Pet loves lead to strong bonds

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Teenage Thoughts
Madeleine Hughes

ANIMALS are central to our lives.
They are a source of reliability, comfort and unlike humans, they are completely accepting. Having a pet is important for all ages, especially teenagers, as they teach us how to nurture; how to function better emotionally and how to have strong social relationships.
Pets give teenagers a sense of purpose and companionship – they help us build empathy. All in all, I believe that animals improve a teenager’s well-being.
I have grown up alongside my two dogs, Florrie, who is a beautiful golden retriever, and Shadow, a crazy springer-spaniel.
We also have a cat, whose name is Miow Miow.
As a family we spent many weekends going on walks with the dogs in tow; Florrie carefully prancing beside us trying not to get her creamy paws dirty whilst Shadow would go missing in the woods chasing birds or sticks. As a child I never truly acknowledged how much the dogs positively affected my life — I saw them as just another reason to have to go on long walks or another chore when being told to feed them. It was during lockdown, when I was spending more time with Shadow, that I discovered how I put her on the same level of importance as I would a human.
Her bubbly, warm nature kept me sane! (Florrie can have her moody moments and could be accused of lacking in personality - I still love her though!) Every day I would walk them both down the boreen near our house as it was a safe road to let them off the lead.
When I think back to the lockdowns, I immediately picture sitting outside during the warm months with Shadow on my lap laying on the grass, her tail wagging, her tongue out, her eyes dancing with happiness. She became a source of comfort to be with during that stressful time. 
Shadow had nine lives: she broke her back when she collided with our go-kart aged six, she swallowed stones; she had cancer two years ago. I admired her for being so strong during these occasions of illness as she never ‘complained’ by barking or looking down in the dumps. She always bounced back.
Getting off the school bus and seeing her bounding towards me after a long day was rewarding, and I loved hearing the ‘awws’ from everyone on the bus when they saw her from the window.
In my house, the dogs are allowed inside, however they are barricaded into the front hall with the use of baby gates.
After homework and dinner, we would watch TV with the dogs in the hall adjacent to us. We couldn’t stand not letting Shadow in to sit with us as she would look so sad being left out. (Florrie, on the other hand, was not pitied as she sheds her white hair everywhere!) 
Shadow used to get her hair cut in springtime, but one year after a big cut, the weather turned cold. Shadow, shaved to the skin and without her tatty hair, shivered like mad. We put an old cardigan on her to warm her up. I thought that was hilarious.
When we went foraging for raspberries during the summer and blackberries during autumn, Shadow used to eat the fruit straight off the bushes. Her tongue would get stained and make us laugh. Shadow loved swimming in the lake. We would throw sticks far into the water and she would surf the waves in order to secure and faithfully return them.  On one occasion I remember very well was when Florrie rolled in something or other (I believe it was fox-related) and my mom threw her into the lake to clean her.
From that day on Florrie never swam again after that trauma.
Unlike Florrie, Shadow disliked other dogs. She much preferred the attention from humans. If we saw dogs walking towards us when on walks, we put her straight on the lead to prevent a fight from breaking out. Florrie has always had the red lead; Shadow had the black…
I know that dogs are colour blind but somehow both always knew if you put the wrong lead on the wrong dog. I have so many happy memories of the dogs and they have a prominent place in my childhood. They were a source of laughter and love, and I associate them with relaxation. 
In April, Shadow left us after living nearly 15 years. It is like a family member has vanished and the bonds are broken. It doesn’t feel right.
I find myself walking around the garden looking for her. The garden is quiet without her barking for her ball to be thrown.
The sitting room feels empty without her presence and her tail beating on the floor. I always knew that we wouldn’t have the dogs forever and that they were getting old, but I didn’t realise what it would feel like when they aren’t here anymore. I am sure that all dog lovers out there can understand the unconditional love felt between a human and a dog.