Lockdowns have been tough on everyone, we’ve all individually struggled in some way or another, and I felt grateful to have my best friend by my side to travel the journey with me. He never left my side, he never made any demands, he just stayed close on the days he knew I was struggling, and that was all that I needed. My best friend was Harley, my twelve year old dog, and he was all that I needed in life. We had good days and bad days, we went through financial stress, eviction, ill health, and dark places together, but we never left each other’s side.
A couple of weeks before Christmas he started to show signs of being unwell, and no matter how hard I tried to stay positive, the signs were clear to see, and two days before Christmas I had to say my final goodbye to my best friend. All of a sudden lockdown didn’t seem so easy, and I knew what laid ahead was going to be the toughest days, weeks, and months that I would probably ever face. I asked myself two questions… was I tough enough to get through the rest of this lockdown, and was I tough enough to get through it without him by my side?
My initial answer to both questions was a firm ‘NO’, I couldn’t, I didn’t want to, why should I have to, why did he leave me? He left me, because he felt that he could finally rest without needing to worry about me anymore. He had been holding on as long as he could, but it was his time to go, and he knew that as weak as I felt, that I could still manage. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want to manage, it mattered to him that I could.
As sad as this article is to write, I want to give hope to others that no matter what we have all been through, and no matter what lies ahead, we can all do this. There will be sadness and tears, anxiety and stress, but we can still stand tall and have hope and belief in ourselves and our resilience. I shut myself away during lockdown, I didn’t need anybody else, I didn’t want to listen to negativity and woes, I needed to be selfish and focus on myself and my own mental health, and now six months on, I’m finally able to smile again.
I’ve always said that the best therapy has four legs, and I still stand by this today. Five weeks ago I felt that I was ready to open my home to another dog, and even though I wasn’t actively looking, a very sad story popped up on my social media of a dog who had been rescued from an abusive home. I knew that I could help this dog, show this dog unconditional love, and more importantly, I knew that we could help each other to heal. It’s what we all need right now, time to heal, time to learn, and time to grow and move forward.
Fast forward eight meetings with this dog, seeing if I felt this was the right fit for me, did the dog want my help, and did I have the strength to really give this dog 100% of my heart and my mind. I knew my mind was more than capable, but was my heart? So many feelings came over me, with guilt being the main one, and this was understandable. I needed this dog though, I needed a reason again to get up in the mornings, to establish routine, a reason to smile, and to start living again.
We need to create our own opportunities, and we need to seize them when they are right there in front of us. I knew I had skills and knowledge which I could put to good use, so recently my days have been taken up by dog training. This has given me focus and drive, which is also exactly what it has given to the dog that I’m fostering. My grief for my boy Harley is no longer my main focus each day, and therefore the grief has become more manageable. Don’t get me wrong, the grief never goes away, but I know how to channel it now in a positive way.
It has been proven time and time again that having a dog helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as easing any loneliness you may feel, and you then also have the physical benefits as an added bonus. A dog needs daily walks, daily playtime, and daily engagement, all the time keeping you both active. For me, the love is the best part of owning a dog, the wagging tail always pleased to see you when you wake up in the morning or come through the door after work, I only have to pop outside for a few minutes, and it’s almost like I’ve been gone for days, they are always happy to see you!
A dog will also give you focus as it brings responsibility, providing it with food, warmth, shelter, and tending to any health issues. Some people thrive with this level of responsibility, and when you bring in training as well, you will find that your days are jam packed with dog related activity. Dog training is so much fun, and so rewarding to see any dog come into their own, become so well behaved, and during their downtime, just being a dog.
Losing a best friend doesn’t have to mean losing yourself, the only downside of owning a dog, is that they don’t stay around for long enough. I will always miss my boy Harley, he was my adventure buddy, and the reason I laughed every single day, but that laughter doesn’t need to stop. If you are one of the thousands of people who have lost a pet during lockdown, please remember that your pet would want you to go on living your life, thriving, enjoying every moment, just as if they were still here with you.
I wear a beautiful pendant around my neck which contains a small part of Harley’s ashes, and this means he still gets to be with me every day, and still come on every adventure. You aren’t expected to forget your dog or your pet, you can still include them in your life, just don’t let that grief consume you. Life is beautiful, and tomorrow is never promised, and if you feel you want to share it with another dog, then do so. If you aren’t quite sure, then don’t rush into anything, why not volunteer at a shelter for a while instead. There is also dog sitting, and dog walking within your local area, or why not travel and dog sit around the world! I’m partnered with a company who specialise in exactly this, and I love seeing the stories of those people who get to travel and meet so many amazing pups.
Harley, I loved you my whole life, and I will miss you for the rest of mine, and I thank you for bringing me so much happiness. I feel lucky to have had you in my life, and I promise to never let you down, I WILL keep going, and I can do this.
We all can…