Writing about her beloved dog after he died helped Shoreham-born children’s author Dawn McNiff cope with the loss.
As a trained counsellor who has worked for bereavement charities, she hopes her story Love From Alfie McPoonst: The Best Dog Ever will help children and others in a similar situation.
Dawn said: “The loss of a pet can be a child’s first experience of bereavement. I believe it’s vital that death is not taboo and children are given the opportunity to ask questions and express how they feel.”
Dawn was born on Shoreham Beach and went to Steyning Grammar School but now lives in Stroud. Her latest book was published in January by Walker Books UK.
She said: “It is exciting as they’re basically picture book royalty. It’s also out all round the world, including Australia, America, Denmark, Spain and South Korea.
“I wrote it as a tribute to my own beloved dog, Alfie, who died, so I’m very happy it’s being published everywhere. Alfie’s photo is inside the front cover.
“I couldn’t stop crying after Alfie died. Writing about him and imagining him safe and happy back with his dog mum was a way of comforting myself.”
The book, illustrated by Patricia Metola from Madrid, is full of the funny, naughty things Alfie used to do, like dodging baths and trying to eat cowpats.
Dawn said: “Both tears and laughter are a normal part of the grief and remembering process. I hope my book can be a tool for talking about pet loss in a gentle, non-scary way.”
Although the book is predominantly aimed at young children, Dawn hopes that it will help people of all ages who are grieving over a pet.
She said: “Losing a pet can be agony, yet I don’t think our society always recognises this. It can be a kind of disenfranchised grief.
“Well-intentioned friends and family might say ‘it was only a dog, you’ll be over it soon’ but this view can leave people feeling alone or even embarrassed by how much the loss of their pet has affected them – and the pain can bubble up for months. I think these feelings need allowing and respecting.”
Dawn wrote about Alfie as a way of remembering him and as a tribute to her pet.
She said: “Memorialising a pet can be helpful. It’s often said that grief is love with nowhere to go, which is why grief counsellors may suggest finding practical ways to maintain the feeling of connection with a lost loved one, a continuing bond.”