On Thursday, my nine year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier had an operation.
It was only a minor procedure – Thor has acquired a few lumps, bumps and skintags over the past year or so, and it was decided it was safer to remove them whilst they were still benign rather than waiting for them to develop into something more sinister. He went into the vets – who are wonderful and have seen him and his little brother for years – in the morning, and he was back home before I had even left work in the afternoon.
The operation went well; he was a little dopey, has some razor burn around the wound under his chin, and has a fabulous patchwork patterned coat for the next few weeks.
Despite all of this, having either of my boys go under anaesthesia for a medical procedure is absolutely terrifying. I made sure that my line manager and closest colleagues knew what was happening, and had special permission to access my phone whilst at my desk; keeping it discreetly in the pullout tray on my computer stand, so I could pull it out and check it every fifteen minutes or so without any visitors or colleagues noticing. My team also made it known that if at any point the anxiety became too much, I should let them know straight away and then take a few minutes to calm down.
In my previous job, when I frantically texted my manager at 5am to let her know that we were rushing my youngest puppy to the PDSA because I had woken to find his back half had gone lame (and, I will be honest, due to his history of difficult health I was convinced we were losing him), the first thing they said was to please make sure that I was in for my afternoon shift. Having experienced a managerial team that did not show any compassion regarding my dogs and their health, I know how lucky I am to be surrounded by the people I am now.
They understand that he is my world.
When Thor came until my life, it was one of the most important and world-altering moments of my existence so far. Up until he moved in with my new stepmum – when he was five and I was a nervous twenty-one-year-old student – I had only ever had fish as pets (and one guinea pig – he was a anxious thing who liked to bite, and nine-year-old me was consequently terrified of him and all other little furry creatures). It was a time of tumultuous change for me; my parents had divorced, my mum had come out as gay, I was struggling at university, I was staying with a family friend during the semester as I had had to suddenly leave the house I was staying in, and suddenly this woman I didn’t know and her gigantic dog had appeared in my home. I was not in a good place.
And the first time I met Thor, I was absolutely terrified of him.
My main experience with dogs up until that point had been little yappy creatures owned by far flung family members, and my experiences with them had set my anxiety levels high around any type of dog. Thor was bigger than any dog I had really been in close proximity to. He was in my house. Every ‘nope’ indicator in my body was screaming at me.
But he was patient with me. He could see that I was nervous, so he didn’t jump and cuddle and kiss as he did with my much more dog-friendly younger brother. Instead, he sat by my chair quietly, letting me get used to him being there. And, gradually, he inched closer so his fur was brushing my leg, and after a time I leaned forward to softly stroke the fur on his back. He let me take it at my pace, patiently waiting for my anxiety to cool down and eventually become still. A few days later, when I was ready, we moved to hugs. And now he sleeps beside me in my bed every night, curls up on top of me on the sofa, gives me huge sloppy kisses when I come in from work, and jumps up to put his paws either side of my head so I can bury my face in his big fluffy neck and cry.
He is one of the softest, gentlest, and most loving creatures I have ever known. My heart soars when I think of him, and just writing about him at this moment is making me feel warm and emotional. The love he shows me is unconditional. If anything happens, I know he will be there licking away my tears and letting me wipe my snotty nose on his fur.
Having come into my life at the age of five, Thor doesn’t always know how best to deal with my meltdowns (which thankfully these days are fewer and farther between). He didn’t grow up with me in his formative years, so he hasn’t had the chance to instinctively learn how to react when the big tall autistic human in his life suddenly goes all loud and wailing and starts pulling her hair. He can get frantic, and accidentally scratch or hurt me as he jumps up to try and somehow fix this problem that he desperately doesn’t understand.
But he does help.
If I am melting down, and I see Thor distressed as a result, it can give me a focus and a distraction to try and pull myself out of the meltdown. Obviously, sometimes, I can’t come out of it, but he gives me something solid and familiar to hold onto – he doesn’t shout at me, he doesn’t leave me, and I know he doesn’t think badly of me for falling apart. If I am struggling to get out of bed in the morning, he gives me an incentive and a reason to pull myself out from under the safety of my duvet – he needs me to look after him, he needs food and water, he wants love and attention and he’s going to make sure that I notice him, even when I’m trying to block out the world. And if I don’t show him enough attention, he’s going to emit the highest, most pathetic whine that has ever come out of a dog so big, and I’m probably going to end up giggling at the absurdity of it.
I don’t know if I would be where I am today without him. He has been essential to my survival; and I don’t just survive, I live because of him. I feel loved, and adored, and I know what it is like to love someone with even the tiniest atom of my heart. I never thought I could love anyone as much as I love him and his little brother.
He is my beautiful, brave, loving, silly, pathetic, cowardly, loyal, protective, fabulous boy. Sometimes, I love him so much I could cry.
I know that when I walk through that door, no matter how hard my day has been, and no matter how foul and unpleasant my demeanor, I am going to be greeted with excitement and love. My dogs adore me. Even when I’m miserable. Even when I’m a horrible person to be around. Even when I can’t speak without shouting. Even when I’m curled up under my duvet like a useless creature of ultimate uselessness. Even through all of this, Thor still looks at me; he still wags; he still wants to be with me, and near me, and he never lets me feel completely alone. No matter how hard I screw things up. No matter how hard I fail. No matter how badly I feel my life is going. He still looks at me with love and truly believes that I am amazing.
That makes me look in the mirror and see myself differently. I can see myself through his eyes, and learn to love myself just a little more.
And it gives me the very best goal in life.
To try and be as good a person as he already believes I am.