By Jennifer Betts
Long-running Irish band Picturehouse sang; “Everyone lies, everything dies, some day” in the classic song 15th Time.
It’s true that our time on this earth is limited, as we all expect to meet our maker eventually. It is expected, feared and sometimes welcomed.
The biggest fear is probably that we’ll be the last to go, losing each of those around us that we love, one by one.
But it’s part of life to lose those we love, it’s expected, but somehow, to lose a pet, is not.
We assume that they’ll always be around. Waiting patiently for us to finish a day’s work, waiting impatiently for us to finish a doughnut.
We take for granted their little habits that give us our daily schedule.
That early morning nature call, feeding time, play time and those long, refreshing walks on the beach. I miss that routine now.
For years all I wanted was a dog. Something or someone to take my mind off the grotesquely long days of unemployment, when the house just can’t get any cleaner.
More than that, I wanted someone to love, someone to give me back that reason for getting up in the morning.
It was two weeks until Christmas in 2008 and my bus ride home seemed to be longer than ever.
As I wiped my breath away from the frosty window, my phone rang, then again and again and again.
My mother had gotten me an early Christmas present and seemed a bit overly excited about it.
“It’s something you’ve really wanted,” she said giddily.
“Okay,” I thought. “she’s getting a bit too excited about a cake tin.”
I promised I’d be home as soon as, but still got calls every twenty minutes until I finally reached home.
As I walked inside my mother’s house, where I was temporarily living, due to having a violent allergic reaction to an asshole I’d been seeing, I rubbed my hands together in the hope of some warmth.
But when I walked into the sitting room, I was met with stretched smiles across each of my family member’s faces.
That in itself was unnerving, especially if you know my family.
It took me a minute, as I searched their eyes that were on me, then directed towards the sofa, then to me again.
“Why is there a dog here?” I asked confused. Then I realised. What I’d really wanted.
As I looked at this tiny ball of fur sitting on my nephew’s lap I became overcome with emotion and burst into tears.
“Is she mine?” I asked through blurred vision.
She was. All mine. Suddenly everything I’d been through in the past year had dissipated as this picture of innocence stared at me, knowing that she was finally home.
After the initial burst of love I’ll admit, I panicked somewhat at the sudden responsibility that had been thrust upon me.
I wasn’t sure if I could look after another person, as I was barely keeping myself afloat.
It makes me feel slightly guilty now but after one night of us both sleeping soundly for the first time in months, I was hooked.
Suddenly nothing else mattered. A job? I’ll get one. A man? Well, he can wait.
I never imagined my first experience of ‘motherhood’ would enter my life in the four-legged form.
I know that any animal lover will understand the feeling instantly but I like to think that I’ve converted several animal appreciators since, because from then on, I came with a dog.
Millie and I became inseparable. I spared her and myself, the embarrassment of her former name Fluffy.
She wasn’t a Fluffy by any means. Her full title was Millicent, named after a character in a Mary Stanley book I’d read.
Millicent was used only on called-for occasions, as was “you little f..” after she’d chewed my silver necklace.
She only ever chewed metal for some reason. Someone suggested that maybe she had an iron deficiency, who knows?
I believe that every animal has their own personality.
Hypocritical of me really, as I eat meat, but I do believe that animals possess a quality that humans are still trying to master.
For as long as I remember, I’ve dreamed of finding love.
That all-consuming, unconditional love that was depicted in most Disney movies.
I hope I wasn’t too late in realising that I’d had it all along.
It didn’t matter what mood I was in, whether my hair and make-up was done, whether I’d had a particularly successful day at work, Millie was always there, and boy did she let her presence be known.
For a miniature Yorkshire Terrier, she had the loudest, ear-piercing bark.
But her qualities outshone her need for attention, even when she would place her paw over my mouth to stop me having a conversation.
Millie was fierce on the street, even among the larger breeds, she cocked her leg as she peed, would walk for miles and only bit you, albeit playfully, when she really liked you.
She abhorred the word cat and pricked her ears up when I’d say here’s Nanny.
But she was a nervous wee soul and had no concept of traffic, which ultimately, led to her passing.
I try not to think of her last day on this earth, as it was a truly horrific ordeal and my heart has a permanent scar across it from the pain I felt at her loss but I wouldn’t trade it.
It’s simply a stretch mark reminder of when I was loved and adored.
Millie found me at a time when I’d lost hope on the world and made me feel again. She was my best friend.
For those that don’t understand and for those that do, my dog was like my child.
She slept in when I did and had a special spot on the sofa, close enough to hear my heartbeat.
She never did get over the humping and even forgave me when I gave her leg a haircut, needing six stitches.
She made me laugh, comforted me at hard times and protected me against the harsh realities of life.
Life without her is hard at times, but even in her parting, she has brought my loved ones together and healed old wounds.
My faith urges me to believe that I’ll see her again. I often imagine her in a big field with all of our old dogs, terrorising everyone, with a bounty of sausages at her feet.
For me, she was my first experience of real love. I will never forget her.
I will never truly get over her loss, but she gave me the gift of true friendship and has raised my expectations of the people that I’ve yet to meet and for that, I am truly grateful.
In the words of the Beatles, all you need is love (and a dog).