Soon after getting home, we discovered that my parents weren’t best pleased when that surprise turned out to be a puppy.
“What the bloody hell have you got a dog for?!” Said my dad
“What are you going to do with him while you’re at work?” Said my mum
Both completely reasonable questions that I did actually have answers to – genuine solutions as well, not just well-rehearsed excuses. I don’t know why, but something about not having my parents immediately onside made me suddenly feel like we had made a massive, catastrophic mistake.
I picked them up from Basingstoke station that evening and drove them back to Winchester to meet Otto for the first time. I knew that they would absolutely love him as soon as they saw him, and I naively assumed that this would fix my agonising worry.
Obviously they did love him. Even my dad, who loathed Barney at that age, dashed in and scooped this tiny puppy up without hesitation. I felt a bit happier by the time they left – even though they were still very much against our decision, I knew that they’d come round in time – so there was nothing to worry about, right?
One thing I did know for sure was that the first night would be tough. I’d already schooled Clark on the importance of ignoring any and all protestations that Otto may make. The vast majority of puppies will, understandably, struggle being away from their parents and siblings on the first night, so will kick up a fuss. As awful and difficult as it is, it’s vitally important to ignore this – if you bend to their will, it’ll become a habit that’s extremely difficult to break. Otto was no different – as predicted, he barked and howled and screamed for a very, very long time before he settled down.
Again, in theory, I was prepared for this – being a Cavalier, they’re a breed that requires a lot of human attention, so I knew this stage would be more difficult than the average. They were literally bred to be companion dogs for the nobility in the 17 & 18th Century, so neediness is in their nature. I was adamant that we wouldn’t give in – I was so terrified that he would end up with separation anxiety (spoilers: he still ended up with separation anxiety) that I wanted to teach him to be on his own from a young age. Clark was a little more soft than me with his approach, and pressed me to let Otto sleep in our bed with us – something else that I was dead against. Having spent so long washing other people’s grubby dogs had really made me realise how gross they can be.
I remember that Barney cried maybe the first one or two nights after we brought him home, but after that he always seemed to sleep through the night (until he hit about seven or eight years of age, when for some reason, he started howling during the night. This went on for every few nights for about three weeks until my parents let him sleep upstairs. It was super creepy and we still don’t know what caused it, but he hated being left alone in the dark for the rest of his life)
Sadly, I don’t have very many clear memories of Otto’s first few days with us. They affected my mental health drastically, in a way that nothing else ever has. What should have been a happy time turned into the deepest depression I think I’ve ever experienced – to the extent that I booked an emergency doctor’s appointment because the way I was feeling scared me so much.
I spent our first 48 hours trying to convince Clark that we’d made a horrible decision, and that we should make arrangements to take him back to the breeder as soon as we could. I didn’t eat or sleep for about three days, I just curled up in my sad-pit of blankets on the sofa and refused to move, alternating between crying my eyes out very quietly and crying my eyes out very loudly – despite Clark’s best efforts to cheer me up and, saddest of all, our eleven week old puppy sensing my distress and curling up in my lap, looking up at me with his big wonky brown eyes and wondering why this weird wet lady didn’t want to play with him.
Instead of taking him back to the breeder, he went to stay with my parents for a couple of days, until I could get my head straight enough to work out what we were going to do. During that time, alarmingly, the vast majority of my anxieties melted overnight, only to return with increasing velocity towards the closer we got to Otto’s return – which also coincided with my parents jetting off on a two week cruise, meaning that they wouldn’t be a phone call away if things went south.
I still don’t really know why things started the way that they did. I think part of the reason I was so worried is because I was so used to sharing my environment with Barney, who I’d known and lived with for thirteen years. During his puppyhood, I spent most of the day out at school and the remainder of the time not really being as responsible for him as I’d promised. When he was a puppy, the majority of his training and socialisation fell to my mum, and puppy training classes to get him started. Although he was a very, very high energy dog up until the age of about 6 or 7, he was generally pretty good – he never chewed or destroyed anything he shouldn’t and was good with kids and other dogs. He was very easily distracted and had selective hearing, took forever to toilet train, and would try and eat EVERYTHING up until he was about a year old, but I often heard my mum say that he was quite an easy puppy – that was, until she had Otto for a couple of days. I think he spent a total of three nights with them, and when he came back he knew his name, how to sit and was (mostly) peeing on the puppy pads instead of the floor. My mum sent me a text the first night he was back with us and said “don’t take him back. If you can’t cope, we’ll have him.”
The first night he came back to us, I went against everything I’d been saying about keeping him in his own space, and he slept in the bed with us. When I switched off my bedside light, he climbed onto the pillow next to me, rested his chin on my head, and let out a deep sigh. It was that moment that suddenly filled me with strength. I knew that the regret I would feel if we did take him back would hurt much, much more, and that what I was feeling was temporary and would pass as we both adjusted to this change. If he went back, I would have to live with that decision for the rest of my life – not only would I have said goodbye to one of the the best things that’s ever happened to me, but the entire dynamic of my relationship with Clark would also have completely changed. I really don’t think he would ever have forgiven me.
Even now, a year or so down the line, part of Otto’s bedtime routine is that when I switch off the light, he’ll climb onto the pillow next to me and rest his chin on my head. It’s a little more awkward now because he’s a lot bigger, so he takes up most of the pillow as it is – and he never feels as though he’s close enough so a lot of the time I’m pretty much wearing him like a hat – but it’s beautiful and pure and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
He turned a year old on February 13th, and he’s grown up to be a very handsome chap. He’s still quite gawky, with his lanky legs and grinchy paws (which I hated on the Cavaliers that I groomed but absolutely love on him) – but he’s grown into his boggly eyes, and the groomer in me is enjoying watching his coat develop into something I can work with. He steals things a lot to get attention – mostly rocks and paper, so all he’s missing is the scissors – and I recently had to take him to the vets for an emergency X-Ray because I thought he’d swallowed a screw (thankfully it was a false alarm – it was a nut, not a screw) – but he’s a clever boy, is super intuitive to my rapidly changing emotions, and he looks after me on the days where the Fibro is winning. He’s just as happy running through fields with his nose to the ground as he is curled up on the sofa in front of the television. Every day I look at him and wonder how I got so lucky with him, and just remind myself of how close I came to throwing that away.
Getting a puppy taught me a lot about the differences between theory and practise. It was so easy for me to stand on the dog side of the salon and dish out well-informed advice, but when it came to using that knowledge practically, it all fell apart at the seams. I did a few Google searches at the time, and I’ve done a few more over the course of writing this post, and it seems I’m not alone. Many new puppy owners have experienced the exact same feelings of hopelessness that I did – there are forums and articles absolutely everywhere. Whenever I come across a new owner now, I always ask them how they’re getting on, and tell them that it honestly does get better. It’s so, so hard to start with – but I can’t think of anything else more worth the fight.
If you’d like to follow Otto as he grows up, he’s got his own Instagram – and you can find him at along.came.otto.
Thank you once again for reading,
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