Writing Companions…(Part Two)

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.

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Seriously, this was the rag-a-muffin dog I fell in love with…

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!

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Mac, on the last day…

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.

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Daisy-dog

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!

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Hugo: Day one

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!

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Enjoying a read with my sleepy pup!

Writing Companions…(Part One)

Having a dog is one of the most significant aspects of my persona. Without one, I don’t feel whole; walking without a faithful (misbehaving) pooch never feels quite right. I’ve had a dog in my life since I was twelve years old and my parents and I bought a border collie pup from a farmer in Yorkshire. She was the runt of the litter and cost £39 – it was supposed to be £40, but the farmer gave me a wink and offered me a £1 change. Hence, the new member of our family was called Penny, as in ‘In for a…”.

pennyPenny was an amazing dog. Well behaved (unless there were rabbits…and there usually were!), very smart and particularly patient. She knew all my secrets and never told a soul. When she had puppies, I was ecstatic. But my parents said “no”. It was just before I was due to go to University and they didn’t want another dog themselves.

My favourite of the puppies was, again, the runt of the litter – Ryac. [I named all of them after character from my favourite TV show at the time – except one, who my Mum insisted on naming Blossom.] Ryac was adopted by a very Posh-and-Becks couple who had another dog called Fonzi, so they renamed him Richie. He was the last of the pups to leave our home.

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About three months later, a girl turned up at the door holding this bundle of fur and excitement in her arms. She was a mess – tracksuit pants, scuffed trainers, an oversized jacket and I’m not even sure she’d brushed her hair; miles away from the polished model-like woman who had bought our pup. Turns out, the couple had split up and while the guy had taken Fonzi, she couldn’t look after Richie so wanted to bring him back rather than leave him at a shelter. It must have been an incredibly difficult thing to go through – which I understand much more now, having had to give up a rescue dog myself last year when it became clear we just weren’t the right fit for her.

So, Ryac returned to us and he’s still at home with my parents: having just turned the grand ol’ age of seventeen! Of course, my Mum altered his name slightly – she calls him ‘Rye’ (the colour of his fur), but he’ll always be Ryac to me!

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Possibly the only photo I have with Penny (L), me, and Ryac (R) all in frame: when Ryac won a rosette for most handsome dog! [And when I was a blonde too!]

 

 

How my dog makes me a writer

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Penny – 1st Canine BF

I don’t think I realise how integral being a dog-owner really is to who I am. I mean, I’ve always known I am a dog-person: even when I was little and we had two cats, four guinea pigs and even two horses the only pet I really desired was a dog. And since I made my first four-pawed friend at the age of eleven or so I haven’t been without a furry best friend until last year when Mac – my rescue Westie – died .

I spent six months dog-less: until I couldn’t do it anymore and we finally settled on rescuing Daisy – a 5yr old Pointer/Terrier mix who is more energetic than a mad, untrained puppy. And she was untrained; the only thing she knew was not to soil the house (thankfully). Unfortunately she hasn’t yet worked out she isn’t allowed on the kitchen worktops when we’re not home or in the bin, or on the furniture. She was one of nine dogs relinquished by an owner unable to care for them any more. She also howls when I go out, just from sheer boredom it appears as she shows no other signs of distress and doesn’t worry when we’re getting ready to leave. I guess that’s what living with eight other dogs can do; she’s probably never been on her own before.

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Dog #2: Ryac – Penny’s son

Anyway, what was I saying? Of course: I’m a dog-person. My soul is not content unless it has another to bond to, and I happen to think that doggy souls are the most loyal and doting ones out there. My life just seems incomplete without a four-legged friend to keep me company as I write.

 

The thing I missed the most in those dog-less six months was walking. Now I know you can walk on your own, but it just isn’t the same. I tried, a few times, but people aren’t as friendly when you’re on your own. Not once did people stop to talk to me as a solitary walker. Yet, the first time I went out with Daisy I had three conversations in the space of half an hour. And it is during these long, ambling strolls that I usually conjure up characters, ideas and work out tangled plot holes and problems.

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Mac – the rescue Westie

So it’s only natural that I’m writing again. Not much, just short ideas and story possibilities. I did, however, also manage to submit my complete novel to an agent and received my first official rejection all in the space of a month. I wear it like a badge of honour: nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the opposite, as it proves I have enough faith in my work to share it. And it wasn’t a bad rejection, far from it, there were compliments included, the mention of the word ‘talent’. I won’t take it too seriously, but I need to identify a few other agents to submit to now, hunt around for the best choices and believe in myself enough to press send again.

So that’s why I’m here. Back from the ether to share my journey once again; hope that I will have something to contribute to the world through my ramblings and rediscover my love of blogging alongside that of fiction. In the meantime I have my dog to keep me entertained, healthy and content. I suppose what I’ve realised is that for me the two things are indistinguishably intertwined. I am both a dog-person AND a writer and I’m not sure I can be one without the other.

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Daisy – the ‘trouble-maker’!

 

 

 

When is the time to let go of grief?

How do you know when it’s time to open your heart up once it’s been broken?

We’ve been talking about getting another dog. I keep checking the Dogs Trust rehoming pages to see if a suitable rescue dog might need my love and attention. Sometimes I see a West Highland Terrier and I look more closely to see if it might be Mac, which is ridiculous because he’s gone. But I still look. I couldn’t rescue another Westie though; it wouldn’t be right. They wouldn’t live up to the enormous expectation I have for them to be Mac.

But another dog, maybe. At least that’s what I want to believe. We talk about it, I make all the right noises, say all the right things; but I’m not sure I can do it. Not yet. We keep mentioning Christmas, as if it’s a marker that by then my grief might be gone. We both know this is not true, but we pretend it could be. There’s discussion of a puppy. The boisterous energy and time, dedication, and the patience needed for this rules it out. We love our furniture too much. Sharp, gnawing teeth would not be welcome here.

I look back on my photographs of Mac – a poor substitution for the warmth of his stale-smelling fur that I miss more than anything – and think: “Not again. I couldn’t allow another companion to settle here only for it to be taken away again.” In short, I have the fear. The emptiness that consumes my insides and settles there, like a great, black stone anchored at the bottom of the sea, is beneath everything and even in the darkness it is inescapably present. I can’t deny its existence just because I can’t see it in the light of day, or because I want to pretend it’s not there. I still feel it pulling me down on occasion, not as often as before, but sometimes.Will it ever truly go away? Probably not.

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No matter how I feel now, it is worth it to have loved this ragamuffin.

This is the burden of pet owners: we outlive our best friends more often than not. Put simply, I am afraid of loving another dog because of the inevitable grief that would eventually follow thereafter. And, in order to welcome a new companion, I need to forget the anguish that is still so fresh in my heart that I can’t yet let go of, not yet, not so soon. But I must release it someday, otherwise I may be engulfed by the fear. And, therein lies the rub: I must let go of it. It will never release me unless I offer it release. I must want to give up feeling the grief before it can be let go. Am I ready to let it go?

And still, every dog I look at – wondering if this is the one that I could love next – is always tested by two criteria: could I love it enough to abandon the fear and; will it fill the hole in my heart where Mac used to be still is?

Until I stop asking that second question, another dog is unlikely to be the answer.