WHEN a pet dies it is not unusual for an owner to mourn them with a small ceremony in the garden or to receive words of condolence.
But after The Who guitarist Pete Townshend suffered the loss of six beloved dogs in just five years his wife Rachel Fuller decided they needed a far more fitting memorial and recorded an album – Animal Requiem – with top tenor Alfie Boe.
She then organised a concert attended by stars at Saint James’s Church in Piccadilly, central London, and people were asked to bring photos of their passed away pets.
The 45-year-old composer met Pete 22 years ago when the 73-year-old rock legend hired her to provide a string arrangement and they got hitched in 2016.
Together they had loved and grieved over the animals that filled their home in Richmond, south London.
Rachel told The Sun: “You can’t take someone’s grief away. It was my own grief that inspired me to write this. It’s not just about grieving, it’s about remembering, honouring and saying a proper goodbye.
“This is more of a memorial than a funeral. It’s important to celebrate the life of an animal that has passed. “When I remember one of my pets who has passed, I don’t weep now, I laugh because I remember all the silly things they used to do and I smile and I remember how much love they had for us and how much love we had for them.
“Losing so many in such a short time meant we thought :’ It’s not worth it, I can’t go through this pain again.’ But the pain does ease and they are worth it, because they bring so much into your life.”
Rachel pinned up images of all six dogs she and Pete had lost.
They were border collie Flash, golden retrievers Spud and Harry, bichon frise Barney, poodle Cracker and Yorkshire terrier Wistle.
The feelings are still raw with the last two having just died in October.
Rachel said: “One we have been expecting, that was the Yorkshire terrier Wistle, because she had been unwell. But we hadn’t expected the poodle Cracker. Cracker was really naughty. It was very sudden. I guess he really just wanted to be with his original pack.”
Alfie Boe chose to remember his golden retriever Guinness, who died last year, and one man travelled all the way from California for the concert.
Rachel said: “I met audience members who had come a long way, one guy had come from San Francisco. They were pinning their photos on the board. Somebody brought a collar. Dogs, cats, horses, a couple of hamsters.”
Other attendees included model Twiggy, actress Sadie Frost, supervet Noel Fitzpatrick and actor Dougray Scott.
She recalled: “There were lots of tears in the house at the concert. At the end, though, everybody did seem incredibly uplifted. I hope there is group consciousness together.”
The concert was a sell out so Rachel hopes to take it on the road across the churches and cathedrals of Britain.
The memorial board will come with her.
There have also been requests from as far away as Missouri in the United States to use Rachel’s music so they can perform the requiem.
Music isn’t the only innovative way Townshend’s wife has chosen to keep her deceased dogs in her thoughts.
They are even with her when she sleeps – with their faces on cushions.
After quitting cigarettes seven years ago she took up cross stitching so her hands had something else to do.
She said: “I got completely addicted. You can send off a photo to a company and they make you a pattern. So after I lost our first dog, I sent a photo off and I made a cushion of the dog. So now every time a dog passes I do a cross stitch cushion of them.
“I love it, I have them on my bed. It’s a bit old lady of me.”
Since losing their pack of six, Pete and Rachel have taken in four more dogs.
They are Tuppence the Yorkshire terrier, Elsa a mongrel rescued from Antigua, Pudding who is half chihuahua half Yorkshire terrier and Peanut the Yorkshire terrier.
Rachel, who describes dogs as ‘my drug,’ said: “I have never rushed out to replace a pet, because you can’t. They have their own personalities and make their own imprint on your life.”
All profits from the album sales will be going to a variety of animals charities, particularly shelters.
She concluded: “My hope is that if somebody loses a pet that they will get the album, knowing the profits will go to an animal charity, they can have a quiet half hour and just listen to the music and think about their pet.”
Animal Requiem is available to download now and can be bought as a CD from March 8.