“I’d like to get a therapy dog,” I said, “I miss dogs. I don’t feel right without them.”
I’d gone from being surrounded by dogs on all angles – working with them every day, and then coming home to our Barney every evening. All that had gone – Barney had gone to the Rainbow Bridge at the beginning of November, and I’d hung up my grooming shears on Christmas Eve of the same year. It felt like going cold turkey, and it sucked.
As we live in a rented flat, the obvious issue was that we weren’t allowed dogs. I contacted our land-people and told them that we were looking into therapy dogs and were considering getting one to help me manage my fibromyalgia (and the really delightful mental and cognitive aspects that come with it) and asked if would they consider allowing us to keep one in the flat. Amazingly, they were very open to the idea and, after a few negotiations, they gave us the go-ahead.
It hadn’t taken long to decide on a breed. I’d ‘gone off’ quite a lot of breeds during my time as a groomer (Westies. Cocker Spaniels. Cockerpoos. Pugs. Anything with “doodle” in the name) but I’d discovered that I had grown very fond of Cavaliers. I’d always thought they were a bit boring, but when you see a lot of different individuals from one breed over a long period of time, it’s easy to notice particular traits. I’d come to learn that Cavs were gentle, patient and affectionate – even during the parts of the groom they didn’t like, they would just sigh deeply and get on with it. I’d be relieved if I ever saw I had a cavalier in my column and, other than the clinically obese ones that couldn’t stand for very long, they were usually quite enjoyable to groom.
As for naming him – well, I imagine it’s very similar to naming a child when you’re a teacher. It’s easy to go off a name if you know a particularly unpleasant child (or dog) with the same name. I had actually groomed a couple Ottos – one of them being a kind old Labradoodle when I was at Barkers of Farnham. He was a sweet boy, very polite – wire haired and scruffy with expressive eyebrows and a happy tail. I only got to groom him once, but he made me smile and I think about him a lot, even now. I liked having that sort of association – plus it was a name that Clark and I could both agree on.
At the end of April, we took a drive down to Kent and collected our new puppy – eleven week old Otto. Given that I’d loved dogs as a child, owned a dog since I was eleven, worked with and given advice on dogs in a professional capacity for nine years or so, and then been groomer for the best part of two years, I figured that I would be pretty well prepared.
The surprise for everyone (especially me) was that I was, in fact, not. At all.
The first obstacle came when we drove to Kent and discovered that we couldn’t find the address for the breeder. It was somewhere off of a real country road, through a pokey but picturesque village near Sevenoaks – and despite driving up and down this particular road about seven times in each direction, with my Google Maps angrily declaring “YOUR DESTINATION IS ON THE LEFT” every few seconds, we couldn’t see it. After a brief debate about whether we should make an ACTUAL PHONE CALL to the breeder, or to just cut our losses and drive all the way back to Winchester, we rang the breeder and she told us that the reason we couldn’t see the house from the road was because it hadn’t finished being built yet, but if we headed back in the direction of the scaffolding and skips, she would meet us at the gate.
Sure enough, at the end of a long gravel driveway, there was a lady with a phone to her ear waving her arms around.
After the hellos and the introductions and the apologies for getting lost and being difficult to find, she took us into the house – which was, genuinely, still being built. Even so, it was probably the biggest house either of us have ever seen in our lives. The breeder explained that her father in law had acquired a row of houses, so they’d knocked them down and were developing the land into something new. It was pretty amazing actually – there were a good few barns and outhouses there already, a paddock and a row of log cabins that were being used as temporary accommodation while the new houses were being built. She lead us through the side door and into the hallway, where a sweet little Blenheim Cav came wiggling out to greet us. Behind her was a large playpen, containing two podgy little black and white puppies.
When we collected Barney, we’d known for a long time who we were getting. He was one of a two – and his only sibling was a girl, so nature had pretty much made the decision for us. This time however, we had to choose – and I hadn’t anticipated how hard that decision was going to be.
The breeder told us that there were four in the litter overall – all boys, but the other two had already found their homes. There was supposed to be someone coming to see them at the same time as us, but she’d had to re-arrange and would be going the following day instead.
For me, this is now quite an poignant detail. Evidence of the Butterfly Effect in action – a very small change creating a significantly different outcome. Whatever it was that caused the lady to re-arrange will forever have me wondering what would have happened if she had been there on that day, choosing a puppy alongside us.
The breeder lead us through into the (enormous) kitchen, and placed the two puppies on the floor. It was immediately clear that they were both very different in terms of personality – while they were both very cautious of these new people in their space, there was one that seemed to show a lot more confidence than the other. They didn’t immediately approach us but after a little bit of coaxing and bribing with treats, they were much happier to get nearer. We both said “it’s got to be the more lively one” and we thought that our decision was made, but the more time we spent with them, the more I was drawn to the quiet one. Given that the plan was to eventually train them to become a therapy dog, it seemed more logical to go for the quieter one, because he might be calmer and less likely to get overexcited. After about twenty minutes of playing with them both, we decided that we would go for him. The breeder set about gathering some bits together – vaccination details, microchip paperwork and such, as well as a bag of food and a few treats – and because the village we were in was SO RURAL that there was literally no signal to do a bank transfer – we nipped to the nearest cashpoint to withdraw a huge stack of cash in order to pay for him.
“I do really like the louder one though. He’s got personality”
“Yeah I know, but it makes sense to go for the quiet one, don’t you think? The livelier one is the one I was drawn to originally though. He was the first one to come and sit in my lap”
“Yeah he seemed much happier with me as well. The other one seemed a bit nervous”
“Do you think we should go for the livelier one then?”
“I mean they’re both lovely and I’m sure they’ll both be great therapy dogs, but if we were both immediately drawn to the livelier one, that’s got to mean something”
“Okay, lets go for that one then”
“Yeah, I think we should”
When we got back to the house, the lively puppy was already back in the playpen with his mum, and it almost seemed mean to swap them over again. We explained our conversation to the breeder and she didn’t mind at all that we’d changed our minds. We went to get the car ready while she went to grab the other set of bits, and when she came back we were sorted with blankets, towels, wipes, treats, poo bags and all sorts.
“Oh you’re very well prepared aren’t you?”
“He’s got all this and his own Instagram account”
I explained that the last time we collected a puppy, way back in 2005, Barney had peed on my lap within seconds of being placed in my lap, and then again within minutes of our journey home. This time, I wanted to cover all bases – pee, poop AND vomit.
We needn’t have bothered. He was asleep on his back with his legs in the air before we’d even left the village, and he pretty much stayed that way for most of the drive home.
While we had pretty much all of the stuff we needed, I’d previously decided that we weren’t going to crate train him – which, for those with no dog experience, involves teaching your puppy that a crate is their little den. It means that you’re able to contain the dog in a way that’s safe and comfortable for him if you need to – for example, if he’s destructive when left alone. The process involves teaching the dog that the crate is a nice, cosy, safe place to be, rather than just a cage to lock him in to get him out the way. It should never, ever be used as a punishment.
We’d never needed to with Barney, but what I’d overlooked was that when he was a puppy, my parents had a utility room that we were able to block off with a baby gate. In mine & Clark’s flat, our kitchen and lounge is essentially one room, so there isn’t really anywhere we could cordon him off while we were going through the process of toilet training and teaching him not to eat things he shouldn’t (which we’re still working on, nearly a year later)
I’d said to Clark in passing that we’d need to pick one up at some point, but (for reasons I’m still not sure of) we had intended on doing it the day after we collected him. In typical ‘me’ fashion, I changed my mind during the journey home, and decided that it would be better to get one BEFORE the puppy spent his first night in his new home (which is definitely what we should have done to begin with.)
We stopped at a motorway service station somewhere in Surrey so we could let him stretch his legs a bit, and all three of us could pee – which is when we hit another unexpected obstacle. The lovely new collar that I had excitedly purchased a few days earlier was, even in an X Small size, absolutely massive on him. He was so tiny that the collar fit around his middle with space to spare.
“Okay Google, take me to the nearest Pets At Home”
“Your nearest Pets At Home is fifteen minutes away”
Reasonable. Not too far out of our way and we knew what we were after so it would be a quick stop (I definitely didn’t want to be one of those new owners mooching about the shop buying everything after getting the puppy)
I fired off a quick text to my parents, who were at a concert in London and none the wiser about our new addition, letting them know that we had “a surprise” for them.
As I pulled out of the space, I glanced at the clock. 17.35, Not too bad – but then it suddenly occurred to me that it was a Saturday, meaning that the store would be closing at 6pm instead of the usual 8pm. Okay so it would definitely be a quick stop – I’d spent nine years subtly hurrying customers out of the store on a Saturday evening, and definitely didn’t want to be That Guy, holding everyone else up. Still, it didn’t matter too much – we had twenty five minutes to do a fifteen minute journey, with a little time to grab some treats or something.
That was, until I took a wrong turn, and ended up going the opposite direction up the M25 which, to be honest, I don’t even think that could be classed as a mistake by this point. I should definitely have pre-empted that because it was the most predictable thing that could possibly have happened.
After coming off the motorway at the next junction, re-programming my Google Maps and weaving in and out of A Roads and B Roads, we finally arrived at Pets At Home at 17:59 on the nose.
“Stay here,” I said to Clark as I dived out of the car, “I’ve seen this done a thousand times.”
I sprinted towards the door where on of the store colleagues was standing between the automatic doors, dragging them forwards and backwards to let various people out of the store.
“Oh my God I’m so sorry I can’t even believe I’m asking this I used to work at Pets At Home in Basingstoke and we’ve just picked up a puppy but his collar is too big can I please just pop in and grab a smaller one I know exactly what I’m after I won’t even exchange it I just need to grab it and a small crate and I’ll be out of your hair oh my god I’m so sorry”
I got about halfway through my little speech before the guy opened the door with a cheerful “No problem” and I legged it round the aisles, grabbed a smaller collar and wrestled the box containing the crate to the till
“thank you so much for this” I panted as I hoisted it up onto the till “and look, I’ve even got my loyalty card” (a green VIP Card is like crack to a Pets At Home employee. Even now I get twitchy when I spot one in a customer’s wallet)
I shoved my debit card in to the reader, poked in my PIN number and balanced the box against my hip while I crammed my phone and my card into my back pocket.
“Thanks so much again, you’re a real life saver”
“Erm sorry, but your card’s actually been declined”
“Oh. Really? Maybe I took it out too fast. Let me try it again”
“Nope, sorry. Still declined. Do you have another card at all?”
I was hoping that the ground would open any second and swallow me whole.
“I don’t, but my partner does. He’s in the car with our new puppy. Let me just go grab him.”
So much for a “quick trip”
I let the box bump onto the ground and sprinted back across the carpark, nearly ripping the door off it’s hinges when I opened it
“You’ll never believe this. My card has been declined. Can you please run in and pay for the crate?”
Clark came back a minute later with the crate and smaller collar (which by the way, was still too big), and I discovered that I finally had a reply from my parents:
After that, we started on what we hoped was the final leg of a drive that should have taken an hour and a half at most, but had somehow been dragged out to around two and a half before we’d even made it back into Hampshire.
We got back to the flat about forty five minutes later – and this is where things started to go wrong…
Part Two – Coming SOON!
Like what I do? Support me by donating a coffee!