Saturday 26th August is National Dog Day, so what better excuse to show the lady in my life a little bit of extra TLC? We’re surrounded by boys, so it’s important us girls stick together; after all, whoever said dog’s were just man’s best friend?
Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a huge dog fan. Dogs are absolutely my thing. I spent years as a child swotting up on all things canine in my efforts to persuade the parents a dog was right for us (it worked – Barney the Boxer joined our family in 2003) and as a result I can recite all the members of the utility group and would pick out a Stabyhoun at 50 paces (if I ever came across one.)
I knew that when I grew up, and had a home of my own, a dog would be as much of a household essential as a kettle and a bed. The only fly in the ointment was that the person I had chosen to shack up with suffered from allergies…whilst this could have been the end for Tom and I, thanks to modern breeding and the rise of so-called ‘designer dogs’ we returned from our honeymoon and a week later picked up a little bundle of cockapoo (low-shedding) fluff – Rosie.
As we drove home from the breeder, Rosie licking my fingers with her milky, puppy breath, I fell head over heels in love with her. Warm and safe in my arms, she drifted off to sleep, and I knew then that we were all she needed.
I could never have imagined that less than a year later, it would turn out that I would need her, perhaps even more than she needed me. In my darkest hour, this little pup would be the one to save me.
When I was pregnant with Findlay, Rosie didn’t exactly take to her new status as ‘big-sister-to-be’. She had always been my shadow, permanently glued to my side. She would even follow me into the bathroom and stand with her paws on the side of the bath whilst I had a shower, any attempts to regain some personal space by closing the door met with whimpers and puppy-eyes of Oscar winning calibre.
But as soon as I fell pregnant, things changed. She was standoffish, aloof, I would even go as far as to say she downright disliked me. It was her strange behaviour which actually prompted me to take a pregnancy test in the first place (along with the obvious hint from Mother Nature) and it seemed her instincts were right: there was a bun in the oven.
I had read that pets often don’t react well to pregnancy, being sensitive to the change in hormones, but I was more than a little upset that my affectionate, people-loving pooch had seemingly turned on me. The bump and I were relegated to the bottom of the pack, overthrown by her new favourite (Tom), and I began to worry how she would react when the baby came home.
Tragically, we never found out.
When we returned from Great Ormond Street Hospital, devastated by the news of Findlay’s heart condition, our heads spinning at the thought of what was to come, Rosie more than redeemed herself. That night, as Tom and I held each other and sobbed, she did not leave my side. If one of us got up for a moment, perhaps to get a drink, she would immediately take our place: nuzzling against the other, licking the salty tears from our cheeks as they fell. She didn’t once bark to go outside, almost refusing, and her tail never wagged. She knew our hearts were breaking, and perhaps her’s was aching for us too.
In the weeks and months which followed Findlay’s death, Rosie was my saviour. She resumed her role as my right hand, never more than a couple of paces behind me. She nestled into me as I cried hot, heavy tears onto her back, never objecting to the damp patches I left behind. She accepted that her runs in the park were replaced with daily walks to the cemetery, sitting diligently beside me as I tended Findlay’s flowers and polished his plaque. She rested her head on my lap as I read The Velveteen Rabbit and hummed out of tune nursery rhymes to her. She became the vessel into which I poured all the maternity love and energy which spilled out of me for the boy we never brought home.
As time passed, Rosie helped me to ‘do‘ life again. She was the one who made me laugh for the first time, trying to catch the shadow of a butterfly. Even on days when I felt I couldn’t get out of bed, her expectant face would appear over the duvet, head tipped to one side, and I knew that I had to leave the house. Stepping out, breathing in the fresh air and life outside of my grief, I realised that I would survive this; simply because there is no other choice. The world doesn’t stop turning just because yours seems over; the seconds keep ticking and the seasons keep changing and at some point you need to come out of your hiding place and rejoin it.
Little by little, I stopped watching from the sidelines and began to participate in life once again. I could smile without feeling guilty or disloyal. I could take an interest in things which weren’t Findlay, or my grief. I returned to work, I saw friends, and I started to get a feel for how to wear this ‘new normal’ which is life after loss. And it was Rosie who made that happen.Anyone who says she is ‘just a dog’ has no idea how important this furry little being is. I honestly don’t know how I could have made it through without her and there will never be enough words (or belly rubs!) to show my gratitude.
They say that animals have a sixth sense and I do wonder if Rosie knew that Findlay would be poorly, as her behaviour when I was pregnant with Leo was completely different. I’m so glad, as I needed all the cuddles I could get to help with the daily fear and anxiety of pregnancy after loss.
She has adjusted remarkably well to having a little brother at home, as well as one who is not. Despite her exasperated looks when a now-mobile Leo steals her ball or strokes her too vigorously, Rosie is fiercely protective of him, positioning herself between him and any stranger and responding to his cries or moans almost before I’ve heard them.I hope that as time goes on, their relationship will continue to blossom. It was always my dream for my children to grow up with a dog of their own, one to play catch in the garden and explore the woodland with. I thought that a dog would be the final piece in the jigsaw for my imagined family life, the cherry on top so to speak; I never could have imagined that she would be the vital ingredient. Without Rosie, I don’t know what our family would have become. She gave me life when I thought there was nothing left; on the darkest days she led me out into the sunlight; with her by my side, I faced each new day.
Tomorrow may be National Dog Day, but Rosie, I hope you know how treasured and loved you are all year round.Find out more about National Dog Day 2017, as well as ways you can celebrate, here.