Alongside my humorous fantasy novel Orders From Above, due for publication 1st June, I’ve been working on a fundraising book to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind. This is my 5th year as a volunteer for this charity, so it’s dear to my heart.
Back in November 2015 a Guide Dog Puppy aged 7 weeks was placed in my home for one year for socialisation training before going on to Early Stage and then Advanced Training to shape him into the excellent Guide Dog he is today. A Labrador/Golden Retriever cross he had a very expressive face, and I took hundreds of photographs throughout his time with me. Occasionally I added his “thoughts” in a speech bubble, and posted them on social media. When the puppy had completed his time with me I put a collection together just for my fellow local Puppy Raisers, so the bare bones of a book were there.
When he left me for Early Stage Training I decided not to take on another puppy full time as there was building work going on in the house and I was busy writing, but I became instead a Boarder. This means I have the joy of looking after puppies for lengths of time varying from a day visit to a three-month stay or more, and so far I’ve had more than twenty dogs of different ages and breeds in my home. I’ve looked after a working Guide Dog too. Bliss!
So now to the fundraising book. Being in this third lockdown has given me all the time needed so I contacted Guide Dogs for the Blind to make sure they were happy for me to do it and that I adhered to their own guidelines and HMRC rules and regulations so we didn’t run into any taxation snags. We agreed that the puppy would be given a pen name, so he became Buddy.
I spent a couple of weeks sorting through and selecting the best photographs and honing the text. That didn’t take long, but oh my goodness, once I started to format it so it was suitable for both paperback and e-books there were times I wondered if I’d ever get there! I’m glad I haven’t kept count of the hours I’ve spent hunched over my laptop cursing Word! I’ve had to learn how to insert the pictures so they were centred to the page margins and stayed put whenever I made an alteration. It’s not the ideal package for such a project, but as this is the only book of its kind that I shall do there’s no point in buying new software that I’d then have to spend time learning.
The only hitch in this little enterprise is that the paperback will have to be in black & white, as Print on Demand colour printing would pitch the book price very high, and with a low royalty. Fortunately there are no such issues with Kindle and other e-readers, and it has been sent to the States for formatting for those platforms.
But I’ve taken the work as far as I can go for now, as I wait for the e-formatter and for the cover designer to do their thing. The wonderful Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs, who designed my covers for Flight of the Kingfisher and Walk in the Afterlight, is donating her fee!
I hope to publish by the end of March and Guide Dogs for the Blind will receive 100% of the profits.
Darcy was showing his age. His beautiful golden eyes were a little milky, his muzzle had turned grey, he slept twice as long, he was slow to get up. When I noticed a couple of lumps on his body my heart sank and a trip to the vet confirmed that he had cancer. At around fourteen years of age, and because he’d always been fearful of the vet, we decided we didn’t want him treated with steroids or anything designed to prolong life, but just keep him comfortable for the months or weeks he had left.
When he didn’t want to eat much or go out for even the shortest of walks any more we agonised over when would be the right time to have him put to sleep. We all know it’s a kindness, but I wanted desperately for Darcy not to need that last, painful visit, I wanted him to pass away in his bed. To just go to sleep and not wake up. I would lie on the floor with him, stroking his velvety ears, telling him gently that it was time for him to leave us. I told him to go to my father because I was sure he’d be waiting for him as they’d had a very special relationship.
(Mind you, when we told Dad we were adopting a problem dog called Donut from Battersea he thought we were, quote, “mad”!! Why, he demanded to know, would we take on a dog with such issues rather than get a puppy with a known pedigree that we could train from the beginning. But when he met him on the day we took him out of Battersea Old Windsor, he adored our Donut-renamed-Darcy from the start and always wanted to look after him when George and I went away on holiday. When Dad died and we went with Darcy to his house to sort some things out, Darcy sniffed all round the Dad’s armchair, and then went off as if looking for him.)
So, that’s why I begged Darcy to just let go and cross over to Dad, but Darcy would not make it easy for me. He did not die in his bed, and then came the day that he looked at us with that unmistakable plea in his wonderful, black-rimmed eyes that told me I was to stop being selfish because he needed to be helped on his way.
Darcy loved going out for a drive, so we decided to take him out for a last little jaunt before going to the vet, and we arranged it so that he would be put to sleep in our car. I was in bits even before George lifted Darcy into the car, and couldn’t stop crying as we drove around for a while before parking up and letting the vet know we’d arrived. George, who had heard and been so determined to answer Darcy’s plea to take him away from Battersea all those years ago, held him while the injection was administered and took hold. While I held Darcy’s paw, George held Darcy across his lap, whispering that he could let go now, that we loved him and had been privileged to have been chosen by him. Darcy visibly relaxed in George’s arms and took his last breath. It was over.
From there we took him straight to the pet crematorium, a lovely place called Charlies Parlour in Bradford-on-Avon, where the owner, Paul, was waiting for us. Paul couldn’t have been kinder. Obviously used to distraught people arriving on a daily basis, he helped us deal with what had to be dealt with, and we knew Darcy would be treated with dignity throughout the cremation process. We left him in Paul’s care, arranging to return the next day to collect the ashes, which would be in a prettily-decorated cardboard tube. I was also presented with a packet of forget-me-knot seeds and a paw print. The paw print broke me all over again!
We buried Darcy’s ashes in our garden, next to the red and white ‘Nostalgia’ rose we had planted for Dad, with a little metal dog on a wooden plinth marking the spot.
Oh, how different the home is when the companion animal has left it! How heart-breaking to put their bed, toys and food dishes away. How sad the familiar routes when your beloved four-legged friend is no longer walking alongside you, sometimes running ahead and coming barrelling back again in the hope of getting a treat.
Every day I wondered if he visited us and, if he did, why I couldn’t sense it or see him, because I’d once had a strange experience at a friend’s house. Back then, many years ago now, we’d both had cats called Pepper. My friend had made coffee and I was seated in an armchair by the door. Pepper came strolling in and rubbed herself against my legs, I put my hand down and stroked her head. When I looked up my friend was staring at me with a perplexed expression, and asked me what I was doing. Perplexed myself by the question, I looked down again and Pepper was no longer there. My friend then told me she’d been put to sleep the previous week, and she’d been about to tell me!
I never had an experience like that with Darcy, the first message from him came in the form of a butterfly. I was walking across the fields to the next village, a walk I’d done with Darcy almost daily, and I was missing his presence every step of the way. As I approached a hedgerow that marked the gate that took me across the boundary into the next village, I noticed a little golden-brown butterfly. The colour was similar to Darcy’s eyes, so perhaps that’s what made me stop to take a closer look, and I saw that it had a piece of its wing missing, like something had taken a bite out of it. I think I murmured something to it about hoping it could fly all right, then, thinking no more of it, I carried on to the local shop and then walked home again, a round trip of forty five minutes.
It was a lovely August day so when I got home I decided to sit on the swing-seat in the garden, close to the rose bed where Darcy’s ashes were. Out of the corner of my eyes something fluttered and landed near my feet…
I looked down…
There on the ground in front of me was a golden-brown butterfly with a piece missing from its wing. It had followed me all that way, and I felt a shiver travel up and down my spine because it was so incredibly like Darcy’s eyes.
But one question still remained: was he with my dad?
In January the following year I had a reading with a medium at her home. I hadn’t told her anything, in my research for my writing I always go along to such meetings offering no information and with no specific expectations. About half way into reading she asked if I had a puppy. I said yes, I had become a volunteer Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind and we had a 4-month old Labrador/Golden Retriever cross. She said, “When he was tiny he slept in a cage or a crate at night and he never cried did he?”
I confirmed that he hadn’t disturbed us during the night at all, that from the day we’d got him the previous November, he’d always settled in the puppy crate very quickly. “Well,” the medium said, “he’d had a companion that came at night to keep him company for as long as it was needed. It’s a fairly large dog, with a black and brown coat.”
I told the medium that it must be Darcy, who’d died a couple of months before the puppy arrived, and I asked, “Can you tell me where Darcy is now?”
The medium seemed to consider for a while and then she said, “Your dad is here. I see that black and brown dog by his side. I’m being shown an image of your dad lying on a deck chair in the sun, with this dog underneath. Your dad is telling me that there is a photograph of this.”
This photograph sits on the sideboard in the dining room of my dad’s partner’s house. Dad was a sun-worshipper, and she had taken the photo while he was sleeping in his deck chair in the garden, Darcy snoozing beneath him.
I’d had all the evidence I needed. Darcy, that dog once called Donut and who’d had such a miserable start in life, was safe and happy in spirit with someone who’d loved him as much as George and I had.
This blog should now be called a ‘Dog Called Darcy’, as he rarely heard ‘Donut’ once he’d been given his noble new name. Training and professional assistance had helped turn him into a wonderful companion and also helped us become worthy guardians (at least I hope he thought us worthy!). But despite his being much more relaxed, something of Donut was always there. He mistrusted so many things, including people wearing hats and/or backpacks, people with walking sticks, pushchairs, random people would set him growling or pulling away.
While I was writing this piece, George reminded me of a time he was getting changed in the bedroom and Darcy was in there with him. Everything was fine and calm until George started to undo his belt. As soon as Darcy become aware of it he went mad, growling, barking and trying to get out of the room. Wild eyed he fled into the kitchen and stood there, trembling, until we managed to calm him down.
We also found he hated to be tied up, when one day we wanted to put a long rope on him while our garden gate had to be propped open for a while. He was fine with a lead when we went for a walk, so we thought there would be no problem with a rope that allowed him to wander but not get out through the gate. It was to keep him safe. But as soon as it was tied on to his collar Darcy went absolutely berserk, rearing up, snapping, and trying to bite the rope. It was frightening and distressing to watch, so we quickly took it off.
And this leads me in to the first psychic event that happened around him (or maybe the second, as I believe there was some kind of psychic communication between him and George at Battersea). Those of you who know me or about me know of my deep interest in all things paranormal, so it’s no surprise that I have a lot of contacts in the world of psychics and mediums. This event happened when a psychic friend of mine met Darcy for the first time a couple shortly after we adopted him. She reached out to stroke him and stopped before she touched him, her hand hovering over the back of his neck. Darcy looked a little fearful for a moment, but he didn’t move away and I wondered what was going on.
“He’s had some trauma round his neck,” she said. “I can feel heat coming from this area, so I’m asking him to tell me what happened.”
I watched, fascinated, as friend and dog seemed lost in a mutual trance for a few moments, and then she told me, “He was born in some kind of outbuilding, like a farmyard barn. Always dark. Not many in the litter, and the mother not well because she hadn’t been kindly treated. His mother, brothers and sisters disappeared, and he was alone. He was tied up so tightly he was almost hanging by his neck. He was possibly beaten. That’s all I can get from him, but it’s no wonder I can feel this heat, this discomfort emanating from his neck. It’s a residual memory he still holds. ” I had no way of corroborating this, so could only take it as a possible explanation for his extreme fear of being tied and his other reactive behaviours and I filed it away in the back of mind.
Skipping forward quite a few years later, I read a book by Madeleine Walker* about animal communication. I was spellbound, and decided to ask her for a reading for Darcy. Maybe she could identify the cause of his continuing reaction to certain situations. No matter that Darcy had been with us for about nine years, I felt there were still some feelings of fear deep inside him, and I’d never forgotten what my friend, who sadly had passed away by then from cancer, had said about his beginnings. It is recognised that adult humans with emotional issues can sometimes trace the cause back to childhood traumas, so why not animals? If Darcy still carried deep-seated fears from his puppyhood, then I wanted to know.
Madeleine asked for a photograph that showed Darcy’s eyes clearly. She wanted no other information about him beforehand. Following are some extracts from her report.
“Confusion/Fear/Reaction. I always ask for a word or phrase to underpin the whole reading and this is what I get for Darcy. It seems to be a chain reaction that of course stems from fear and bad memories that he has never quite let go of. The worst thing for him is the paranoia of traumatic change occurring again. It’s like it has a vice-like grip on him and however settled he is with you on the surface, he can never let go of the feeling that it could all change in a heartbeat!
“I can feel just how hard you have worked to help Darcy, but his unpredictability with new faces and places is all to do with the fear that he might be moved on again and have his one stable home uprooted again. I think his trust was really shattered at a very young age and so any new situation will pose a perceived threat to his security. It’s such a shame as he has so much love to give and really hates feeling this way – he so wants to just enjoy the security of his forever home and really totally accept that is is forever in this incarnation!
“I feel that his mother went through a lot of trauma when carrying him and I keep getting the feeling of being wrenched away from her? I can see him being shut in somewhere very dark, which is actually really making my heart pound, just tuning into the residual fear from this – I don’t think his mother or all of his litter mates survived. He’s showing me a very shabby farm. I also feel he may have had a couple of short-term homes before coming to you where his reactive behaviour will have been a problem. I feel that there are many layers to his desperation and feelings of abandonment… I also feel he’s been tied up and will have reacted very badly to being on a lead. I still feel tightness around his neck and am being shown a video-like clip of some very rough treatment… I can feel him yelping and almost dangling from his lead or rope or whatever it was he was attached to. In the picture you sent me I keep being drawn to the area between his collar and his shoulders along the spin – it feels that he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
Isn’t that absolutely heart-rending? Now I had been given the same story by two different people, six years apart. I had read widely on the subject of animal communication. I believed it. Maybe if more people with “problem dogs” would seek help from animal communicators and training professionals there wouldn’t be so many pets in rescue centres. To quote Madeleine once more, “Unfortunately us humans have the ability to make decisions without any consideration to the emotional ties or feelings of these beautiful creatures!”
Madeleine went on to recommend some natural flower essences to benefit Darcy, which we were happy to try and, as you know from Part I, we worked hard always to give Darcy a happy, stable, secure home for the twelve years he was with us.
Click here to go to Part III, where I talk about Darcy’s crossing that rainbow bridge when he was 14 years old, and some wonderful psychic events that happened afterwards. Have your tissues ready!
Another fascinating story about an animal being helped by an animal communicator is ‘How Diablo Became Spirit’ by Anna Breytenbach, about how she worked with a dangerous leopard at a conservation park. The owner of the park was sceptical about Anna’s work, but by the end he’s in tears at what she achieves. It’s an astounding and very moving story, so do please take a look when you have fifteen minutes to spare. This is the link to the YouTube video (skip the adverts at the beginning): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvwHHMEDdT0