A True Story – By Christine Peters
Our journey began in April 2001. I had yearned for a dog for several years but on waking, decided today was the day! I scanned the local newspapers and had my heart set on a Golden Retriever, but there wasn’t any. Then I saw it! Yellow Labrador pups ready to go NOW! I telephoned with excitement and arranged a time that day to visit. I then rushed to the Pet Shop to purchase a bed, toys and food, safe in the knowledge that I would be bringing my puppy home today.
I drove to a previously unknown area. My first sighting of a dog there was a chained-up German Shepherd. It was’nt a family home, more like a yard with a portacabin. Undeterred, I proceeded to the door and naively did everything one should not do when purchasing a puppy.
Upon entering, I was met with a box of seven Labrador puppies. I cannot remember a conversation with the owners at that time, as I was immediately drawn to the cutest seven cream balls of fluff with the vocals of sopranos. I studied every one. However, one in particular barked the loudest, jumped the highest and wagged his tail with a velocity to rival the fastest windscreen wiper. Immediately I knew this was my boy! I have since been told NOT to pick the pup who is the most confident as it could be a sign of an untrainable dog! I asked if I could see the mother and was informed that the pups were brought over from Ireland without their mother the previous day. I then enquired about papers regarding Pedigree etc. I was informed that there were not any and it was not possible to be KC Registered. It was too late, my pup and I had already had our first kisses and I was hooked. I took my little one home.
My pup sat happily in the car and appeared excited, yet calm. Upon reaching his new home, he ate voraciously and played with his new toys and myself for two hours. Exhausted, he fell asleep on his new bed. I remember watching him as he slept, loving him with every bone in my body and silently promising him, I would do everything in my power to give him a happy life. He settled for the night and was so content in his own skin that he barely let out a whimper.
He greeted me the next morning as if I was his life-long friend who he had not seen for thirty years! The tail thumped, the bottom wiggled and I was showered with hot, baby-breath kisses.
I made an appointment for the vet that day. It transpired that he had kennel cough and worms, although this was quickly remedied. He was clever enough to be completely house trained within a week and I was clever enough to reward him with food, a trait I quickly learnt was close to a Labrador’s heart!
It took me three days to name my beloved pup. My first thought was Winston, but then thought of a Bulldog. Second was Benson but my Mother claimed it sounded like a pack of cigarettes. At the time, I had a piano, and wanted to see his reaction to it. I picked one of my favourite musicals. The music was from the film Oliver. I began playing the piece “I’d Do Anything” very slowly and with such meaning. I then added the words “for you, Oliver anything, for you mean everything to me”. He lay by the foot pedals and drifted into sleep. That was it! He was blonde, innocent and somewhat an orphan. No doubt about it, Oliver, my pup had a name of which he later proved to be worthy of. Notably, when he stole a bone out of a Pet Shop and ran off delighted. He was told he could keep it for his cheek!
Within two weeks, Oliver had a fantastic understanding of commands that I incorporated into “playtimes”.
Our first day out, when it was safe to do so, was monumental. As any Labrador lover will know, their love for food and water is usually second-to-none. We lived close to the beach. We walked along the prom whilst every other person and child stopped and petted Oliver, the cute “Andrex Pup”! Oliver was adorable, loved the attention and everybody loved him. I was so proud! When we got to the beach where other dogs were playing, I decided this was the time to give Oliver his first bout of freedom. He bounded across the stones at the speed of light, straight into the sea. There was no hesitation and no fear. Oliver instinctively knew that he was home! He began swimming and I watched as if mesmerised by his total happiness. I tested my recall and he obeyed! I let him go and the whole process was repeated. This love of water is keeping Oliver happy now, some nine-and-a-half years later!
Oliver and I spent days by the sea. Oliver then started growing into adulthood. Forest walks were of no interest to him. However, if there was a stream, pond or river, he became animated like no other dog.
When Oliver was one-and-a-half years old, we moved to Cornwall. For both of us, we have never looked back. So many beaches, so many rivers, so much water!
When Oliver reached six, I noticed he had a slight limp on his front right leg. I duly took him to the vets who informed me it “MAY” be the beginning of arthritis. When Oliver reached seven, the limp became more pronounced. I noticed he had difficulty climbing stairs and walking on solid ground. I duly returned to the vet who informed me that it was, indeed arthritis. Oliver was prescribed Metacam and I was told to continue with his swimming. I contacted Oliver’s insurance company who informed me they would not pay any current or future fees in connection with arthritis because I had not informed them of the first diagnosis. Remember, the first diagnosis was only, and I quote “it MAY be the start of arthritis”. Let this be a lesson to any dog owner. Should ANY diagnosis be given, however trivial it appears at the time, inform your insurance company immediately.
Henceforth, Oliver always had a problem when walking on solid ground. However, his love of swimming, where he felt no pain, increased his enjoyment of life.
At eight-and-a-half, I noticed that Oliver had started to drag one of his back legs behind him. I returned to the vet who performed X-Rays. The diagnosis was terrible, to say the least. The ball and socket joint were apart on either side of the hips, the worst case she had ever seen. I was told Oliver had the bones of a fifteen-year-old dog. I then asked the question, was there anything that could be done? There were two operations possible but owing to Oliver’s age and the problems with his other joints, it would not be fair to put him through it. I then asked the question that is the most difficult for a vet to answer and painful for an owner to hear. How long do you think he has to live? The prognosis was six months. In six months, Oliver would be nine. I tried to hold back the tears. I remember paying the bill whilst weeping constantly. I returned home. As I cried, Oliver was unaware of my deep concern for him and the news I had just heard. He came up to me and licked my tears away. I love you so much Oliver I uttered, I will do anything in my power to help you and you must let me know when I have to make that terrible decision. I had Oliver checked by a second vet but the prognosis was the same. We tried injections, acupuncture and hydrotherapy. Along with Metacam, hydrotherapy worked the best for Oliver. He was swimming, doing what he had been born to do. However, this was just once a week.
My father passed away and I had to spend three days away from Oliver to be at my Dad’s bedside. It was 8.40pm when my father passed away and I had a four-and-a-half hour drive in order to return to Cornwall, after very little sleep in three days. The only thing that kept me going throughout that long, lonely drive was my darling Oliver. I HAD to be with him. I knew only he would understand. Oliver has always been excited upon seeing me. However when I returned home, after my gruelling journey, he simply came quietly to greet me (a first). I sat down on the sofa and the tears I had been holding back spilled out of me. Oliver never left my side. His chin rested on my lap and his eyes stared up at me as if to say, it is okay, I am here, you still have me. Yes, I still had Oliver, but for how long?
Oliver and I had reached a turning point in both our lives. Whilst I had been working, Oliver had always had day-care with a friend of mine who looked after and understood him exceptionally well. However, six months to live? Six months, whatever were we to do? That was it. A drastic measure, I decided to give up work and promised Oliver that I would make the next six months the happiest of his entire life.
We went to the beach every single day. Oliver swam, was excited and happy. However, whereas before, we would walk the entire length of the beach and back, I now had difficulty in getting him from his swim back to the car park. I was watching him go downhill before my very eyes. It broke my heart. As dogs do, I swear Oliver noticed my mood. I would stroke him at night and massage his aching joints and watch with helplessness as he limped his way to the garden. On two occasions, he could barely move and I thought we were nearing the end.
After years without a partner, I met my soul mate. Gary came into our lives like a breath of fresh air. Oliver responded positively to Gary immediately. Prior to dating, I had informed Gary of Oliver’s condition. Suddenly, Oliver became alive again. He began climbing stairs and jumping on the sofa. One day, he ran down the stairs to meet Gary at the front door. Oliver was animated once more, happy and excited. He was not limping, incredible! I firmly believe that Oliver was receiving my signals of distress. Gary refused to show this and pushed all the positive buttons he could. He suggested a lifejacket for Oliver and I exclaimed, “are you mad”? I had never heard of a lifejacket for dogs! Sure enough, we scoured the Internet and there is a company called Crewsaver (www.crewsaver.co.uk) who supplied us with the perfect lifejacket for Oliver.
Oliver took to his lifejacket immediately. Whereas before, his hips were sinking when swimming, he was now buoyant. His freedom had returned and he was doing what he had always loved best, swimming. Within a couple of months, he was not limping at all. Thanks to the clear waters of Cornwall, we were able to observe the movement in all his legs and whilst swimming, he was clearly pain-free.
Oliver is happy again and thanks to his love of water, swimming for an hour a day.
Due to our love of dogs and of course the lovely Oliver, we decided to embark on a dog-grooming course, of which we thoroughly enjoyed and of course, Oliver was present throughout. We gained our qualifications and began our business in April 2010 and are proud to say that it is growing in leaps and bounds (www.oliversdoggroomingcornwall.co.uk).
Thank you Oliver for showing us our true paths in life. Oliver has now surpassed his prognosis by nine months and is still going strong (his deadline was Christmas 2009). Gary and I both know that positivity and swimming in his lifejacket has been the alternative to Oliver “giving up on life”. If, through our experience, we can help other owners who have similar problems, we would be more than happy to share what we have learnt together.
Whilst there is light in your dog’s eyes and a thirst for life, there are always solutions. Whilst there is happiness, there is hope, whilst there is freedom, there is joy. Oliver is living proof of this. He is not just a dog but also someone who we admire deeply and who has taught us so much about pain, will and determination. Our journey has not ended; in fact, it has been a new beginning.
Our aim is to help others in a similar situation. If you just need to chat, or even see living proof, please do not hesitate to call for more information.
Tel: 01579 320317
Mob: 07986 140227
Christine, Gary and the lovely Oliver! – Oliver’s Dog Grooming Services Cornwall
P.S. Oliver is still going strong in October 2010!
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