Warning: this is a long blog post!
They say that a dog is man’s best friend. I can safely say this applies to a woman too.
I grew up with a string of pet dogs in the family. We had German Shepherd Ricky who was so big and powerful that he went to be a police dog. Then came Peppy, a tiny black and white mongrel who developed a skin condition and had to be put to sleep. Next was Tess, another mongrel who ran out of the front gate one day to greet the ice-cream van across the road and got hit by a car. After that was Lucky, another mongrel who wasn’t so lucky when he came to a premature end after another road accident. Then the most beautiful golden cocker spaniel came into my life called Sandy. I loved all the dogs we had, and broke my heart when each of them left us. But Sandy was my favourite, the one who followed me around, the one who sat on my case howling when I was ready to go to school for the week, the one who sat at the door on a Friday ready to welcome me home again. And the one I think I cried for the most!
Sandy arrived at a very traumatic time in my life. I was 13, and my parents were about to split up. I found great comfort in Sandy’s presence throughout the following year. He seemed to understand when I told him how unhappy I was when my dad introduced us to the new woman in his life. She turned out to be as evil as the witches we read about in fairy stories as young children, except she was very real! She wanted to live with my dad, but not his three children and the dog!
Sandy had lovely long ears that got soaked when he drank from his water dish, or covered in food when he ate his meal. But he let me hold them up for him, such was the bond we had. I taught him to give a low bark for his treats, and to sit by the door when he wanted to go out. I adored him, and he adored me!
But life at home with my dad’s new woman was intolerable, particularly since he was out at work all day, and we were stuck with “the witch.” I desperately wanted my mum and dad to be together, but that was never going to happen. My mum had moved out to live with her new man, but they lived in a flat, and I couldn’t take Sandy if I stayed with them. In the end though, I decided it was for the best that I moved in with my mum and her man. My dad promised to look after Sandy for me, but it was a terrible heartbreak to leave him behind, even though I could visit once a week.
A year later, however, “the witch” had Sandy put to sleep because he didn’t like her, and kept growling at her. My dad said he fretted for me, so that was that, my poor spaniel was basically killed! I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
After that, I felt I could never trust myself to love a dog again in case it was taken away from me. That was until 1984, when a friend of mine persuaded me to apply for a guide dog. After weighing it all up, I decided that as I was now grown-up and responsible for it myself, I could perhaps enjoy a long friendship with another animal. And so it proved when German Shepherd Vale became my first guide dog. She was a great worker, and stayed with me for a number of years. But as good as she was at her job, I couldn’t love her the same as Sandy, I still grieved for him in a way I could not explain to anybody. I cared for Vale, but it wasn’t the same as having my little golden spaniel with the long ears. I could talk to him, and tell him all my troubles. He understood, we had that bond where you just know your dog understands every word you say.
After Vale retired, my circumstances changed, and I got married and had my beautiful son, Ian. I never thought about a dog for many years after that because Ian gave me so much to think about, and filled my days with motherhood.
But two years ago, with Ian grown-up and living with his girlfriend, I decided to apply for another guide dog. And this is where my heart melted again! No sooner I was on the waiting list than Bumble came bounding into my life. This active, crazy German Shepherd was matched with me by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and the two of us began what is turning into a wonderful partnership. Bumble was born on 17 March 2012, so will be four on St Patrick’s day 2016. Bumble has all the attributes I could ever want in an animal: she is loyal, loving, full of fun … oh, and she happens to be a guide dog too!
Bumble fills our house with laughter, noise and closeness. She has a basket full of toys that scatter the floor like a child’s would. She is a baby in so many ways, a big, overgrown puppy! Everyone who visits loves Bumble, and she makes a mad dash for them. My days are filled with playing with Bumble alongside all my other chores. Together, we volunteer for Guide Dogs, where I give talks at schools and other community groups. She has changed my life in so many ways I never thought possible. It is as if Sandy has come back, but in a different guise. Bumble has lovely long ears too, but hers stand up, and she is bigger, of course, with a different colouring.
I couldn’t imagine life without my crazy mate, and hope to give her a long and happy life as a guide dog and beyond. But Bumble is not only a dog, she is a friend and companion, the loyalty from whom is unconditional. My past animal losses have claimed many tears, but those I shed now are tears of joy when it comes to this beautiful, gentle creature.
My love and need for her was brought home to me last week when Bumble had a small operation to remove three harmless lumps from her tail. She had to have a general anaesthetic, and was away from the house all day. I could do little else but worry about how she was, and had to stop myself from phoning the vet to check on her every hour or so. We were finally reunited the same evening, when Bumble put both paws on my knee and whined, in her way, telling me she had a bandage on her tail and wasn’t happy about it.
Happily, however, she is recovering from her ordeal. The dressing has been changed, she is running around the house like a lunatic, and is eating and drinking as usual. But it does make me wonder how people can inflict such hurt and damage on animals, and why they think it is funny or necessary to do it.
I have had two very happy years with Bumble, and I just hope our association continues for a long time to come. In a funny sort of way, Sandy’s memory lives on in Bumble with her bright personality and sharp intelligence that makes her this woman’s best friend!