Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 – Relationships
Sometimes, I’m not really good with people. It’s nothing to do with them, I just find social interactions very tiring. Keeping my filter in check so I don’t say something weird or offensive, smiling even when I feel miserable, and generally seeming like a productive human being. I think I do a good enough job around others, but when I get home to my dog I can truly be myself.
I could be in my pyjamas with Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners on the telly, I might not have brushed my hair or washed my face but my 12-year-old Rottweiler/Spaniel mix Lady won’t care. She’ll just be happy to cuddle up to me with her huge blanket, make her little grumbly sounds and fall back to sleep. And when I’m at my worst? I can spend days hiding from the world in bed, sleeping the hours away and pigging out on whatever I can get my hands on. Yet, Lady will just snuggle under the duvet with me and even nudges me to lie my head on her. This dog is my world – besides my husband of course – and once upon a time she saved my life along with her big sister Shandy and two elderly cats named Munch and Pip.
My mom passed away in July 2013. I came back from the hospital with my Husband, who I’d been dating for barely two weeks at that point. When I bawled my eyes out in grief I was joined by Lady and Shandy, a Labrador/Alsatian mix. They howled as I cried, it seemed like they knew exactly what had happened and it hurt them as much as it hurt me. Time went on, and each day I mourned the fact that I had woken up that morning. I wanted to die, I wanted to be with my parents again. When my mom died, I didn’t just lose my family but I was going to lose my home, I’d lost my role as her carer and my general purpose in life. But without realising, the pets gave me another purpose. I had to get out of bed, because they needed feeding, letting outside, fresh water and some sense of routine. They were grieving too, after all.
As the weather got colder and the council had still not fixed the heating in the house, I had no choice but to retire to just my bedroom as it was easier to heat one room with a small electric heater. The five of us would huddle under the duvet for warmth, the dogs snoring and the cats purring. I was sad, but I wasn’t alone. Not only was I struggling with my housing situation, but money was non-existent. Husband was buying in food whenever he could, which I felt awful about as he’d gone from being my new boyfriend to my carer within months. Plus he was training to be a teacher and had his own bills to pay with his bursary, I didn’t want him to do it. I would tell him I was getting by, but he knew I was lying. When I did have any money, I didn’t buy much for myself. Dinner would sometimes just be crisps and pop, spending most of the cash I did have on dog and cat food. I didn’t mind going hungry for them, because I loved them too much to let them starve.
When Mom died, my brother T had said he would help me get rid of the pets as I had to focus on myself and moving. Well, T never did get round to it but even if he’d tried to take them away from me I’d have put up a fight. I didn’t realise it at the time, but they’d given me a reason to carry on. They needed me, and if I’d killed myself who would’ve taken them on? I couldn’t have expected Husband to have them, they would have had to be split up and put into a shelter until they could be rehomed – but they were old. They’d been through so much with losing my dad and then my mom, I couldn’t do that to them. I loved them more than anything else, and I wasn’t going to abandon them, no matter how attractive the thought of suicide was to me.
Moving to our home where we are now, it gave me the chance to give all four fluffballs the chance of the life they deserved. The cats were used to moving around and they needed to be able to take it easy in their later years, and the dogs had gone through so much trauma ever since they were pups – they needed a fresh start as much as I did. Within a fortnight of living in the flat, they were the happiest they’d ever been. I was finally getting finances in order, so I didn’t have to go hungry again. Plus, Husband moved in with us so they had more love than they’d ever had before. He’d fell in love with both dogs when he first met them, and the feeling was more than mutual. The cats felt that he was passable, seeing as he fed them and changed their litterbox. Mom insisted that the dogs didn’t like being walked, that they were house dogs. We started walking them both and they fucking loved it. I threw out Mom’s rule of no dogs on the sofa, instead letting them up to cuddle with us.
Last year, Shandy got ill with pyometra and we had to have her put to sleep. We were devastated, so much so that I nearly ended up in hospital from the sheer grief of losing my girl. Even today, it hurts that she’s not here. She lived to 11, a good age for any dog. In the summer, Munch’s 18 years finally caught up with her and we made the choice to have her also put to sleep. On New Year’s Eve, Pip suddenly got very sick after an slow decline after losing her mother and the vet found a large lump in her stomach. She was 16 and ready to shuffle off, so we made that tough choice once again. It was so painful to lose the three of them in one year, but we didn’t want them to suffer. They gave me the strength to live through the pain, and I needed that strength to let them go. When they slipped away, I held each of them and made sure they knew that they were loved. I spoke to them and stayed with them after they were gone.
God, I’m crying just thinking about it. The vets were so kind to us, so was The Blue Cross when I contacted them to try and work through my grief. The love I have been lucky enough to share with those four-legged furballs is something I will always be grateful for. I will gladly to tell the world about how they saved me in my darkest moments, and how I’d do it all again as long as they were there with me.
As I’ve been writing this, Lady has had her nose under the laptop because of how warm it is. She loves the sound of me tapping away at the keyboard, and always stops snoring when I stop typing. If I stop for too long, she’ll make a ‘uuuuuuurrrrgggggg’ sound and nudge me with her nose. Who needs a publisher when you’ve got an elderly dog?
Manor Vets are offering a free consultation for your dog, cat or rabbit to see just how brilliant their services are. I would seriously recommend this, as they have been wonderful to us and our pets. Click here for more information.
Also, consider donating to the Blue Cross. They’re a fantastic charity. I’m sponsoring a dog through them called Tessa – I can’t house another dog yet, but I still want to help out. I fell in love with that little face.