Mum?
Dad?
Sisters?
Husband?
Kid?
That teacher who believed in me?

Nope.

No this idiot here (aka – me!) has tried and failed multiple times to write this one over the last 24 hours but couldn’t seem to decide who.

So guess who keeps popping in my head to write to?

(Oh I can’t believe I’m going to do this…)

My dogs.

OK bear with me. Let me take you back in time a little and explain why these two furry f**ks have impacted my life more than I realise at times.

A little bit of a back story…

It was the summer of 1989 and back in those days when you’d play outside. Not too far away, but you’d be outside and a little distance away from your house, playing with all the other kids on the estate. Well this one warm and sunny August evening my sister and I who were 8 and 6 at the time were playing ‘on the front’ with a local kid called Lisa Roby. We were doing cartwheels on the grass and jumping off neighbours front walls when an unleashed dog came over and started jumping up at us.

Now at this time, age 8, I was definitely conditioned by my mum. Not a bad thing – that’s what happens when you’re a kid. The learned behaviour is obvious when you look back. My mum hated dogs and therefore so did I. Where she sometimes worked they had massive dogs (think they were Dog de Bordeaux those mahoosive slobbering giant things like the three headed dog off Harry Potter) and I was petrified. I remember the fear and sinking feeling every time I had to tip toe past them. Or the rare occasions I actually stroked them I can remember smelling my hands and wanting to throw up. I hated dogs. They terrified me.

So back to my balmy August evening in 1989, Lisa has this dog jump up at her and it’s looking like it’s turning on my sister too. I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me and hammered on the door, begging and pleading and crying for mum to help us. “Lisa is getting bitten by a dog!”.

Now my recollection of that day almost 30 years ago is hazy but in my head and locked box of recalled memories here’s what happened;

  • Lisa was bitten
  • it drew blood
  • mum fought the dog off
  • mum carried a limp and lifeless Lisa home to her parents
  • I went home and cried and vowed to hate dogs for life

Now reading that back I don’t think any of that happened. I’m sure my mum will confirm. I think Lisa was nipped at, mum did intervene. I do remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe and my heart might come out of my mouth for fear.

A fear that remained

This fear stayed with me for many many years. About 10 years later I was walking with a friend past a house where the owner had collapsed. The paramedics had forced their way in and (I can now appreciate) that two very frightened dogs ran out of that house and were loose in the street. My reaction was one of hysterics and I practically climbed up my friend to get away from them. The result? He was bitten very hard on his backside and the backs of his legs and had to go to hospital. He was a dog owner and lover. At the time I could not understand why he wouldn’t press charges or get them put down, but he simply explained that they were terrified anyway and my reaction had put them in a state of panic.

We didn’t stay friends for long after this…

In my twenties I took up running and trained for a couple of marathons. I would run around Preston with my friend Mike to train. One day we jogged by the River Ribble on a path that had been designed for dog walkers. I could not fathom how anyone could be so cruel as to have their dog NOT on a lead. One day while running down the river a dog approached Mike and I and I lost the plot. Not only did I scream and shout (all it did was come close to me) but I climbed all over Mike hoping he’d protect me, then had a panic attack and then vomited. Nice.

My fear of dogs was very real. Which is exactly why my co-hosts on the radio thought it was great to get me hypnotised live on air and then send me, under hypnosis to the RSPCA dog centre to spend a morning. I felt like I was completely trapped in my own body. My physical actions were to hug and kiss the dogs but I wasn’t in control and felt like I was screaming inside of myself. When I came round from the hypnosis I was extremely upset and distressed. The hypnotist felt awful and recommended that I use hypnosis to get over my fear.

So I did!

I went for hypnotherapy for 6 months and learned how to control my breathing and my panic response. It helped to a certain degree but I was always very wary of any dogs and still had a mild panic anytime any dog came near.

So with that drawn out back story… let me complete today’s task and write a letter to my dogs.

 

A Letter to My Furries

Dear Bailey and Kevin,

Bailey you came along first. I didn’t have much of a choice in welcoming you into our family. Shaun had dog-sat my best friend Kate’s dog Treacle for her while we went away and messaged me to say he wanted a dog. I of course said absolutely not! We had an 8 month old baby at the time and there was no way I was bringing a stinky slobbering dog into my home. No bloody way!

Then he found you online.

And he sent me a picture of you. My heart melted.

You looked like an Andrex puppy with your gorgeous face and cream fur. “He’s a labradoodle and we are going to look at him tomorrow.”

It was all very quick and very fast. Shaun knew I couldn’t deal with dog hair so he’d researched hypoallergenic non-shedding dogs. Labradoodle came up as a breed that would be suitable.

The very next day we drove to Blackburn to meet you. Looking back I had no idea you can pick puppies up from around 8 weeks old. I didn’t know the process – you were the first dog we’d ever potentially welcomed into our lives. So the alarm bells didn’t ring that you were actually around 14 weeks old and you most definitely were not a labradoodle. We didn’t realise this until much much later.

We walked into your birth home and you bounded around like a crazy little Tigger. We placed Blake on the floor in his car seat and you went straight up to him and nuzzled into him. I softened and smiled as he laughed and tried to stroke you. “That one” I heard myself saying. I was shocked to realise that we could take you home right then and there!

We had nothing ready for you but the breeders gave us some food and we took you home. Oh my god we had a dog. In the car on the way home we decided to call you Bailey and you were welcomed into our little family.

I struggled to understand you at first but we got there. I enjoyed taking you on walks down the canal and teaching you to sit and stay. I took you to puppy training classes but Shaun was a pain in the ass and wouldn’t stick with the methods. I felt out of my depth and didn’t know a thing about dogs to try help train you, so you stayed a little wild and feral.

Within a few weeks we realised you were definitely not a non-shedding hypoallergenic dog and my continued hatred of your shedding hair remains!

My confidence with dogs in general grew. We had to socialise you so that meant taking you on walks and to places where there were other dogs. I got to understand your personality and started to see and appreciate the personality in the dogs our friends and family had. This is something I’d never considered before and it really helped me in my long process of getting over my fear of dogs.

Yes, Grandad Tez did photoshop your mouth.

 

We carried on as a family of four (three humans, one furry) for a few years. Then my sister Rachel announced she was expecting and I broached the subject with Shaun about having another baby.

“NOPE” he firmly said.

So in the middle of the night, I found a listing for a litter of 3/4 pugs 1/4 chihuahua puppies otherwise known as a chug!

My god they were so cute. Pugs were definitely on trend and I’d never considered one before but loved their squishy faces. Pugs were expensive and on my Google mission I learned they could have breathing difficulties. If you mixed a breed with a dog with a longer snout, it reduced the risk of breathing problems. So my search for puggles, pug/jack russel crosses and then chugs took over.

I didn’t give Shaun a choice. Just like he’d not really given me a choice with Bailey. We were even now! And we would both have our ‘own’ dog. Childish I know but Bailey and Shaun definitely had the better bond. Shaun was pack leader and I was bottom of the pecking order (I now know this is due to my lack of training and exercising my own dominance over you but whatever… I’ll always be a soft touch with you and you know it).

In March 2014 Kevin you came into our lives. We’d been to pick you at your home when you were 4 weeks old and then at 8 weeks you came to live with us forever. Blake named you after the crazy character called Kevin on the Minions. He was only 3 at the time and this was a better name than his first choice.

“Blake what kind of dog should we get?”
“A One Direction coloured dog Mummy.” (Okaayyyy???)
“And what should we call our One Direction coloured dog Blake?”
“Penis.”

Nope.

So second choice name of Kevin was a much better upgrade.

Oh my god look how cute you were! Before your crazy bucked teeth appeared and you became insane.

Kevin you are the single most irritating creature I have ever had the misfortune of knowing.

You sometimes drive me to the point of pure insanity and there are times I have considered abandoning you on the side of the road and hoping you are either picked up by gypsies or flattened by a tractor. Harsh but true. I hate you so much and I love you so much it hurts. You are a reminder of my failings at not getting a grasp on your training but at the same time I would hate to change you. As annoying, exhausting and horrendous as you are at times, I love you with every single fibre of my being. You little shit.

Here are some of your finest moments in our five year journey together;

 

My Dogs – A Symbol of Overcoming Fears

A few weeks ago Bailey when you needed emergency surgery, I was shocked at how I reacted. I always thought I tolerated you both and didn’t love you as much as I should. I was shocked at my reaction when the vet told me you needed operating on. I was devastated and hysterical. The vets had to calm me down I was that bad.

When you went for surgery Kevin was completely distressed at being left alone. He was diagnosed with separation anxiety and we started to change how we all were with you both. Instead of snapping at you when you do things wrong, we have been actively trying to praise you both when there’s glimmers of positive behaviour. It’s felt so much better to treat you both with more love and affection than annoyance and irritation. Your behaviour is still as bad but I’m looking into how I can try and work on this to help us all.

I’m not a natural dog lover. As I explained, it isn’t something that has been a part of my family life growing up and I was 30 when we got you Bailey.

Sometimes though when I am out and about with you both and we see and greet other dogs, you are a great reminder of how far I have come.

Everyone has fears or worries. For some people those fears turn into true phobias – I was one of those people. It definitely affected my quality of life at times and the panic attacks were not fun.

Thanks to both hypnotherapy and facing my fears by actually getting not one but two of you I feel almost cured. I’ll still be slightly wary of bigger dogs as I don’t think this fear will ever leave me 100% but I am so much better for having you both in my life.

I love our cuddles on the sofa at night. These are definitely some of my most happiest and content times – just the five of us all cuddled up together and you both nice and calm. I feel an overwhelming rush of love for us all at these times.

I hate the thought of you one day leaving this world but I think I’ll be both devastated and relieved. I don’t feel like I’ve done the best fur mum job as I could and should and I worry it’s too late to change. I feel bad that you’ve been a huge instrumental part of relieving my fears and I haven’t had the knowledge or experience to make your life the best it could be.

So for now we shall continue our happy, funny and often stressed out journey together as we all continue to figure one another out.

I love you both very much and I am grateful you came into our lives.

Love your Human x