Some months ago I read about the term ‘heart dog’ – the dog who “comes along once in a lifetime and grabs your heart so tightly he changes the way you live life” and who is “forever a part of our emotional existence — a part of what made us who we are”.
Even thinking about that makes me cry, because it makes me think of the inevitable day when my heart dog is no longer with us. Every joyful day I get to spend with her brings that other day closer. For sure, she is often annoying, frustrating, and a general pest, but for the most part she lights up my life like nothing else and she has genuinely changed my life in lots of ways and taught me many important lessons.
The way our life is now has been largely shaped by what is best for Nell:
- Firstly, when we moved out of the UK, dog friendliness of the country and city were a crucial criteria which rules out many options.
- Although you don’t really need a car in Amsterdam, we wanted to get one so that we can travel with Nell and especially go to the beach which she loves
- When we were buying a house, being close to a big park and the beach were crucial factors
- Floors were redone, just because of garden and wet paws, and many sofas were discounted because they would not survive zoomies
- And, of course, we needed a garden because we wanted Nell to have a lovely place to relax in for the second half of her life – this is literally her home for the rest of her life and we wanted it to be just right
You might think that is a bit excessive for a dog, and maybe it is. But her life is much shorter than ours, and although we may have many dogs in our lives, she only has this one life with us, so we see it as our responsibility to make it as amazing as we can.
As lifelong couch potatoes, we probably would not have chosen this lifestyle if it wasn’t for Nell – but now that we have, it’s a life we absolutely love and I am grateful for being able to spend a lot of time in nature. Turns out it is what makes me feel happy and peaceful, and I probably wouldn’t have discovered it without her.
She has also changed how we spend our holidays.
In the past 5 years, she has travelled with us in 12 countries and handles travel like the pro she is. 18 months ago on our honeymoon we decided we no longer wanted to do long trips without Nell – we simply missed her too much, and we kept worrying about how she was. So, from then on, we have travelled together and that means driving – even if the drive is 1500km each way to Finland.
She has also taught me many invaluable life lessons. When I met and fell in love with Nell, she was 2.5 years old and a bit of a nightmare albeit irresistibly adorable.
I was in a busy stage of life, never stopping for a breather. The demand for my startup was growing and alongside that, the demands for my time and attention. Spending time with Nell at the beach in Scotland, watching her enjoy herself to the fullest helped me learn to stop thinking for a moment and just be with her – because if I wasn’t present, she made sure I did. In some of the dark times of the past five years, just focusing on being with her have helped me through.
Understanding her nature and character have also helped me understand my ADHD – like me, Nell is smart but easily distractable yet intensely hyperfocused on things she cares about (ball, beach, swimming and food). You can’t make her do things she finds boring – like tricks – but she will give her everything to tasks she finds meaningful – like nosework training. She is very persistent and can’t stop thinking about something once she’s got it in her head. On the other hand, all of this is what makes her special and unique. Accepting her for who she is, all of who she is, has helped me forgive myself for some of my own traits I felt ashamed of for a long time.
Ever since we got Grace, I wonder how she feels about not being the only dog anymore. I wish I could tell her that we got a second dog largely because of her – it’s not because she isn’t enough, it is because she means so much to us.
We got a puppy and go through all the work it involves because…
… we want her to have a friend to accompany her on explorations in the forest – places we can’t share with her
…we want her to have someone who she can enjoy the beach with someone just like she does
…we want to have someone to hold us up when the day comes we have to say goodbye to her.
That is how much she means to us – as much as we love Grace, there will never be another dog who makes such a big impact on our lives and leave such big, furry bear paw prints in our hearts.