A puppy gave me my life back at 78, says author Lesley Pearse

My ruby King Charles Cavalier Stan had been my companion and dearest friend for 12 years.

Without him, I think I would have gone loopy during lockdown. Alongside my writing, I was renovating a one-bedroom ground floor apartment further along the road and doing up the neglected garden.

My five-bedroom house on the Devon Riviera would soon be sold.

At 76, I felt it was sensible to downsize. The big garden at the new address would be lovely for Stan and a great project for me to continue working on.

But just two weeks after we’d moved into the apartment at the end of 2021, instead of him relishing no stairs and lovely soft grass, my beloved boy was suddenly weakening, his eyes losing their sparkle.

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That last two weeks I let him sleep in my bed, something I said I’d never do with a dog.

I tried to tempt him to eat with chicken and other treats, I even prayed for a reprieve, but it was no good and eventually I knew I had to take him for that last trip to the vets. Fortunately, he loved going there. And his favourite vet did the deed.

At that point, I wished I could’ve gone too. Alone, my children and grandchildren in Bristol and London, I’ve never felt more cut adrift, the silence was scary.

No more morning walks, or chatting to other dog owners, without Stan there was no structure to my days.

Amid the nagging fear of growing more unfit without daily exercise, I couldn’t even seem to write anymore. I’d sit at my desk and fall asleep. So I watched TV endlessly, completely mindless stuff, and thought: “This is it for me now, I’m the kind of old person I had vowed not to be.”

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I needed and longed for a dog. But everyone kept saying no: I was wobbly on my feet, I didn’t need the responsibility, or the mess. And I was now free to go anywhere I fancied at a moment’s notice.

It was all kindly meant of course, but I hate sensible advice and was aware they didn’t understand the depth of my inner sadness.

Then back in April, I got tickets for a girlfriend and I to see Cabaret in London. Before the show, we went to a bar on the Embankment Gardens and, quite by chance, there was a couple on the table next to us with a black and tan Cavalier.

She was called Frieda and, in the same way Stan made friends, she jumped on to my lap. Lucy, her owner, and I chatted, and she told me she’d got Frieda from a wonderful breeder in Wales. She said she would email me details, and she did.

Although scared of commitment, I couldn’t help myself, I had to write to the breeder, Angela.

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I was half hoping she hadn’t got a litter, and wouldn’t let an old bird like me have a puppy anyway. But she had puppies, and she sensed that I would be a careful owner. She was the kind of breeder I like, certainly she cared more for their wellbeing than wealth.

He to breathed puppy deeply in love and then’

I drove up to see the pups – such a long way, especially to return the same day – but there was White Socks, the one

Angela had earmarked for me. He also had a white flash on top of his head.

He came to me with all the enthusiasm a puppy can give. I breathed in that puppy smell deeply and fell in love, there and then. I knew my year and a half of being dogless was coming to an end.

Angela only lets pups go at 12 weeks when fully inoculated, so I had three more weeks to wait, and it seemed like forever. I bought a travelling crate, a new bed and some toys. I couldn’t think of anything else. And I came up with his name, Barney.

Finally, I was there at the gate, all the pup- pies striving to greet me. Barney hung back, the white flash on his head nearly gone, but his white socks as bright as ever.

Angela and I talked for an hour, we both felt we’d found a real friend. She had crocheted Barney his own blanket to take away, a masterpiece in greens and blues to suit his red coat. Another indication of her love and dedication to her pups.

He didn’t mind being in the little hutch alone all the way home and when I got him out he hadn’t made any mess at all. He peed on my lawn and looked up at me with an expression that said: “I like this place.” Of course, I’d forgotten how a puppy, like a new baby, takes over your home and life.

Nothing is sacred. Chew the edge of the rug in the sitting room while Mum is busy, eat the strips she’d put down to anchor it to the floor to hide the evidence.

I hadn’t had him long and it was expensive. I squealed in horror when I saw all the loose threads. There is a comic chicken ornament by the fire that I hadn’t thought to move. He broke that and sat there calmly playing with all the pieces.

Barney pulls out any throws tucked tidily away, and has bitten pompoms off a cushion, not to mention nibbling my newest sandals, knobs on a chest of drawers, old books I treasure. And he decimates any mail left on the doormat.

By day three, I was tearing my hair out as he moved from one destruction area to another.

Amazingly, he hasn’t had any accidents indoors – he whines when the door isn’t open. Of course, I do go out with him at regular intervals, to encourage him.

I am tired all the time because I have to be vigilant all day, but even with all that I’m not sorry I’ve got him.

I tell myself that, in six months, I’ll have forgotten all the bad stuff.

I read that a puppy should be exposed to several things before 16 weeks.

Traffic, noisy machinery – including vacuum cleaners – hi-viz jackets and helmets, skateboards and so on.

He’d only been with me a day when men arrived to trim my hedges, so that got several scary things ticked off. It helped that the men played with him too.

The next day, I put a little harness on him and set out for a brief walk. He didn’t like cars going by, but he liked the people who stopped to pet him. It took ages to go 100 yards.

He was clearly born to be a writer’s dog. The moment I sit down at my desk he goes into his little hutch and snoozes. I made the mistake of letting him come on to my bed on the first morning he was here.

He jumped on my head, licked my ears vigorously and didn’t seem to understand the plan had been for him to settle down for a snuggle. I can hardly wait till he’s ready to walk to the beach, to let him off the lead and see him scamper around with bigger dogs.

Someone asked me if it wasn’t a bit foolish to get a puppy as he might outlive me. That’s quite likely, but I have three dog-loving daughters and I know if the worst happens he will be scooped up by one of them.

That should start a family row about which one takes him! But no matter how much time I have left with Barney, I know that every moment of it will be filled with joy!

‘Betrayal’ by bestselling author Lesley Pearse [Penguin Books Ltd.]

  • Betrayal by Lesley Pearse (Michael Joseph, £22) is out now. Visit expressbookshop.com or call Express Bookshop on 020 3176 3832. Free UK P&P on orders over £25

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