Blackie is my first child and has taken to his role of older brother beautifully. As an eight-year-old, I thought he may have become too accustomed to the attention given to an only child.

There are lots to read online about introducing a dog to a newborn child and I read avidly (it’s much easier to read without a small child – don’t you think?). As part of my preparations, I’d take Blackie walking with a teddy bear in the pram.

A friendly neighbour knocked on my door one evening after I’d been walking with the pram and Blackie. She was laden with a lovely dish of Middle Eastern food.

“Hi, this is for you. I know it’s hard to prepare food with a newborn!’
She had two small smiling, dark-haired children with her.

‘Why thank you but I haven’t had the baby yet. She’s not due for about a fortnight.’ I felt guilty admitting this.

‘But I saw you with the pram?’

When I explained she laughed and insisted I keep the food.

I suppose there are few people who would walk the neighbourhood with a teddy in a pram. Other people were more shocked when they discovered I had a teddy bear in a pram.

Perhaps you need to be a dog person to understand.

Blackie was given a blanket Gracie had been wrapped in before he met her, to introduce her smell. When Gracie finally came home and met him he was excited and licked her all over while she slept peacefully. I’m sure Gracie got some of her first inoculations from Blackie!

You can teach an old dog new tricks. Blackie learnt how: not to play with Gracie’s squeaky toys (that must have been painful), to be gentle around Gracie and simply walk away when she got too much, and to bark if he felt he wasn’t getting enough attention.

When I first met Blackie I hadn’t slept the night before. The plan had been to see some rescue puppies up the coast. Instead, I felt too tired and went shopping with Mum. We came across the pet shop.

Blackie was alone in his cage. Bright and alert and noticed me immediately. Mum and I knew it was fate. The shop assistant released him from the cage and placed him in my arms. Others immediately wanted to know about him. ‘Too late! He’s adopted!’ I said with pride.

He travelled well in the car home, despite warnings from the shop assistant. He continued to travel well, even on long distances, leaning on my arm, sitting in the front passenger seat. Keeping me company. Wanting to be close.

When he first arrived home he played and then collapsed, tummy up, snoring.

However, at times he’d go berko. He’d jump crazily all over the furniture and bit hysterically if you tried to stop him. My parents were afraid we’d made the wrong choice.

Puppy pre-school was fantastic and demonstrated rewards and positive encouragement to achieve appropriate behaviour. I relaxed with Blackie reassured he wasn’t vicious and simply chased him playfully outside when he wanted to let off steam.

And we’d walk. And walk. And when he couldn’t walk anymore I’d put him in my backpack across my chest and I’d walk back carrying him.

That first Christmas he was so cute. I took him to the local street Christmas lights. Wearing a small Santa hat he became an attraction himself with his black fur and black eyes. Kids, teenagers, couples, everyone wanted to pat this gorgeous friendly puppy.

No doubt because of his early interactions he has always loved people and other dogs. I’ve had no pretentions of him being a guard dog, although at night if he’s disturbed he can sound quite ferocious.

Blackie was so picture perfect and doleful looking that as a puppy people would offer him food – bits of pie, cake, and biscuit. He came to expect it and as he got older and bigger he’d frighten them as he’d lunge at them expecting a morsel of their food. I had to request people stop offering him food and he slowly realised the lay of the land. Now, in his old age, he enjoys pats and cuddles of passers-by.
Blackie particularly loved puppy preschool: play, treats and attention. What more could a puppy ask for?

One day we were walking and he suddenly started dragging me along the street. I had no idea where he was going. Intrigued, I followed him. He took me all the way to the vet’s where puppy preschool was held. It was a Sunday afternoon and took some time to convince Blackie that no one was there to give a treat or play.

You can see Blackie has always made his preferences clear. He decided early in our lives together that he preferred walking off-leash and would consent to walk on a leash for only short periods. Without warning, he would sit down and refuse to budge. So many times I had to walk back to the car by myself and come back for him.

Off leash areas are more fun for both of us anyway. He runs off and runs back. Smelling, greeting, peeing, chasing. The beach is his favourite spot, where he can swim, dig, roll in the sand and meet his mates. Even now he forgets his age and joins in the chase with the other dogs and runs like a puppy.

Despite his growing soft tissue sarcoma and his arthritis.

Yes, I am in the process of saying good-bye to my four-footed son.

Saying goodbye to my black angel, who lies with me when I am too tired or depressed to get out of bed, who keeps me company in public, who licks my face and comes for cuddles.

The nurses in the locked ward knew how much he meant to me and he visited me twice in there. Excited by the detergents he peed both times on the Lino floor. I was embarrassed and surprised since he was perfectly toilet trained.

On the first visit, he assumed I’d join him, Mum and Dad in the car to go home. The next time he visited he remembered and refused to leave. I was allowed to take him to the car. He thought I’d follow him in. When I didn’t he looked mournfully out the rear window as it drove away.

It was a heartfelt moment, to see his love for me. At a time in my life, I felt without love or hope.

These were not the only times Blackie made his feelings known. Blackie has always slept on my bed. One boyfriend said Blackie growled at him (I don’t think Blackie knows how to growl) and I’d put Blackie outside when he was there. While we were in the house Blackie would go underneath and bark under whichever room we were in. I found it too funny to be mad at him. I don’t think Kevin was too impressed, though.

However, you know who won the war between the boyfriend and Blackie!

He’s become even more determined now he’s older. He barks when he wants attention when he wants more food, or a back-rub or a cuddle.

I wish dogs lived longer. This will be Gracie’s first loss and so I will be mindful of that. But I’m scared I’ll be selfish, thinking of Blackie that first Christmas in a Santa hat getting all the attention or racing back to me on the beach, hearing his snuffles and snores as he sleeps contentedly. Feeling the absence of all that and more. The touch of his fur, soft ears and wet nose.

But now I can tend to him, so he knows my love. Putting the painkillers in balls of mincemeat, giving him walks to his favourite beach, indulging in his food obsession and cuddling him in bed.

The opposite of Churchill’s nemesis: for me my Blackie allows me to laugh at that foul beast and gives me some hope and peace. For Blackie is my angel, just as much as Mum and Gracie.

Do you have a pet that helps you and keeps you grounded in this life? What do you particularly appreciate about your pet?

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