My best friend is pretty small. I think she is probably about as tall as a 30cm ruler. She is extremely hairy and pretty scruffy. She is blonde but has a LOT of grey hair, and sometimes she smells a bit like popcorn. You would be forgiven for thinking I was an awful friend, but this is an accurate description of my little bezzie. Her name is Bonnie, and she is a Yorkshire Terrier.
If you're one of those people who would roll their eyes and say "it's just a dog", then this probably isn't the blog post for you! However, if your best friend also has four legs then read on for an ode to my real life teddy bear and all the ways she helps me...
I had a Yorkshire Terrier growing up called Tess. My dad and I harangued my unwilling mum for ages, until one day she found out that Yorkies don't shed hair and someone she knew had a litter of brand new puppies. I was 10 when we got Tess and she lived for 16 gorgeous years as my first best friend.
Fast forward to my adult life, and I'm living in a tiny house with my asthmatic and allergic husband to be. I had never even really broached the subject of a dog as he is allergic to animals, and he's historically always been a cat person anyway. I had resigned myself to no dogs, ever, despite being an absolute dog lover.
We were round visiting friends and their dog one day, and I was gleefully playing with him. I was so engrossed in throwing the ball and tickling his tummy I was barely a part of the adult conversation. When we got home, Michael said to me "we're going to have to get a dog aren't we. I have never ever seen you as happy as when you're with dogs... how could you ever be sad if we had a dog in our house?". After long talks of contingency plans whereby we would give Michael a few months to develop immunity to the dog (if he didn't, she would have gone to live with my mum and dad) he struck a deal with me. I was part way through my PGCE, and he said that if I completed my NQT year we could get a dog in the summer holidays.
Enter Bonnie... a tiny black ball of fluff and chaos. A sometimes yappy but always hilarious, loving and clever scruffball. Michael was pretty nonchalant about the whole dog thing; he was doing it for me, and I think he planned on tolerating it as best as he could and not getting too close for fear of allergies. I remember the day I brought her home as clear as day. I went to get her with my Mum, and I drove home on the motorway with her in a cardboard box in the footwell, crawling at 40 mph to the annoyance of every other driver. I had such precious, tiny cargo and she was terrified.
Once we got home she sat in her bed, peering out with her huge chocolate button eyes. I remember Michael walking through the door and stopping in his tracks. "Wha... what is... who is this?" he stuttered. I smiled and introduced him to Bonnie. He sat on the couch and I picked her up and placed her in the palm of his hand. She was absolutely tiny back then and could be scooped up with one hand and carried around in my pocket! Michael said that he couldn't believe just how tiny, cute and scared she was. He cuddled her all night even though his allergies majorly flared up. I woke up at 5.30am the next morning far too excited to see her, and I sat with her on the couch all day in complete disbelief that I had such a gorgeous little puppy.
Luckily Michael did develop an immunity, and it only took him about 3 weeks to stop getting allergic reactions to her. It didn't take long before one day he said to me "so you know Bonnie... I'm pretty sure she's my best friend".
He later revealed to me that he promised me a dog because he knew it was one of the only things that would get me through my PGCE and NQT year. The PGCE is notoriously tough, and whilst I wouldn't subscribe to all the "it's the worst year of your life" hype, I definitely struggled with it at times. I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks, and I had a pretty substantial breakdown a few years ago that left me unable to work for a long period of time. I started my PGCE only 8 months or so after I'd been able to rejoin the world; I mean, I don't know how much of a brilliant idea it was to embark on one of the most stressful careers you can do so soon after a breakdown, but I'm still standing and I'm still a teacher so it wasn't all bad!
I struggled hugely with anxiety, self doubt and terrible mentors on my PGCE (two headteachers told me I should quit the PGCE as I wasn't cut out for teaching), and the honest truth is that part of why I carried on is because I really wanted a dog. I had an equally tough NQT year teaching a phase I didn't really train properly in and feeling completely out of my depth. The promise of my little companion at the end kept me going through the hardest times, the times where I'd barely eaten a bowl of cereal all day and would physically drag myself up the stairs after working from 7.30am until 11.30pm non stop. I used to wake up every single day at 4am with my heart pounding and feeling sick, terrified of the day to come, and getting myself up and out when my anxiety was at its peak was sometimes the biggest of all achievements. The thought of a puppy powered me through and got me out of the door on some of those days.
Bonnie has become our super best friend. We both love her more than we could ever imagine loving a dog; even me, the dog fanatic! She is intrinsically part of our family. We plan things around her; many of our weekend wanders and adventures are planned around where we can take her, what we can do, what will she enjoy. We buy things with Bonnie in mind, we cook food with lots of carrots in because carrots are her favourite. We sing songs to her and when we give her a special treat and let her sleep with us, one of us always has her wrapped up tightly in our arms. I get infinite pleasure out of giving her things she likes. When we discovered she loves to lie in front of the fire in the living room, the fire may or may not have been put on a few times just for Bonnie.
Bonnie is my companion, and she's my safety when I need her to be. Michael has to go away for work sometimes, and occasionally it's for a week or two. I really don't like to be on my own in the house for too long, but it doesn't feel like I'm on my own with Bonnie. The clitter clatter of her little claws on the wooden floors, the feeling of her fur against my feet when we're stretched out on the couch. Her little face and the rapturous joy she exudes when I come home, like I am the best thing since turkey kibble.
We both love to walk her. When we were moving house, we would often bundle her into the car with us and drive the 10 minutes to the big park near our new house. It was so cleansing to walk in the spring evening air, talking through all of the decisions and anxieties we had, whilst our playful little bear raced around playing with other dogs as if she's still a puppy and making us laugh. I would say we laugh at Bonnie probably once every half an hour if not more, she's absolutely hilarious. I could have definitely earned a lot of money off Animals Do The Funniest Things by now if I'd filmed half of her antics!
She somehow knows when I'm upset or ill. I had lots of bouts of illness last year, I think due to stress in work coupled with moving house, and every time I was laid upon the couch full of antibiotics she was there with me. There's something so beautiful about the fact she could sense my illness, and didn't jump around on me like a human trampoline as she usually would. She's let me cry into the top of her golden little head when I've been upset, and put her trust in me through all of the many vet and animal hospital trips we've had to embark on due to her being a complex little soul with many allergies.
She even influenced our house move; my ultimate dream house would be a big Victorian semi or terrace, or a Georgian townhouse, but around here they don't have gardens and I wanted a garden for Bonnie to be able to run around in.
There are always people who don't 'get' it. The ones who say it's just a pet, or that I won't care about her once I have a child. That's fine; you don't have to get it. You just have to respect that she means more to me than you might be able to understand. The thing is, to us she isn't just a pet. She is part of our family. She was the beacon that kept me going through a tough time, and she still does. I still have to manage my mental health, as we all do, and I do have some hard times still. Bonnie is a big part of that. The routine and gratification of feeding her, walking her and caring for her helps me to feel warm and fulfilled. She gets me out of the house when I'm anxious and want to stay within the safety of the couch; she gets me out into the world and breathing fresh air. I love making her do excited little puppy twirls when we give her a new toy, or seeing her bound across a field towards us as if to say YAAAAAY I LOVE THIS WALK THANK YOU! She makes me so happy.
I said to Michael the other day, "what do you do if you love your dog so much you feel like you're gonna explode?" He thought about it for a second, and said "hmm. Love her but just don't explode". I think I'm gonna do just that.