Dogs have been a huge part of my life since the day I was born. My parents had both always had dogs, when I came along they had an old black Labrador named Sally and a young Springer Spaniel puppy called Meg. I don’t remember a lot about Sally but Meg and I grew up together. She was my best friend in the whole world. She was quite a small and timid dog but I remember my parents telling me that one day she was sleeping next to my cot and a large Boxer dog walked in to our house, Meg chased that Boxer out of our house and down the street acting like she was the biggest, most ferocious dog in the world! We used to curl up to sleep together, in my bed or hers(!), and according to my mum she once walked in on me suckling on Meg’s nipple!! “Katie, what on earth are you doing?!”, said Mum. “We’re playing puppies!”, said I. Of course I wouldn’t recommend letting your child suck your dogs nipples but I wanted to describe to you just how close or bond was; it doesn’t get much closer!!
When myself and Meg were 8 years old we found out she had cancer in her leg. An operation to remove her leg was planned and that day at school everyone made get well soon cards for Meg, with pictures of a happy 3-legged dog running around in the fields. Everyone loved her and everyone knew how much we loved each other. After school I was given the news that the cancer had spread to her heart and lungs, there was nothing they could do to save her and my best friend was gone. 23 years ago and there are tears streaming down my face as I type. “It’s not fair!”, I screamed as I melted in to an inconsolable heap in my dad’s arms. I didn’t know what life was without Meg, we had been side by side from the day I was born and somehow I had to carry on without her.
The house was so empty without a dog. We all missed her every moment of every day. A few months later someone in our village said they were going to be having Springer puppies and in November 1998 we went to see some squidgy one week old black and white pups (that resembled guinea pigs more closely than dogs!). We chose Lily. Early 1999 she came home and as I was nearly 9 years old I was expected to be heavily involved in her care and training. Lily was never going to replace Meg; once a dog has touched your heart they are there forever, but it was lovely to have a dog again.
When Lily was around 6 months old my dad enrolled us in to obedience classes. I believe it was a 6 week course, the plan being that I learned how to handle and train her properly so we had a well behaved pet. Well, it went a little further than that…
There was a test at the end of the course and that little spaniel with that little 9 year old me went and won! I was hooked. We continued with the obedience club not just for another set of classes but for years, progressing all the way through to the highest level class and eventually competing in obedience shows. A couple of years after starting at the club they put on a fun agility class one summer. Lily and I both loved it and got pretty good pretty quickly as we had built such a great bond through all our previous training. That was it. That summer class of fun agility changed my life. We joined an official agility club and started competing.
We were consistent but Lily just wasn’t fast enough to win at the top level so when I was 12 years old my parents agreed to get me a Border Collie. That was when Rocky came along; the dog that would take me from child to adult, by my side through some very difficult teenage years, trying his best to keep me on track. Together we achieved some awesome things and shared amazing experiences, to name a few: Crufts, Olympia, Bronze for team GB in the European Agility Championships, he even took part in my high school talent show doing doggy dancing!
For my 17th birthday I got my next dog to start training up; Rocky’s nephew, Todd. He was a little firecracker and could well have followed in his uncle’s rather large paw prints however like a lot of 17 year olds I discovered partying and my dedication to training waned. We had some success in the agility ring, in fact we won a class at our very first show, but training to the top level takes time and commitment that I didn’t seem to have. Instead, Todd came with me to university and enjoyed hanging out in the pub with all my mates until late at night and coming to sleep in bed with me happily cuddling until I pulled my lazy hungover teenage bum out of bed some time before lunch. It didn’t matter we weren’t setting the agility world on light, we had each other and we grew an incredible bond doing other stuff.
Sadly, my beautiful Rocky, my heart and soul, developed an aggressive form of throat cancer at just 11 years old. After a turbulent few years of dealing with me having mental health problems and going off the rails a little he hung on long enough to see me find a man who was going to look after me the way he always had and despite the vets saying he only had a couple of months left he defied the odds and stayed for over 6 months, in time to meet my first daughter and make sure I was going to be ok. Shortly after that he gave us a look to tell us it was time to say goodbye, that he was tired now and needed to rest, that his job was done.
Yes, this picture still brings tears to my eyes, he was an incredibly special dog.
Lovely Lily also stayed to see me happy. A month before her 16th birthday and one week before my wedding day we had to say goodbye.
Dad spoke about Lily and Rocky in his speech at our wedding and I was, of course, a blubbering mess but my god, how lucky was I to have two fantastic dogs to see me through from child to full-on-grown-up-adult-wife-and-mother!
They, along with Todd (who of course was there at the wedding, partying away) and Meg shaped me as a person and have had the biggest influence on the direction my life has gone. They introduced me to a whole world of wonderful people through obedience and agility. They taught me patience and love. Through competing they taught me how to be a good loser and a gracious winner. They taught me resilience. That hard work pays off. That dogs will love you unconditionally in spite of your (and in my case, many) flaws. I learned SO much about dog behaviour and training from them, I will talk more about what each dog has taught me at another time. Most of all though, I learned the importance of creating a bond with your dog. A bond built on trust, love and respect. They are why I do what I do. I want every dog owner to experience what I have been lucky enough to experience and help them create a bond that will last a lifetime because although Meg, Rocky and Lily are not here now, they are with me every day, they are a part of me always and I will forever be grateful.