You came into my life 12 years ago. I was scared of dogs but I’d decided to give a Hearing Dog a chance and see what transpired. The first time I met you was at the Hearing Dogs training centre in Saunderton, Buckinghamshire. You were black as coal with huge brown eyes, and had boundless energy, looking into every corner of the room. You had stayed for 9 months with your foster mum and dad in Eastleigh, Margaret and George. They were kind enough to give me a photo album of you as a puppy, which I treasure to this day. After 3 months of sound work training in Saunderton, I visited again and we spent a week in the training suite, being trained to work together (mum needed much more training than you, you see!). I remember you laid on top of my bare feet at midnight to warm them up. We took the train home and I looked at you with a feeling of panic, thinking “I am now RESPONSIBLE for a living thing – help!”
I fell hook, line and sinker for your soft loving brown eyes and HUGE personality. You were such a cheeky boy, your constant pranks made me laugh. You were hard work at first, always trying to gain the upper hand. If we were about to leave the park, you would sit down and refuse to move. ‘Putting the brakes on’ was your speciality. You even did it in the middle of the road!
One day, we got off the train at London Waterloo, disembarking from the last carriage. We alighted onto the platform and you promptly put your brakes on and sat down. Everyone walked past us as they got off the train, and as the last person walked past and laughed at you being a silly billy, and at me trying to get you to walk, you looked at him, got up in delight and went over to him, and he just walked on (you never did learn the difference between commuters and regular people, darling). Then you obstinately planted your bum on the platform again. It was comical. I ended up picking you up and carrying all 12kg of you to the underground entrance …
I asked my Hearing Dogs placement officer Lou for tips on managing your stubbornness. Lou suggested cooking sausages, cutting them up, and feeding them to you as we walked along. That lasted for 5 minutes then you sat down again! Lou tried very hard to work with you and even she was beaten – we left you in the garden, went inside and called for you – “Come!” – after 15 minutes wait, you still wouldn’t come in … “Unbelievable. I’ve never seen such a stubborn dog!”
You were friendly towards other dogs, nervous as a young boy, then you displayed an ‘I’m better than you’ attitude as you got older, ignoring dogs barking so frantically from inside a car that it jumped around, sashaying silently past with your nose in the air. I was so proud of you. You were attacked by Guide Dogs for the Blind on 3 occasions, I think because you had been trained to make direct eye contact for sign language. You much preferred the company of humans with a friendly hand to lick. You had a playful nature and at Hearing Concern, you would go into the CEO’s office and chuck your ball at him, never mind that he kept sternly asking you to leave his office. Hee hee!
One of your many star qualities was your huge, fluffy, beautiful tail. That Tail! It never stopped wagging. You won a dog competition for ‘Dog with the Waggiest Tail’. Sometimes it looked like a whirligig, spinning around in circles so fast that I’d wonder if you were a dog or windmill. You were always such a happy boy, you made people smile every day with your friendly approach, engaging manner, bright white smile and that amazing whirligig tail. Even on the London underground, where commuters pretend no one else exists, you would be the centre of attention, approaching anyone that made eye contact, sometimes ten people were patting you at the same time, but usually you would walk your way around the carriage and I’d watch you work your magic. Recently, a singing beggar stood in the middle of the carriage and everyone looked away, but you stood right there and made full eye contact with him …. while I cringed in embarrassment and my friend Ginny fell about laughing.
You were so endearing. Your favourite vet Alan van Heerden would marvel at the direct eye contact you made, making you seem almost human – and he always gave you treats! To me, you WERE a human who just happened to be furry with four legs and a tail …. we had a great communication thing going, didn’t we? You had been trained to alert me to sounds by touching me with your paw and leading me to the sound – except for the fire alarm, when you would touch me then lie down as a danger signal.
You were so intelligent that you took your training further and even cheated, pretending there was a sound so you could get your treat. If you were asked to find me, you would disappear around the corner and nip straight back without telling me I was wanted, just so you could get your reward. You would sometimes wake me at 4am and take me to the front door, sit there and look at me innocently and wag your tail, waiting for your biscuit – of course, no one was there… LOL.
Your favourite toy was always a tennis ball. We would roll one to each other, back and forth across the coffee table. If I got any of the cheap ones from the pet shop, you’d tear them apart. Only the best tennis balls would do!
I always loved your big feet. You had a very gentle touch if you had a request, just putting your huge paw on my arm and looking me straight in the eyes, until I asked “What is it?” and you led me to your biscuit tin, empty water bowl, or the door to the garden if you wanted a wee or were going to be sick. You would also come up and slap me if you Really Wanted Something Right Now.
Your face was so expressive. You had perfected “That Look” when someone said No. Your eyes could certainly talk and you could hold a steady gaze until the human looked away. If I went to give you a kiss on an ear, you were always quicker and got a kiss in first.
I’ve had a number of strangers approach me and tell me they have a phobia about dogs but they really like you…. I’ve made so many lovely friends through you – you would approach strangers first and suck up the attention, and they would start talking to me. You were a real people magnet and had this charisma about you. I loved watching you flirt with everyone, you were a master in your art.
So good at communication, you knew when I was sad and would cuddle up to me. When I danced for joy at getting a job I wanted, you danced with me. You always came running when I laughed, just checking to make sure I was okay. When I shouted at security men who didn’t want you in their shop, you would pat my leg to calm me down. Another security man laughed as you stole a Cadbury’s Flake from the sweet counter and proudly carried it out of the shop (he let you keep it). You’re well known for stealing chocolate from shops. At Bluewater shopping centre one day, I looked over at you and you had stolen some child’s toy out of their pram. Such a kleptomaniac!
You were so serious in your manner but there was an aura about you. You would listen to my chatter with your paw on my leg, gazing into my eyes with absolute adoration as we shared a TV snack. You were obsessed with licking people’s hands – you must have licked half of London on the tube on our commute each day. In 2004 you met Princess Anne (turning your back on her to watch me) and a few weeks ago you met Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou (giving him your magic touch).
You were asked to be brides-dog at Julia’s wedding, carrying the horseshoe up the church aisle to her – you did that job perfectly. A few weeks ago, you attended Claire and Mike’s wedding, and stole the show –again! You loved everyone and everyone loved, loved, loved you back.
You saw me change from someone who wouldn’t speak to a soul unless I was forced to, to someone who happily delivers lectures and is always the last one to leave a party. You helped me feel relaxed at home as I relied on your body language to let me know that we were safe, and I didn’t need to worry about strange sounds. You gave me comfort when family and friends passed away. You helped me to cope with profound deafness, and came into the hospital when I had my cochlear implant operations. You carried on helping me when I was trying to manage my very new, very strange but perfect, hearing. Above all, you were always, always happy to see me as I was you. I gave you as much love and as many walks as I could. We helped each other out and we were a solid team.
The trainers and placement officers at Hearing Dogs for Deaf People – mostly Lou and Julie – have, over the years, remarked on how well behaved you were and how good you were at your job, alerting me so well to sounds at home and at work. You did give up on the alarm clock after a couple of years, as I didn’t like to get up too early, and I went back to a vibrating alarm clock. You were brilliant at all the other sounds, and became a little unreliable in the last few weeks as you didn’t really like to get out of bed in the mornings, leaving callers standing at the front door as I slept soundly….!
You liked to steal people’s warm spots when they got out of bed to nip to the bathroom. You would always wait for me to wake up then come to me for a cuddle in bed, oh how I miss those morning cuddles. Apart from my bed, your favourite place was the sofa from where you gazed upon the world and could oversee your garden.
At work, you loved stealing onto a comfy chair, tripping up people as you lay in the corridor, and sleeping under the little tree in my office. Your favourite place was the office kitchen – that room had the cleanest floor, thanks to you. I still laugh at the time Hurmine left a cupcake on her low filing cabinet, right at the back and under her desk (and so she thought, safe). She came back to find the cherry on top had gone as if someone had licked it right out of the icing … I couldn’t scold you, I was giggling too hard. You stole little oranges from Kathy’s bag (which were her lunch) and played with them, throwing them up and down the corridor. Karen’s sandwich wrapper went from her bin to your stomach and we had to visit the vet – again.
Once, I left a sandwich on a low coffee table and came back to find just one bite had been taken out of it, and you sat there pretending it wasn’t you. You actually dragged a whole baguette out of a hedge one day as I laughed in disbelief. In the park, you swiped a teenager’s sandwich from his hands as you ran past …. I even had a shopper ask me “Do you feed your dog?” Greedy didn’t even begin to describe you.
A favourite place was the beach, you lost your collar one day as you swam in up to your neck, and refused to come out of the water. You loved swimming in rivers and the sea, but refused to get into a paddling pool I had dragged across Wimbledon for you. I got you your own lifejacket and we went sailing together.
I took you home to Belfast, you enjoyed being on an aeroplane, and we explored the Northern Irish beaches and forests while you charmed the hell out of my Irish friends.
We loved endless walks in the parks nearby and I loved seeing you have a wonderful time swimming in the river and fighting off the ducks for the bread. I am so glad you enjoyed your forever home and garden so much, they were just perfect for you.
Now, the house is so horribly empty without you and I miss you every minute of every day. You changed my life so much for the better, brought so many people to me, and gave me (and many others) so much love and joy. You’re amazing. You’re a legend. You’ll always be in my heart.
I Love You Smudge. Sleep tight, much love and many kisses from mommy xxx