All my life, apart from a brief two year period there has been a dog or dogs in my life.  Our home without a dog is somehow lacking energy….there is a gap.  Occasionally, there have been dog-free days just before and after overseas trips when neighbours or family have kindly invited my dogs into their homes.  The house then becomes still and strangely empty.

Let it be said very early in this piece that my husband is not a dog person….it was simply that in our first days in Kenya he went off to build roads one morning, leaving me alone.  He returned to me and ten dogs!!  Yes ten, nine puppies and a very thin, bedraggled mum!  

There I found them in a little nest at the base of a huge tree, nestling in amongst a massive bougainvillea!  So, that’s how it began for us as a married couple but there had been several dogs before we met.

As a child our family had Laddie who was found by my father in a petshop in Bishop Auckland…’I simply couldn’t resist him pet, he looked so lonely’.  And so my mother ended up with a tiny rough-haired terrier only weeks before I was born!  I imagine she was not altogether thrilled but he did become a great friend to me as I grew up.  I was in no way afraid of him even though he had something of a temper and apparently warned me off many times.  Never daunted I simply hugged him harder and tied ribbons round his tiny tail.  

Gypsy, the beautiful black poodle followed.  She was a birthday gift to me and we all adored her.  So gentle and placid and she came to me at a time when life felt very difficult.  I had just gone to secondary school and hated it!  I hated the size of it…so many pupils, 1,500 and so big a building.  It was the first time I remember that feeling of hopelessness, the mornings of crawling out of bed feeling truly wretched and incapable of really wanting to be alive.  I knew nothing about depression and, as it turned out, my mother simply refused to believe in such a condition.  She, I suspect suffered from depression, but in those days you simply got on with life and stopped moaning!

Gypsy had a litter and we kept one tiny pup who became known as Petra…we watched the TV programme Blue Peter at the time and she was named after their dog.  They were a lovely team and worked out how to empty the peddle bin!  Whenever Mum left them in the house to go shopping one stood on the peddle to lift the lid whilst the other delved deep and dragged everything out onto the floor…until she realised what they were doing.

And so the tone was set.  We had dogs.  They were an important part of our family and we always took them with us on holidays.  Caravaning was our mode of holidays for several years and we travelled all round the UK.  The poodles loved it and shared my tiny bed with me…there being insufficient floor space for them to curl up comfortably!  So I slept in a tiny space with them easing their way over and around me!

When John and I returned to the UK from Zimbabwe all those years ago with three year old Katie I longed for a dog.  I choose an Airedale for a couple of reasons, the main one being that they are said to be very protective of children, which proved to be absolutely right.  My other reason was that my grandfather, who died long before I was born, bred Airedales and my father had always had a soft spot for them.

And so, dogs have been in my life for ever…or so it seems.  If you have a dog then they need to walk every day.  If you don’t they get bored, stir-crazy and sometimes downright dangerous….maybe the same applies to humans. We have less and less physical exercise in this modern, fast, world and it seems we are getting crazy too!

Walking became a major part of my life with the arrival of Sabi, the Airedale and right from the beginning she knew to walk quietly alongside Katie’s buggy.  Then there was Kitu, a puppy from Sabi’s litter of seven puppies. We became a two-dog family!  As well as walking,our dogs were simply present within our home, welcoming visitors (sometimes tricky for those who don’t ‘do’ dogs) and being there through dramas and ordinary everyday stuff.  Katie in a bad mood only needed a dog to wander over to her and the dark clouds lifted and a dog was cuddled.  Smiles and laughter again!!

Throughout my life there have been dogs and also depression.  However, so long as I walked every day, whatever the weather, I could outwit my dark companion!  Depression does not like exercise and fresh air, it shivers and shakes and loosens its grip.  So, Sabi, Kitu and I walked and walked and we walked me well.  We reckoned up the miles we three had covered in their lifetimes and it came to (and this makes me feel faint) somewhere in the region of 10,000miles! The vet once commented on how strong their legs where and I assured him that the same applied to mine!!

I believe that the simple act of getting ready to go out enlivens me, lifts my spirit.  The dogs and I moved forward and onward into life and living.  They were gentle, patient companions always willing and ready to pace through the hard stuff and they never faltered.

We became a three-dog family when we opened our hearts to a small black and white mongrel who for the next sixteen years would go by the name of Biscuit.  She was spoilt and demanding and we all loved her and eventually Sabi and Kitu accepted her into their pack.

Years passed and we have spent the past eight years with only Biscuit but that has been fine as she had energy enough for four and lived life to the full.  This time last year on our trip to Teesdale she was happy to walk for six miles every day….but then three weeks ago we made the decision to send her on her way.  She passed away peacefully and with dignity.

What happens next?  Walking without a dog is really weird to me.  How will I keep my dark companion calm and quiet, especially as winter approaches?

I will climb onto my yoga mat, breathe and really feel how and who I am…there will be no companion sitting there doing the occasional Down Dog and reminding me of the correct technique.  I will be alone. 

I have recently had the joy of being taught by my teacher Ana Forrest.  Her calm and very grounded teaching enabled me to feel my grief and sadness and acknowledge fully my sense of loss.  Perhaps in time we will welcome another dog into the Slater home but for now there is a space that is not yet ready to be filled.

How will it be without a companion to walk alongside me and shield me?  I do not have an answer but move forward I must, as must we all….there is much to do, much to feel and see.  All our dogs lived fully and that is a valuable learning that I hold close to my heart…it’s simply time to get up and get on! Aho  

Sabi and puppies with Katie.

A camping trip, Katie, Katy, John, Sabi and Kitu.

They always did exactly as Katie wanted…Kitu being patient!

Sabi celebrating Christmas.

My faithful companion slowing down.

Biscuit watching my sister very carefully…no messing around with Sue!

Bathed and brushed on a visit to non-dog people…

So beautiful..the perfect pair.

A very old picture of Troc and Missy who came from my Kenyan litter.
Troc is the white beauty, not a lot of brains but a charmer nonetheless.
Missy, delicate and a little difficult but faithful to me.

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