When I moved into my first apartment with my other half I waited three years before getting a dog. I can’t believe I went dog-less for so long: it would be impossible now. But then, I was working too hard and trying to do so much; eventually it led to my illness (more on that on May 12th) and a dog was part of my recovery plan.
Enter Mac. A grumpy and not-very-attractive rescue Westie. We adopted him from the RSPCA and were told he was placid and good with kids. As it turned out he had issues with men, food-guarding issues and didn’t really like children; not so suitable for my partner’s two young boys. It was too late by the time we found these things out; I was already in love with him, and him with me. So we made compromises and sacrifices to ensure we could all live with the consequences that owning a previously-abused dog came with.
I couldn’t move without Mac following. Yet, despite this he would happily sit at home without me, somehow aware that once I left the flat I would come back. In fact, because he was given so many treat-toys when we left him alone, he was often the most excitable just before we left the house. He probably didn’t even know we’d disappeared for the first hour or so!
We were told he was 6-8yrs old, but with arthritis that set in it’s more likely he was around 10 when we adopted him. He also had skin allergies and recurrent ear infections which made insurance a catch-22 situation: he would be covered once, for one condition, but after that we were on our own. Unfortunately, four years post-adoption he got an infection that didn’t go away and began having seizures. The vet suggested a CT scan to see if it was related to a brain issue – of course, if it wasn’t and all came back to the ear infection the cost of the scan would fall on us. Discussions revealed that even if the CT showed brain involvement there would be no alternative treatments to painkillers and steroids, which he was already on. But when Mac had another seizure and he lost interest in walks, or playing tug, and simply spent most of his days sleeping or bumbling around in circles, we made the difficult decision to put him to sleep. He wasn’t the same Mac we knew (and I loved), and he didn’t seem to enjoy life as he ought to.
Making that choice was heart-breaking, but I knew it was the best thing for Mac, although harrowing for me. It was a terrible grieving process, laced with guilt and self-judgement for being so emotional over ‘a dog’. But no matter the species, if you dedicate your life to another living thing and nurture and care for them, I think it’s inevitable that the connection made, when lost, will be irretrievable.
Six months went by before my heart ached not for Mac, but for companionship again. So we made another commitment, this time to a Dogs Trust rescue dog called Daisy. She’d come from a farm with eight other dogs and didn’t know any commands or even how to play with a ball – her favourite thing in the world. She is a beautiful dog; fun-loving, affectionate and happy. I would lie on the floor with Daisy in my arms like a child, rubbing her belly as she snored. Bliss.
Unfortunately, Daisy found it challenging to be alone in the flat. She would pace and pant, clamber on all the furniture (including the kitchen worktops), chew things and pull open cupboards. We patiently tried to crate-train her, with the support of Dogs Trust, and while she would happily sleep in the crate all night, within one fifteen-minute stint of us leaving the flat she chewed her way through the metal mesh in a panic.
Another impossible decision was made. After six months with Daisy, having tried everything we could – short of me giving up my job to stay home with her permanently (which was not a solution) – we returned her to Dogs Trust. I’m relieved to say that because of the training I gave her, and the supporting information I was able to provide about her wonderful nature, Daisy found a new home within a week. It was a family with another dog, a cat, and a young boy who doted on her and could play fetch with her in their large, fenced garden. A perfect fit for such a loving dog. Although I am pleased she found a family suited to her, my heart ached for the loss I had suffered.
After Daisy I needed a boost, and fortunately we discovered that we could finally consider purchasing our own home after ten years renting and four years saving. It all happened pretty quickly, as we put in an offer on the fourth house we viewed and received a yes! Four months later we moved into our new home, with a lovely grassy back garden just around the corner from the local country park: a perfect dog haven!
So, after much reflection based on our experience with rescue dogs, and within weeks of moving into our house, I got a puppy. I chose to return to the West Highland Terrier breed because I had been so happy with Mac. But, Hugo is the most work I’ve ever had to put into owning my own dog: Mac and Daisy were simple in comparison! Of course, he’s still only eight months old now, but he’s mostly well trained and a particularly characterful dog. He doesn’t like to sit still, isn’t overly fond of cuddles but loves to play and walk and sniff. He is very much his own dog – a Westie trait, I’m sure.
Hopefully we will have many years to seal our companionable bond and for us to learn that his name is Hugo, and not Mac! Perhaps one day too my book will contain a thank you to all the dogs who’ve been by my side as I’ve plotted and planned during our walks. Without them, I don’t know if I’d ever have any ideas worthy enough to sit on the page!