Goodbye Skipper…Thank you for changing my life

You came to us during a dark time. With three young children we had been asked to leave our rented home as the house was being sold. My husband had also just lost his job. We found another house nearby, one that would except me working from home as a childminder but after just a month of living there, we received a letter telling us the house was being demolished within six months to make way for flats. They had taken our deposit and let us move in knowing it was being destroyed. We were gutted.

I felt like everything was dark and hopeless. As a parent, I felt such guilt that my children had to suffer this uncertainty. And then in the middle of that I decided to get a puppy. It was a stupid time to get a puppy but it had been over five years since my last dog had died and the houses we had rented since then had all stipulated no pets. I didn’t want that again. I knew I needed something, you see. Something that was just for me. At that time, I had not written anything in years. I had given up long ago on my childhood dreams of being a writer and working with animals. I loved my children and loved being a childminder, but it was all about giving, it was about time management and organising activities, it was about paperwork and largely, exhaustion, with nothing left of myself at the end of the day.

So I found a litter of lurcher pups on the internet and we went to visit you and in February 2010 you came home with us. Life was instantly brighter. Now we had to find a home that would allow dogs and funnily enough, we did, right away. A lovely house on a country lane only ten minutes drive from the town and schools, but with a semi-rural setting. I couldn’t believe it would be our home but it soon was and has been for the last ten years.

Everything finally fell into place. I was so grateful, for you and for our new home. We could have chickens and ducks, grow vegetables, do whatever we wanted. A river runs past us and we only have to walk down the lane to play in it. My husband got a new job in walking distance to the house and not long after that I started to think about changing jobs, now that we were settled.

And that was because of you Skipper. I remembered what I wanted as a child. How I thought my life would be. I would be a writer, surrounded by animals. Maybe I would work in a rescue centre or as a dog-walker. I would be living my childhood dreams. I knew I had to do it, so I handed in my notice as a childminder and started work as a dog-walker. This meant I could concentrate on you far more. I also started fostering for a local dog rescue at this time. In between walking dogs, I sat at the laptop and wrote. All those years I had wasted not believing in myself, not believing I had the time to write…and now here I was. Doing it. Because of you, Skips.

You changed my life when I most needed to. You pushed me forward by forcing me to look back. I love my life now, having gone on to publish ten novels with many more on the way. I started my Community Interest Company Chasing Driftwood Writing Group in 2015 and it continues to go from strength to strength. And you were there the whole time…

You changed my life, Skipper. You helped me find myself again. You made me fall in love with sighthounds and lurchers and now I will always have them in my life.

Of course, you were not easy. You were a learning curve! When I look back now your naughtiness makes me laugh. I tried for weeks on end to get you to sleep on your own in the kitchen. Don’t give in, everyone said, just let him cry it out. I left you a lovely bed, plenty of toys and a jumper of mine so you would have my scent. I tried ignoring you but you screamed, literally screamed like a tortured child. After moving house, I didn’t bother shutting you in the kitchen anymore. I just couldn’t handle that level of anguish so I put your bed at the foot of ours on the floor and you went straight to sleep and didn’t even make a mess in the night. Problem solved.

But of course we had to go out and leave you alone sometimes. Never for long but oh my, how you hated it! You had a large kitchen with a lovely bed, toys, chews, treats, a kong full of treats, yet more treats hidden in cardboard boxes and tubes for you to find. And what did we come back to every time? A river of poo and wee which you had happily trod in and smeared all over the floor, walls, doors etc, not to mention you soon worked out how to climb onto the sideboard and knock the washing up all over the floor! Again, it just wasn’t worth it, so I stopped shutting you in and if I went out I left you the whole house. And funnily enough, you never did a thing…

That’s not to say you didn’t have a suitably destructuve phase. Of course you did. Chewed a big old hole in the arm of the sofa, chewed a few carpets and rugs and the wooden bannisters. You never touched the kids toys though and the chewing was something you grew out of before it ever became an issue.

Oh but you were naughty…couldn’t control your instincts one bit. When the kids ran about you hunted them down by grabbing their sleeves! If they got in the way whileyou were running, well, they soon learned not to. Once you found your feet and your speed, there was no stopping you. You started actively looking for things to chase. You slaughtered squirrels and rabbits, not to mention a few unlucky chickens and guinea pigs. You would be there one minute on a walk and gone the next, gone so fast I’d hardly even see you go. You’d always come back, usually with an injury or two!

I did my best, playing games with you, jogging with you, looking out for trouble and before long your recall was pretty perfect unless there was a deer to chase of course. In your later years, even that became too much trouble for you.

You were always in the way…Every time I turned around you were there trying to tell me something. You knew the time, your life ran on clockwork. It’s walk time. Dinner time. Walk time again. Time the kids got back from school so you could devour the leftovers in their lunchboxes. Oh what a greedy dog! Nothing was safe! You counter surfed and could reach the unreachable! A whole leg of lamb you ran up the garden with. An entire apple and blackberry crumble you wolfed down when I left it on the side to answer the door. The contents of the fridge on more than one occasion. A whole 1kg tub of Stork which you promptly threw up everywhere. Entire bins, ripped and shredded on the kitchen floor or sometimes for extra fun, carried upstairs and spread out all over my bed! A bag of sugar once, still not sure how you reached that, but I came home to a thick white path all through the house… The gerbils food and treats; you climbed on a chair to get their plastic tub down from a shelf and then broke the lid and ate the lot. Bird food! Grapes! Oh my god how many times did you climb like a monkey to eat the kids Xmas calenders! Even this last Xmas, our last with you, you managed to get into the lounge and eat some presents! And the reason we always shut you out of the lounge at Christmas? You seemed to think it was highly important to piss on the Christmas tree every time you saw it.

Every left over crumb in the bin was yours and you would hang around until we were out or in bed before you would start to root through for it. Clever boy, you never stole in front of us, always biding your time. I always knew if you were sat on the stairs watching the kitchen it was because someone had left a crumb of something somewhere you knew you could reach and you were just waiting.

Oh the times I came home to utter chaos…

But boy, I do miss your greetings. You’d spot us from the upstairs window and the howling/crying would start in earnest. You sounded like the happiest boy alive that your humans were home. Your feet up on the gate, your body wriggling while you howled a high pitch hello, you’re home! And you would turn in circles while I greeted you. Then you’d be in the way of course, no sense of space whatsoever, I was always tripping over you or telling you to get out of the way.

How many times did I call you a bloody dog or a bloody twat?

Every day.

Oh but I loved you, boy. If there is anything I wish it’s that you knew and understood how loved you were. I loved your howling when I came home, your circles and the way you leaned your whole body against my legs for fuss. You were a great leaner! Everyone always said how loving and gentle you were, everyone loved how you leaned on them. And how you’d demand fuss by poking your head into laps and nudging people, sending many a cup of tea flying! No one could resist your gentle charms.

It’s like a hole now, you are gone. I come home and you are not there howling for your mummy. I miss you being in the way. I feel sad when I don’t have to put the rubbish bin behind the kitchen sink taps because that was the only place you couldn’t get it. I feel sad when someone leaves leftovers on a plate on the side and it’s still there in the morning…

I miss you on walks, so slow and steady towards the end. Always looking at me. What was that about, old boy? What were you trying to tell me? Those eyes, melted chocolate and long lashes. You were so beautiful, so graceful and I’ve never seen a faster dog, when you were young, the ground would shake under your feet.

You taught me so much, gave me so much, You gave me back myself, made me realise who I was and what I wanted. You made me brave. You made me calm. Oh how I miss our long walks on the common, our place eh? Ours. I still think you will come back, you know. It’s like maybe you are on holiday. It feels so empty without you and the tears are permanently caught in my throat.

You were such a good boy Skips. You loved me so much You were so loyal to me. You didn’t want to go and I know that. You fought and fought, still wanting walks and food even when your body was totally giving up on you. It was like you were determined to ignore it. That haunts me now. That you didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave us. Loyal until the end.

Skipper, I will always love you. I will always miss you. You were not an easy dog but you were one of us. We all miss you massively. Thank you for being the best dog in the world ever, for being my best friend. I felt like we just got each other. In many ways, we were very similar. You never really understood other dogs the way I’ve never really understood other people. We were both shy and introverted sometimes. We liked our space and our peace and quiet and our time together. I will never forget our time, Skips. I will never forget our journey. It was not long enough but it was significant and I was so lucky to have you. Darling boy, I love you and miss you. Don’t sleep tight or rest in peace boy…just keep running xxx

My Dog and I Are Far Too Alike…

They say that owners end up looking like their dogs. Or maybe it’s that people subconsciously choose dogs that look a bit like them. I can’t say I look like my dog Skipper, sadly. He is tall, slim and blonde. I’m…not. However, we are very alike in a lot of strange ways. Today’s blog is all about me and my dog, and why we are so totally and utterly suited to go through this life together…

1656036_763861943633073_8363940785469185821_n

 

We are both anti-social. Well, to be fair, we are probably better described as asocial, rather than anti. I’ve always been one of those people that get on just fine on my own. I don’t need other people and I’ve never felt lonely in my life. I often don’t really understand other people and sometimes feel life is simpler when I just avoid them. Skipper is like this with other dogs. Some bad experiences taught him that unknown dogs are best left alone. Therefore, he does not go out of his way to interact with strange dogs. He sticks by my side and gives me his wide-eyed anxious look. Don’t leave me, Mum. He literally doesn’t know what to do when he meets other dogs. Wagging his tail? Well, sometimes. Play? No, don’t be silly. He never stoops to that. He just wants to be left alone and well old boy, I can totally relate to that.

We both love to run. I started running when I was 17. I was fed up of being chubby and depressed and decided I was the only one who could do anything about it. I started running around the back fields of our estate. I’ve continued running whenever I can throughout my life. Granted, there have been long periods of time when I have just not been able to fit it in, but I do try to get back to it. With my youngest child now at part time at pre-school, I am currently getting back into it in a big way. Of course, Skipper is half Greyhound and half Saluki, so running is in his genes. He was born to run and in his younger days, he used to make the earth shake when he took off. Oh, what a sight. Absolutely beautiful. So much power and grace and passion. Sadly, he’s coming up to 8, and a quick, mad dash here and there is all he feels up to these days. When I run, he keeps up a pleasant trot as if to humour me. But every now and then, if his amazing eyesight catches sight of a squirrel on the ground, he still surprises me with how fast he can take off, like a bullet from a gun, tearing up the dust, thundering out of sight. Beautiful. Never fails to make me smile.

21994465_1651838618168730_158630375873332947_o

 

We know who we love. Skipper has always been a bit fussy about who he likes. He’s never been mean or aggressive, it’s just there are some people he’s not that fussed about, and there are some people he really, really, really likes. He likes them so much he announces their arrival with a high pitched, screaming whine. He greets them by turning in circles and knocking into them with his backside. He then makes sure they remember he is around by placing his head on their lap for fuss, and nudging their hand every time they dare to stop stroking. He can be very demanding, like that. I know who I like too. I have some very favourite people in my life. People I get very, genuinely and childishly excited about seeing. Funnily enough, I think they are the same ones Skipper loves…

18922917_1537229719629621_5132818550483995292_o

We are very loyal. I like to think I am a loyal person. I don’t need a lot of people, and I’m kind of fussy about who I let in, but if I do make a friend, it tends to be a friend for life. I’m not too interested in superficial, small talk friends. I’d rather have a small handful of people I can truly rely on for deep and meaningfuls, and once I’ve found them, I’ll cling onto them, recognising how valuable and rare it is to find ‘your people’. There’s no doubt that Skipper is loyal. And most of that loyalty is given to me. If anyone else tries to walk him, he will pull them over to me. When he was a puppy, he once ran back home to me because my husband took him for a walk. Unless he’s having a mad dash, whenever I look down on our walks, there he is. His eyes are always on me. Like melted hazlenut chocolate. He has the gentlest eyes ever. We’re well and truly stuck with each other. There’s no one else would be able to understand him like I do, and vice versa.

22496134_1669914713027787_4798253652834429377_o

We have a naughty side…Well, who doesn’t? No one’s perfect, right? Skipper can be very, very naughty. He is a terrible thief. (It’s a lurcher thing.) He has grabbed legs of lamb and run up the garden with them, eaten an entire 2kg tub of margarine, entire fruit crumbles, cakes, a batch of freshly baked scones, entire contents of my fridge once when it got somehow left open…the list goes on. There is nothing he won’t steal. Though we do joke, if there is something Skipper won’t steal, then it must be truly vile. He has a sensitive tummy though, so quite often the results of his thievery end up in steaming puddles all over the house, which is usually how we know he has stolen something. He will also raid the bin. We don’t have a bin anymore but do put rubbish in a plastic bag on the side. Never ever make the mistake of putting even a crust or a crumb into that bag! He will wait until you are not around (he never steals when we are watching!) and he will happily tear the whole bag to shreds and scatter the rubbish all over the floor. Skipper also cocks his legs on things from time to time. He is house trained. He can even open the front door by himself from both sides, so is able to let himself in and out for toilet time. It’s just that every now and then, for no explicable reason, he likes to piss over something in the house. He has over the years, been a truly naughty boy. But I’m no angel and sometimes I think we deserve each other. I’m one of those people who is slow to anger, but once I blow I really blow. Everything will come out all at once in a pretty childish temper tantrum. I always end up regretting it afterward, and it would be much better if I mentioned things as and when they annoyed me, but there you go, none of us are perfect, but sometimes I think we expect dogs to be.

22426646_1664164230269502_2346514901464568034_o

We are creatures of habit…Skipper has the most amazing internal clock. My other lurcher Tink will come running if she hears the food bowls clattering, or her lead being grabbed. She might show up if someone is home from school or work. But Skipper knows exactly when things should be happening, and he never lets me forget. He has his cues. The front door opening in the morning means breakfast. Between 9am and 10am is first walk. Don’t even think of going past 10am. He will follow me around the house with big, sad eyes. He will sit down right in front of me if I have dared to put on the TV or pick up a book. Every time I turn around he will be there. Staring. The same thing happens around 12pm. Lunchtime, obviously. Then anytime between 2pm and 3pm, he is on high alert. Second walk. He won’t settle. Every time I say ‘right’ he thinks it’s the off. Runs like a lunatic into the front door. Again, he will follow me around, tripping me up. Once home, it’s window watching time. He sits on the bottom stairs and has a good view of the front gate. He’s waiting for the kids to come home one by one. Yes, he loves them and wants to greet them, but what he’s really after is the leftovers from their lunchboxes. He won’t go away now until after his dinner, followed by ours. He will be there like a massive lump, long, gangly legs in the way, hopeful eyes, getting trod on and bumped into because he just won’t go away until every little crumb is extinguished. Bless him. Then it’s back to bed. As for me, I have to admit I am not the most spontaneous of people. I like to have my week planned to a degree. I write to-do lists and can’t survive without them. My life is arranged by time slots and I really have no say in it. School run, school pick up, dog walks, dinner. You know how it is! There is a degree of comfort in the familiar. If someone was to turn up at my house unannounced, I honestly don’t know how I would cope!

So, there you have it. I might not exactly look like my dog (I look a lot more like the other one. The scruffy one!) but I do think we have become very, very similar. For this reason, I just get him, and he just gets me. That’s the beauty of owning a dog. Total acceptance.

What about you? Are you a dog person or a cat person, or are you owned by both? Do you think you and your pet are alike in personality? Or maybe looks? Please feel free to comment and share!

16819284_1421159227903338_3821758663174394252_o