in Yorkshire, with farming blood in his genes, he recalls pulling lambs on a hilltop farm as a child and having stick insects crawling out of his school uniform in class.

His recently-published memoir, For The Love Of Animals, charts stories of his life as a vet, as well as delving deep into his relationship with his beloved and much-missed Oliver. “Grief is so individual, but there are obviously recognised stages of grief that people go through,” he reflects. “And I think that’s universal across whatever type of grief it is.

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“Often you go through the guilt, the anger, the worry, and all of the upset that comes with it, and then eventually there comes a kind of acceptance, and hopefully you get to the point where you can almost memorialise them and think of the happier memory rather than being shrouded in upset – but how long that takes is really individual.”

He continues: “Pet bereavement is real and affects people in different ways at different levels. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you’re feeling conflicted and upset. That’s ok…Talking to somebody is a really important step, sharing and memorialising your pet in some way.

"We’ve got some gorgeous photographs which we’ve had printed out and have around the house. I’ve still got Oliver’s favourite toy – a cuddly bear – in a bedside table. If that’s what it takes to come to terms with it, so be it.”

For The Love Of Animals by Dr James Greenwood is published by Seven Dials, out now.