A special breed of companion this Christmas

CHRISTMAS is when we become acutely aware of the people who mean most to us; their presence or absence, their love or their loss. Conversely, dutifully gathering with people from whom we’ve grown apart can leave us feeling as wretched as Ebenezer Scrooge when Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas had finished with him.

A special breed of companion this Christmas

But there are members of the household upon whom we can rely: dogs. With an all-knowing look and a wag of the tail, they love unconditionally in the way that only new-born babes and love-struck teens can. “The loyalty of dogs is something I see all of the time,” says veterinary surgeon Pete Wedderburn. “Many people have a very close relationship with their dogs and, when they do, it’s always a two-way thing.”

“Dogs give a great deal of love to those who give them a great deal of love. This most often happens when a dog and his human companion share a home. They both rely on each other for company, and when the dog is treated as he should be, with great respect, a close bond develops between them.”

The great capacity of dogs to repay love was shown on the tragic death of Peggy Mangan, whose faithful dog, Casper, guarded her body until help arrived — a vigil that cost the ten-year-old King Charles spaniel his life.

Wicklow man, Eddie Gahan, knows all about the devotion of dogs: “I have a brain tumour, which causes seizures and epileptic fits, and when I wake after a seizure, the first thing I see is Lulu, my little terrier-cross,” he says. She’ll be lying beside me with her head on my chest. My cats will be close-by. They greet me with a stare that tells me they’re sorry I woke. Theirs is a look of disappointment; it’s one that says they had been planning to eat me.”

When Eddie’s about to have a seizure, Lulu knows before he does. “To prevent me from falling, she grabs my trouser leg,” he says. “This is her way of alerting me to sit down. When I do that, she sits beside me.” Eddie has had seizures in the fields surrounding his house. “On each occasion, I’ve woken to find Lulu lying on my chest, keeping me warm,” he says. “Once it happened outside, on a snowy winter’s night. When I woke, I was on my back and while the snow was piled up on either side of my head, there wasn’t a snowflake on my face.

“While I was out cold, Lulu licked or pawed the snow from my face, so I could breathe. She could have gone back inside to the fire, as the door had been left open. But she wouldn’t abandon me.

“Instead, she stayed there, lying on my chest, keeping me warm, keeping the snow off me, in sub- zero temperatures. She was never trained to do this. She does it by instinct. She has saved my life many, many times. She only leaves my side when I’m in the company of others. She even sleeps in my bed.”

Cork based dog-trainer, John Clifford, says the company of dogs prevents loneliness. “If you come home after a bad day, your dog knows it immediately,” he says. “If you’re kind to him, he’ll come over to you when you sit down and he’ll put his head on your lap. Then, he’ll give you a look that says: ‘Tell me. Talk to me.’ Dogs sense pain in their human companions and respond with love. They don’t do that to everyone. They do it for those who look after them with kindness.”

Acknowledging the isolation that many people experience, particularly at Christmas, Clifford says: “Many people are alive today because of their dogs. Coming home to a true friend — a dog — whose look says ‘I love you and I’m glad you’re home’ brings great comfort and companionship,” he says.

Dogs are not just man’s best friends, they’re among the most loyal of companions, and while they’re not just for Christmas, they’re a life-saver for anyone who struggles at that time of year.

For Eddie, the value of Lulu’s company is immeasurable: “Life would be much harder and lonelier without her. She’s my best buddy.”

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