In October 2018 we lost our beloved black Lab.
We had just sold our house and rented a new barn conversion on the Mendips, just outside Wells. The house was located at the crossing of several footpaths and bridleways and we were looking forward to spending long days tramping around the countryside before heading for the village pub, to enjoy a few beers, surrounded by the smells of open fires and wet dogs.
A week after we moved in, Roxy-Doodles slipped trying to jump over a cattle grid. She developed a limp and seemed to be in pain, so we made a trip to the vet. The vet administered some painkillers and made an appointment for a general anaesthetic and an X-ray the following Monday.
I dropped her off at 9 O’clock that day, expecting to pick her up later with a diagnosis of a ruptured tendon. She willingly trotted into the building behind the vet and proceeded to greet all the staff and other animals, shining her light wherever she went.
An hour later the vet called, whilst our beloved dog was still knocked out and still on the table. I felt like I’d been punched. My world stopped.
Our lovely, angelic, humorous and until then, healthy, 13yr old Labrador had a huge cancerous tumour in her leg, which had slowly eaten away at the bone. How it hadn’t snapped when she fell is anyone’s guess. X-rays and blood tests had been retested. A specialist had been consulted. Amputation would only have given her another six months. We never noticed a thing and despite the pain, she must have been in, she never showed any sign of her struggle.
I made the horrible decision to let her go. She drifted off quietly whilst under the anaesthetic and I never saw her again.
We drove the 120 miles to Plymouth to tell my son in person. It was a horrible day.
Everybody has a special dog. Roxy-Doodles was that dog. She grew up with our only child and travelled everywhere with us. She loved a road trip or a train ride. And she was quite happy to bounce around in our boat, enjoying a good swim whenever we stopped. My sister in law had Maggie, who was Roxy-Doodles’ sister, and it was just magical when the two of them got together. Different dogs, but the same great zest for life and the same calm and collected temperament.
Doodles had her own little house under the stairs and would take herself to bed and shut the door when she felt tired. She was the mascot at the Sea Cadet Unit and everybody’s friend in the local pub. She was not frightened of anything and is still the only dog I know that would happily go to a fireworks display and fall instantly asleep.
What we remember her for most though is the special bond she had with my wife. Claire was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2010.
What followed was almost a year of operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Our friends and family were brilliant, as was her employer. I was working shifts, making sure our son was fed, getting him to school, sorting out his dinner, getting his homework done, and working it all around Claire’s hospital appointments. The only constant thing for Claire was the dog.
Except for her hospital visits, the dog never left Claire’s side for 18 months. They both slept a lot and I’d often come home to see a bobble hat and a black nose sticking out of a blanket on the sofa.
Doodles would faithfully follow Claire round the house, whilst she shuffled to the kitchen or the loo. And they would shuffle back again to assume their positions on the sofa.
From then on, I had two Princesses in the house, and they were inseparable.
Doodles went from living in her crate under the stairs to sleeping on the sofa, and next to the bed. Years later when our son went to Uni, we focussed even more attention on the dog, ensuring that she got the best of everything and making sure that she was included in every phone call and Skype call with our absent son. You could not have had a stronger bond between three people and their dog.
We have always owned dogs, but are always surprised by the grief and deep sense of loss that hangs over you when you say goodbye to them. I’ve often thought that it’s unfair for dogs not to live as long as us. They are so faithful, yet they walk with us for only a fifth of our lifetimes.
Neither of us wanted to go through that again, and we had resolved that we’d never have another dog. To be fair, none will ever match that one. We moved house again and carried on with life. We found ourselves spending more time at work, often spending 12-14 hours a day away from home. We hated going home to an empty house.
In January 2020 I was four months away from completing 30 years in the Police Service when I hit a wall and suffered a huge bout of depression. It’s a lifelong condition that I hid badly for many years, and was often exacerbated by the constant trauma and stresses that I was dealing with at work. I had six very black weeks at home, waiting for the meds to kick in. I had no one at home with me and this time, no dog.
After six weeks I managed to work up enough confidence to go back to work. It lasted two weeks before Claire and I were locked down at home. Only communicating with the outside world by text and zoom. Again, we faced a period of uncertainty and unhappiness, in a house that was too quiet for our liking.
I attended my retirement do via Skype and left the Police for good on 1st May this year.
After two weeks of lockdown retirement, I was bored and lonely. I had started looking for another Lab to adopt. We knew we didn’t want a puppy. We didn’t want to do all the mess and training from scratch, and anyway, Lab puppies are now highly sought after and command prices anywhere from £750 to a ridiculous £3000.
I then started contacting the Lab rehoming charities. It didn’t take me long to realise how snobby they were. I watched as dog after dog was rehoused to people who already had at least one other Lab. When I raised this with the charities, I got soundly slapped and told: “it’s not all about you!.” I was signposted to a lot of rehoming charities in Greece and Romania, but I saw no point in bringing another dog to the UK when there are so many here that already need new homes. After a few weeks, I gave up looking and put my efforts into setting up my own gardening company. Gardening is generally outside, I’m my own boss and I can work where and when I like. It’s also good for your mental health. And I had this crazy idea that I could take a dog to work.
It was at that point my wife reminded me that our dear friend Karen volunteered for St Giles Animal Rescue. A couple of days later, I started googling and five minutes later I had fallen desperately in love.
The fuzzy face that was staring at me, was a cross between a teddy bear and a Fraggle, with big brown eyes, a huge moustache and uncontrollable eyebrows. There was no way you could not smile when you saw that face.
She was described as a ten-year-old wire-haired Vizsla, who got along with dogs and cats, but not small children. Not a problem in our house.
A phone call later and we are heading for Wrantage, to meet the re-homing Manager, Grace. We sanitised, put gloves on and went to the exercise yard to await the arrival of the funny, fuzzy dog with legs like twigs.
I knew immediately. Before she had even been let off the lead, I knew the dog was coming home with us. I have no idea what Claire was thinking, but I had fallen deeply in love with a dog that wasn’t a Labrador, wasn’t black and was completely unknown to us. She bounced over and immediately leant against my legs whilst I tickled the back of her ears. I felt my cheeks hurt from the smiling. And then she bounced even more when we started throwing a tennis ball around. That 30-minute meeting just wasn’t enough, so we arranged to go back the following day with our son.
We talked incessantly and excitedly all the way home, where we talked some more. The excitement gave me a sleepless night. I swear that when I did sleep, it was with a smile on my face.
The following day we raced down to Wrantage with our now 21-year-old son, Ben. We were desperate for his approval, knowing that he still badly missed Doodles. After 30 minutes he broke into a wide smile and pronounced the dog as “quite nice”.
Grace explained the “try before you buy” fostering process, which was recommended before the full adoption. We could have four weeks to road test the dog before we made a decision. We had long phone calls with her after that, explaining our lifestyle, our work hours, where we would exercise the dog etc. etc.
We couldn’t have filled in the forms fast enough, but we still had to get through the home visit and vetting process.
A few days later a very nice lady ‘Face-Timed’ Claire, who took her on a virtual tour of our house, garden and street. She showed her where baskets were going to be placed, how high the back gate was and how big the garden was. All we could do from that point was wait.
Grace emailed us a few days later, and not understanding the gist of her message I phoned her. Our application had been approved! The only thing left to do now was for the dog to see the vet and have her MOT and booster jabs.
Amazon was very busy that week delivering crates, baskets, toys, food, harnesses and a new ID tag for the collar, which is a legal requirement. We all had another sleepless night before getting up early to collect our new fuzzy friend.
Whilst not always advisable, we have changed the dog’s name. We decided that the previous one just didn’t suit, and it wasn’t a name that we liked. We had several choices, but it was whilst reaching for something on top of the fridge that I saw a container that hadn’t been opened since Christmas.
I looked, laughed and shouted out, “Twiglet”. Since then, everyone has agreed that the name absolutely suits her.
And that’s how Twiglet came into our lives. She’s now also known as Twiggle, Twiggy, Twig, Iggle Twiggle and Daddy’s Little Princess, but she answers to all of them. And she makes us smile all day, every day. She travels well in the car. She walks beautifully on the lead and has excellent recall. She loves walks in the woods, paddling in streams and racing across the beach chasing balls. And when we are out with her it’s like owning a Lamborghini. Everyone turns to look at our pretty dog.
It’s not all been plain sailing though. We have had to learn each other boundaries. She is not allowed on my beige sofa, and likewise, I’m not allowed to lie on her basket. She told me that in no uncertain terms. She doesn’t like going to the toilet in public, but I don’t really like standing in the garden in the dark, waiting for Diva Dog to do a poop. We are working on that though, and at least she had never had an accident in the house. She hasn’t chewed anything, and never stolen any food. She does give lots of kisses, which is nice unless you’re trying to tie your shoelaces. And she talks. A lot. It’s never a bark, and she doesn’t even bother to get up when the doorbell rings. It’s more of a grumbling sound, to show her pleasure or distaste, and we always answer in the same language.
She has had a nasty abscess on her side, which decided to expand before it popped, but our new vet soon sorted that out after a few visits and a natty yellow bandage. And we gave up on the crate. She doesn’t like it and won’t settle at night. She will, however, curl up quietly on her memory foam mattress in front of the TV, so we are just going to put the crate away. If she’s happy, then so are we.
Grace and all the staff at St Giles have been absolutely brilliant and couldn’t have provided a more loving and caring service for both us and the dog.
Twig is at home with Mummy this week, so she can get in on the office Skype calls, but she will be out gardening with me from next week, and I have a long list of people who want to meet her.
I just know that she will make everyone smile.
St Giles and Twiglet have truly changed our lives.
Written by Adrian