A grim day, that many a family will be familiar with. The death of a much-loved pet.

My son and my youngest daughter left the house early this morning (at the time of writing) to find Mikey, our black and white cat, prostrate on the street by the front gate. I’ll take her body to the vet today, but the visual signs point to her having been poisoned. I know this, unfortunately, because we lost another cat (an eight-month old boy cat, called Alfie) to the same cause, earlier in the year. Three years ago we lost another two young cats in the same way.

It’s a sad fact that the poisoning of both cats and dogs is a regular occurrence down here in the south of Spain. Vets and pet-lovers warn of keeping your dogs away from food left on the street. Sometimes it is wanton carelessness (people still use illegal poison to quell the perceived rat problem), while others do it willfully.

It hit my three kids hard. We hugged them and tried desperately to give them some explanation for their grief, but how do you convey to an adolescent that someone killed your loved animal and there’s very little chance that the perpetrator will ever be found, let alone punished. We will report it to the Guardia Civil and file a denuncia (a crime report) but the police here have way bigger fish to catch than pet murderers, what with the ever-growing and ever-more violent drugs trade down here on the ‘Costa del crime’.

It got me thinking about how we process shock and we deal with grief in the immediate aftermath of traumatic events. My kids all retreated to the bedrooms, and there was much sobbing. I, however, suddenly found myself sorting out the pile of dirty clothes into four different colored piles, loading the dishwasher and tidying up stuff that didn’t really need tidying. And that cast my mind back over thirty years to when I was in my late teens, walking towards the petrol station where I had a part-time job, and seeing Trish, my supervisor standing on the street, smoking. I was with a close friend, both of us aged about seventeen, still at school; basically dumb kids with no idea about anything other than indie music and computer games.

Trish had tears in her eyes, so I asked what was wrong. She answered that her former boyfriend, the father of her young son, had crashed his car and that her boy had been in the back seat. I asked why she had come to work – she wasn’t even due to work that day – and she said it was to keep her mind off it. I was extremely socially awkward then (I still can be at times) and as we walked back in the direction of the petrol station, I commented that I hoped he will get better soon. I hadn’t understood what she was saying. ‘He won’t be recovering,’ she had answered, then walked back towards the building. It must have taken me several seconds to process what she has meant; her son had been killed. He’d died in a vehicle accident, and she’d decided to come to work. To keep busy. To “keep her mind off it”.

And to that day, that is why, in moments of stress or pain, I keep busy, and why I try and tell my kids and anyone else to do the same. Keep busy. Occupy yourself. Take your mind off it, and let time pass. Because only then are you properly equipped to take that pain on board and to process it, to deal with it, and to move on.

Mikey’ was in fact a female cat. She’d been born to a stray mother in our front garden back in the UK, seven years ago. We’d thought she was a boy cat, and christened her ‘Michael’ after Jason Patric’s character in Lost Boys (something to do with only being able to eat worms, I can’t remember the logic).

If you are a pet-lover and assuming you don’t have fish, go give your animals a hug from me.