Recently I have cried a lot. Firstly for Pen Farthing and Charlotte Maxwell-Jones. Both of these amazing humans ran animal rescues in Afghanistan. Many of the animals were critical to the health and wellbeing of soldiers based there. Just as many have been wonderful companions for families living there. Others are just abandoned as they are everywhere in the world.
Then this week, I witnessed the brutal murder of Geronimo, an innocent alpaca. My heart is with Helen McDonald as the government farce continues, and she has been refused access to test him post mortem.
These incredible humans have put their lives in front of their own to support their rescues. I’m sure that many animal lovers reading this would do whatever they could for their furry friends (and other loved ones). I would.
I’ve witnessed first-hand how the love of a pet can change your life. During lockdown and the aftermath, my two girls kept me sane with at least 4 walks a day. I adore waking up to one of them on my bed and excitement as a new day starts with things to explore. They are always so excited.
It hasn’t always been this way. As kids, we had a budgie and sometimes a gerbil from school. But mum and dad figured that as we were in the RAF, it wasn’t fair. My nan had dogs, and I’d always adored hers, so much so I would often beg to stay when mum and I went for a visit. And when I did, we were inseparable.
Over the years, I found that I was drawn to having a cat which was easier given that I worked full time. Bertie Watkins From Planet Earth and I became a team. He was so funny. I woke up one morning to find him suckling my nipple. Thanks, Watkins. When he died, a part of me died. I cried for such a long time. A series of other lovely cats came to live, I had a habit of finding ones that needed a mummy, and so it was.
Years later, when I was with the ex, I remember feeling rather detached when he decided he wanted a dog. He kept showing me pictures of dogs that he had evaluated according to a set of rules in his head. I confess to not knowing what these were, except it must not moult. So, finally, it was settled it would be a Hungarian Vizsla.
Driving four hours to the rescue place, a one-hour turnaround and four hours back, I marvelled at how calm this dog was. He lay quietly on the back seat, I guess, not knowing his fate, merely another journey with some strange humans. He had some behavioural problems, and after a psychological assessment, it was declared that he should be rehomed. Knowing nothing about dogs, that meant not a jot.
Back home, him indoors was uber excited and went out to buy some rather lovely things for the boy. Ferdy, none too impressed with being left at the other end of the lounge, decided to shred his expensive bed. That first night he was put into a basket by the front door of a three-storey house and proceeded to howl and, yes, damage the wall. I think I felt bemused and unsure what to do, other than observing, as a bystander might. Ok. I confess I thought it was funny that the control freak husband had a hole in his wall. He should have listened to me!
Love and Life lesson #1 – Look at yourself first
The next day, I was left alone with Ferdy dog. This was when I received the first of my lessons. I discovered him in the hall with the contents of the bin spread all over. Not thinking, I put my hand down to grab the stuff and found a large set of teeth around my face. Quite unperturbed, I stopped, managed my energy and contemplated the event.
In a fraction of a second, the jaws left my face as quickly as they had arrived. In those moments, I realised that this was my fault. I had not thought about how to relate to him, what distress he might be in and that I had caught him off guard. Calmly I collected the rubbish while having a quick chat with him. Yes, I know he had no idea what I was saying, but I felt we had reached an understanding. He taught me that I needed to consider the part I played when interacting with others despite my learned skills.
Love and Life lesson #2 – Love changes everything
Two nights later, Ferdy dog was still giving his beautiful bed in the lounge a good tearing. As I looked at him, I knew that all he wanted was to be a part of our family and be loved. I could feel it. I dragged his bed over to us and declared that ‘he’ could do the discipline, and I would do the love. As he sat by me, I placed my hand on him for reassurance, and I fell in love. All dogs lovers know that huge heart-swelling love connection, and now I did. I was smitten. He taught me to love unconditionally and that in giving and receiving pure love, everything changes and nothing else matters.
Love and Life lesson #3 – Enjoy the moment
A nearby field where I took Ferdy for walks turned into a muddy bog when it rained. He loved nothing more than to charge through it, covering his chestnut pelt in the wet sludgy mud. I adored the way that he had no cares or worries. He just galloped. He was free and liberated. This was great fun to watch, but the best fun came when he arrived home to the beige house (beige husband, beige house). Yes, I know it’s wrong to laugh, but what’s the point of being with a dog if he can’t lose himself in delightful moments? And frankly, what’s the point of a beige house? I often tittered, even as I cleaned the mess up. Instead, he taught me to enjoy the moment and to make time to play every day.
Love and Life lesson # 4 – Anything is possible
Several years down the line, Ferdy was joined by Marley Moo, a timid beauty sporting an unusual coat of black and grey. Ferdy dog was naffed off, to say the least, and I found myself picking Marley up on many occasions and cuddling her better after his attacks. She was frightened. In return for sanctuary in my safe arms, she gave me the most incredible love and licks – I fell head over heels again.
Fast forward to 2015, I’d left ‘him indoors’ after discovering his double life and was enjoying my new life with my two babies when I found an abandoned puppy. Thinking that a charity would take her, I fetched her home. Wrong! I tried to not get attached as I searched for a home.
Ferdy dog did the same thing as he had done to Marley and attacked her, and I found myself with her in my arms many times. In those moments of cuddling her, I became fond of her, trying not to fall in love. Instead, I kept asking how on earth could I look after 3 dogs?
Angel didn’t leave. Of course, she didn’t. Because each time I looked into her eyes, I knew the reality was that she was here to stay.
I struggled with the dynamics. Finally, I resorted to getting in a dog trainer to help me to learn how to cope and live in harmony with three dogs. They taught me that anything is possible if you are prepared to open your heart and give it a go.
Love and life lesson #5 – Take time out
There is only me and my pooches. I work hard and have been guilty of being a workaholic. However, Ferdy Dog, Marley Moo and Angel, instilled in me the discipline of taking time out. Even when I have a piece of writing, I just have to finish. They let me know in no uncertain terms that it is time for a walk. I’ve even had wet ears from a well-aimed tongue. Through them, I have learnt that time out for reflection and self-care during the day is an absolute must.
Love and life lesson #6 – Stop before you are forced to stop
In previous years, I have run myself into the ground, working and trying to sort out my headspace, home and life following the end of a dreadful relationship. When I discovered Angel, I had been slowing down. Clearly, the cosmos thought otherwise, and with this tiny terror in my life, I was brought to my knees. I called her Angel because I knew that she was a messenger.
We’d arrived home one day, and I’d wound their leads around my wrists. Don’t ask why. Then Angel – just a puppy, spotted a cat, all three dogs ran, and I went flying through the air. I was well and truly stopped. As I sat on my sofa with a fractured rib, I spent time journaling and reflecting while making sure to not cough. I was certainly not going anywhere.
There have been other times where I have been stopped, and while it frustrates the hell out of me, I know I must. Only on Monday, I came back from the chiropractor and promptly fell asleep.
They all taught me that the world doesn’t stop because you take time out. What is important is to stop. In the stopping, you will find possibilities, opportunities and time for healing.
Love and life lesson #7 – The past does not exist
Every day, we walk along similar pathways. For them, it’s a whole new experience with different smells and things to investigate. Yesterday doesn’t appear to exist. In the early days of being here, I’d watch the furry ones. I had no way of knowing if Ferdy and Marley missed their old life. As for Angel, who knows who let her go? She has settled in and is a part of the family. It’s as if it has always been this way. Sometimes when Marley gets scared at something, then I wonder what happened to make her that way. What does she remember? Then it passes, and I am grateful that she only knows love now. They have taught me that the past is not a place to dwell. That having the freedom to enjoy today and this moment is the best feeling ever.
Love and life lesson #8 – Accept who you are
I never had children. Instead, I had three furry children by three different fathers. Each is different, and each I feel is comfortable with who they are. I’ve yet to catch them in the mirror asking if their bum looks big in this. But, they have taught me to accept who I am.
Love and life lesson #9 – Allow yourself to grieve fully
Many moments in life are uncomfortable, but the moment that you know that you must do the right thing is just the worst. Ferdy, my baby, got as we all do, old and rickety. The lumps, which were all benign, grew horribly big, his arthritis slowed him down despite treatment, and he slept most of the time.
When I held in my arms for the last time, it was as if a light had left my life. My boy slipped slowly away, and I was in pieces. As I write this, it is almost a year since he went home, and my heart is still broken. I want him back. I want him in my bed cuddling me and letting off the most awful farts.
I have never known such grief. However, I allow myself to feel the pain and let the cleansing tears flow – just as they are now.
Grief is connected with the heart chakra, and if you suppress it, the pain will only worsen. I’m taught again about love – it never ends. I’ve learned that grieving is as natural as loving and it must not be suppressed.
The lessons never end
There are many more love and life lessons. The truth is they have become my life, and every day they remind me how wonderful life and to feel loved is.
Animals change your life and perspective. You do not own them; they are furry bundles of love here to guide and support your journey through life without judgment. The least we can do is to show our furry companions the same respect.