Harry’s Story - The Final Chapter
Do you like reading true life stories about dogs? I do, but if you are anything like me before you take the book to the check out, you turn to the back page and sneak a quick peek to see if there is a happy ending! I need to know before I immerse myself in a book if I am going to cry for ages after I finish the last page! OK I may be a bit of a softy but that is reason why both the book and DVD of 'Marley and Me' given to me as presents remain unopened and probably always will. Therefore I have decided to write the sad and final part of this story first and leave the happy part of the story to the end...........you have been warned!
After I joined Kevin's dog training classes in May 2008, I decided to write Harry’s story for his website in the hope that our story might give encouragement to other dog owners. Parts two and three followed in 2009 and 2010 and other students from Kevin’s class followed suit with Moss, Alfie, Max and Scooby’s stories. However little did I know then just how part four, written now would turn out.
On the 20th September 2012 my family and I had to say to say our final goodbye to Harry our wonderful handsome beastie boy as he was so affectionately known. We drove him to the specialist vet in Godstone, where Harry’s consultant was waiting for us. Rachael and I kissed Harry goodbye and gently stroking him, stayed until he closed his eyes and went to sleep forever.
Harry has been diagnosed with a brain tumour eleven months before, he was only five at the time. It had come completely out of the blue, early one evening he was as normal playing in the garden and then he wondered indoors and just sat looking at us, panting. He seemed very spaced out and could not keep his balance sitting. After a rush visit to the vets we were referred to a specialist neurologist vet at Godstone who admitted Harry and completed a brain scan. When we went to pick him up, the news was broken to us that Harry had an inoperable brain tumour and possibly had about three months left but that would depend on how much treatment we wanted him to have. Various palliative options were explained for later on, including a drain from his brain which would reduce the swelling around the tumour. We decided that we did not want that for our amazing wonderful boy. We took him home, determined to give him the very best quality of life he deserved in the time he had left and if and when the time came that we felt we were keeping him with us for our benefit rather than his, we would know that would be the right time to say goodbye.
I can’t even begin to put into words how we felt after that shock news. Our friends and family were amazingly supportive, especially those friends that I had met from Kevin’s dog club and we could not have asked for more. However, the complete desolation and constant feeling that your heart is literally breaking, knowing that Harry would only be with us for a short time was indescribable. How we functioned on a daily basis I do not know. We had been warned that the medication he was on would take its toll in the first few weeks. The vet was not wrong and it was so hard for us to see the change in him so quickly. However Harry had always been a very special boy and he didn’t let us down then either. I guess nobody really knew how Harry would cope but after that first couple of weeks he picked up and sometimes one could almost forget there was anything wrong.
Our unbelievable amazing boy literally bounced back and apart from the muscle wastage around his head and rump and a few skin problems caused by the high dose of steroids, he looked and acted just like the same Harry. The specialist was amazed each time we took Harry back for a check up and I have to admit that I did even begin to wonder if the diagnosis had been wrong. I think that is a normal reaction, it is amazing how much you can convince yourself of something when you want it so very much. We kept things as normal as possible for Harry but I did stop taking him for his work as a therapy dog. Although Harry showed no sign of his character changing, I had to remember the tumour was on his brain and I could not be certain that it might not start to alter his demeanour with the children.
When Harry went downhill it happened suddenly but he had amazed everyone and lasted almost a whole year. We had to make the decision fairly quickly that the time had come to say thank you to this wonderful amazing incredibly handsome boy for being part of our lives and that we had now to let him go before he began to suffer.
You may be wondering why we had decided to drive all the way to Godstone. The specialist vet had explained that relatively little is known about brain tumours in dogs and so we had said some time before at a time when we were thinking straight that if it would assist research we would allow the specialist to perform a post-mortem on Harry when the time came. It was for this reason that he had to be put to sleep there. In a strange way it helped us to know that even after he had gone he may still in some way be helping other dogs.
Earlier this year on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, the 4th May 2103, at 6.30am my two children Rachael, Alex and I drove to Harry’s favourite place, Hucking Woods. It was a morning like so many before that Harry and I had visited the woods and spent hours walking together. Today was perfect though as the sun was just rising through the trees bringing the bluebells to life and not another soul to be seen. It was here on the day that would have been Harry’s 7th birthday that we scattered his ashes amongst the bluebells and let him run free for the very last time.
Well I did say I would try to finish this story on a happy note so I thought I would tell you a little about life after I wrote Part 3 of Harry’s story. Well things went from pretty amazing to being really quite fantastic actually! Harry was the perfect dog. We could go anywhere, do anything and I loved every single second spending time with him. We walked for miles, Harry always off lead and me completely relaxed. I especially loved my early morning break of dawn walks when we rarely met anyone but would just listen to the birds waking up and I would throw his ball and he would frolic around me, just the two of us in perfect harmony. Sometimes I recalled the days when I still came out of the house at 5am but not because I chose to but because that was the time I was least likely to meet any other dogs and I would grip Harry’s lead tightly trying to stop him dragging me along the road and breath a huge sigh of relief when we arrived back indoors. How times had changed!
Harry continued his therapy work which he excelled at, visiting the nursing homes. We have many happy, sometimes funny stories from those visits. For over two years every single week without fail, one of the residents would say exactly the same things asking the same question.
“Oh isn’t he lovely, how old is he?”
Because Freda was over ninety years old, we had shout the answer “Yes he is lovely Freda, he is three years old”
She always responded “Three? Oh he’s a big boy isn’t he”. The same response without fail, every week.
Then one day we went to her room and she asked the usual question and we suddenly realised we could say,
“Yes he is lovely Freda, he is four years old”. To which to replied,
“Four? Oh he’s a big boy isn’t he”!
A whole year of weekly visits had gone but that visit once a week made Freda smile and as Harry stood on his back legs and gently lifted his paws up onto the bed guard, Freda was able to reach up to his big head and give him a stroke and he would usually take that opportunity to discover the smallest biscuit crumb that may have fallen on to the blanket!
Another lady we visited in the same nursing home, never really knew if Harry was a dog or a cat and sometimes she even thought he was a bird! But whatever animal she saw in her mind, her face lit up when she saw him and she would get so excited when she spotted him, wanting us to take Harry to see her before anyone else so she could cuddle him.
Harry knew the route we took and knew what rooms he could not go into because the residents were too poorly. He would especially like the lounge area where the residents that were well enough to sit up in chairs would spend the morning. They would eagerly await Harry’s arrival and he would trot on ahead of us like some kind of celebrity and entered the lounge, regally accepting the welcome he always received! He would then entertain the residents and staff alike, by performing some of his best tricks learnt from the clicker training days and he revelled in the applause and of course the dog biscuit given to him when he finished.
At one point we were visiting three EMI Nursing homes a week with Harry visiting over 100 residents. In over two years that was a whole lot of people made a little bit happier, all down to one very big gentle hairy beastie.
As mentioned in Harry’s story part 3, in addition to the nursing homes we also became part of a school project where groups of four to six children who had varying degrees of emotional and mental health issues met with a case worker once a week. They would discuss their problems and emotions and some children opened up easier than others. Harry and I became part of the pilot where dogs were also introduced to these groups for a period of six weekly sessions. To see the difference Harry being there made to these children was incredible. Some children entered the room with quite a belligerent manner, sometimes very shy, determined not to talk but it was not long before they had gradually moved from their chair to the floor and lay gently stroking Harry and soon started to open up and talk about their problems too. Some of the children lacked self confidence so Harry and I worked with them to teach a little dog obedience. Each week adding another command which of course Harry already knew but the children really believed they had taught him. At the end of the six weeks they were presented with a certificate showing how much they had achieved and sometimes they even performed their newly found skills with Harry in front of the whole school. An amazing achievement for some of those children, who once had been too shy to even walk into a classroom.
Once one of the teachers told me about a little lad who was currently being fostered and was due to be adopted in a couple of months and they dearly wanted the little lad to try and overcome his fear of dogs. He did not even like to go to the park in case a dog came near him. They asked if Harry and I might be willing to work with him and his foster mum. We started off with him and his ‘mum’ just being in the room maybe looking at a book whilst Harry and I were working with the other children. Every so often I would see him watching and one day just as he was leaving he stopped at the door to look back at Harry and smiled. After that each time I was at the school the little boy saw Harry and slowly he became more relaxed around him. One day when the other children were brushing Harry I asked if he wanted to give him a little stoke. Very slowly he put his hand forward and touched Harry’s fur then quickly pulled his hand away. The next time he did the same thing but within a few visits he was actually stroking Harry. Harry was a large dog but he was so gentle and so soft that his size did not put any of the children off.
The week arrived that the little boy was due to leave his foster mum and this time she brought in her camera. The picture she took of her little foster son laying on the floor cuddled up to Harry is one that will always be very precious to me. However the best part was the look of pure delight on his face when he left and said ‘Bye Harry’ at the same time holding up his closed fist in front of Harry giving him the hand command to speak and Harry gave a deep ‘woof woof’ to say goodbye back.
As well as making residents at the nursing home smile and helping the children, Harry also helped out many of the other owners in our training class. For some reason even the most, shall we say not quite so dog friendly dogs seemed to accept Harry and so when their owners needed a bit of support when they took their dogs out ‘dog stalking’ as Kevin called it, Harry and I would accompany them. Just having him there seemed to calm the other dogs down and if he ignored other dogs when he saw them then the dogs we were walking with would often ignore them too.
When I started puppy walking for Guide Dogs, Harry was the perfect role model for the pups we had here. He gave them the confidence they needed for their first walk outside, and was happy to let them cuddle up to him or pull his ears or tail and responded just enough to let them know when enough was enough. I even remember a time when Rachael’s bunny was poorly and we brought her in from her hutch and she sat cuddled up to Harry, who just accepted her as one of the family!
As I write this it is now a year since we lost Harry and we miss him so very much each and every day. I can’t imagine there will ever be a day that we don’t miss him. However, I did say that I would end this story on a happy note! So now I look back on all that Harry and I achieved together and the difference he made to so many people. If reading Harry’s stories, the ups and downs (we certainly had plenty of those during our early training days!) has helped you then I can add that to the list of amazing things Harry achieved in his short life. From attending Kevin’s training classes not only did I learn so much and gain the confidence I needed, I also met some wonderful people who are still my very dear friends and a very big part of my life today. I won’t pretend it is easy when we all meet up and they are talking about their own dogs and what they have been up to, not to feel strange not to be talking about Harry too, but I would never want them to not talk about their own dogs and of course I get my doggie fix from cuddles with them!
The work that I did with Harry also gave me the courage to apply for a job in Guide Dogs which is where I work today. I have puppy walked two pups for Guide Dogs and boarded so many I have lost count. As you will know when I first contacted Kevin, taking Harry off lead was a big ‘no no’ for me. Who would have imagined I would be happy free running three sometimes four dogs together now!
So taking everything into account, remembering all the people whose lives he made a difference to, I hope that like me, this story leaves you smiling as you remember Harry, my wonderful hairy boy. To Rachael, Alex and me, Harry was the best friend any of us could have hoped for and quite simply he changed our lives forever. We know that there will never be another quite as special as him.