how Chelsea made me smile again

Exactly 18 months ago, Chelly and I arrived in Cardiff to start a post-graduate diploma in broadcast journalism at Cardiff University.
I say Chelsea and I, but she spent all the time endearing herself to everyone we met.
A man from our course had arranged for a few of us to go out a few nights before term started so we could all get to know each other.
Chelly was the centre of attention, which in turn made me feel a little embarrassed as I’m not normally happy to be at the forefront of things.
The first term was brilliant.
I made lots of friends and settled into a pattern of studying, exploring Cardiff and working my way through the various cafes in the city.
However, my world was absolutely shattered by a phone call to Mum shortly before the end of the first term.
Dad had been ill for some time, he’d had cancer, and even though surgery had removed the tumour, he suffered from awful depression and anxiety.
The specialist was concerned none of the tablets Dad had been put on was making him better.
He was taken in for tests and Mum was told he had secondary lung cancer.
During the phone-call she told me Dad had weeks left.
I don’t remember what happened during the next few days, only bits, mostly I cried.
Dad died two and a half weeks later, four days after Christmas.
I made a promise to him that I’d return to Cardiff to do an exam I was due to sit on the 14th of January.
I did a week of half-hearted revision when I got back, but all I wanted to do was stay with Mum.
My friends on the course seemed to change towards me when I returned. It’s difficult to explain how death affects you. It sort of made me different, very few of them understood.
There were only a few people I could talk too, my best friends at university who weren’t on my course, but were, and still are a big part of my life.
I hated uni though! I reeled against everything and everyone.
My tutor asked me where the old Nicki had gone and I said:
“I’m here because I have to be, not because I want to.” It sounds harsh, but I meant my heart just wasn’t in it.
My tutor understood.
Chelsea was amazing. She had never been into Dad’s room when he was ill, but shortly after he died she walked in to where I was lying on the floor crying.
She lay next to me and put her paw round my shoulder. I genuinely think she thought: “Well, I’ve seen humans do that, so that’s what I must do!”
One day I had a huge panic attack in the bathroom at uni. I felt so scared.
Chelsea came over to me and put her head on me. I was shaking and crying so much that I was quite concerned something might be wrong.
She just sat next to me and allowed me to stroke her till I calmed down.
I went straight to the office and said I didn’t think I could stay at uni anymore.
Mum had come to visit me and we chatted over dinner that night.
Mum has always been a fantastic role model and support. She still is.
She persuaded me to stay; we both knew if I left, I wouldn’t go back.
Part of the course involved four weeks work placement at a local television or radio station.
I went to BBC Wales Bangor.
I loved every minute of it. I was put on air twice, after two voicers *clip during a news bulletin explaining more about the story* were used.
But the strangest thing happened.
I really missed Cardiff.
It was weird. I’d never considered it while I was there. Yes, it was a nice enough place, but so was the place where I lived.
I realised that for the last few months though, I’d hated it for being the place I had to go back to after ~Dad died.
I knew I’d feel this way about anywhere though.
I went back with renewed vigour.
I stopped running away and embraced the course and everything else again.
My tutors were delighted and really noticed a change.
I also knew I owed it to Mum and Dad to do my best.
I had to resit the exam I took after Christmas as I failed it.
I passed all the others and my overall mark was better than I could have imagined.
Now, 18 months after we first arrived in Cardiff, we’re moving there again to look for work.
It’s going to be an adventure, and no doubt I’ll feel anxious at times.
But, like last time, I’ll have Chelsea by my side – with her, I know I can achieve anything and everything I want to do.

life after Vale

Life without Vale was very empty and quiet. Chelsea became clingy and lethargic and I cried a lot.
Eventually the tears gave way to laughter and happy memories.
Friends would chat about Vale and the funny quirky things she did.
“Do you remember that time we were in the food shop and Vale stole a cream egg?” said one friend.
“I remember when I saw Nicki and Vale together once, I tapped Nicki on the shoulder and asked if Vale was supposed to wander round with a pork pie in her mouth!”
I giggled at this memory. That was just typical of Vale.
She was always causing mischief and I loved her for it.
I’d worked at my local radio station as a presenter and newsreader for 18 months while I looked for employment.
In 2010 I got a job with the RNIB and Chelly had to learn the route to and from work.
It was an hour’s bus ride there and back, but she relished each and every moment of guiding me through the pedestraianised streets of the town I worked in.
It was strange working in a place where the shopping streets were pedestrianized. It meant there was heaps more street furniture for Chelly to navigate through, which she did without any trouble at all.
We had to make regular trips to Cardiff as that’s where our head office was based.
We even went to the House of Commons to meet David Blunket and some MP’s from Wales.
When my contract ended in 2011 I didn’t know what to do.
I’ve always loved Australia since we studied it at school but had never travelled there for fear something would happen to Vale.
Now I realised that I couldn’t control things like this, something had happened to Vale and one day it would happen to Chelsea.
I could either stay at home wishing for a more adventurous life, or I could get out there and create my own adventures.

I rang a company which organised volunteer placements abroad and they told me they had a placement in Perth at a local radio station.
I applied and was accepted.
So, I went to Perth, entirely by myself. I didn’t know anyone out there but spent a month living with a delightful family.
Australia was everything I hoped it’d be – and more!!
I missed Chelsea so much though, not just because she was my guide dog, but her companionship and mischief.
The family had a naughty little Kelpie though who stopped me feeling as home-sick as I would without the presence of a dog.

I didn’t take Chelly as the flight was very long and I thought she’d be better off at home for such a short time away.
The guide dog trainer who trained us both told me I had the right attitude about it.

I’d always loved journalism and had worked voluntarily on all our local papers and of course the radio station.
I went as far as applying to study in Perth on a post-grad course in broadcast journalism..
However, my Father wasn’t very well at all and I knew I’d miss my parents very much if I was so far away.
I still had a strong desire to work for the media though, so I decided to apply for the post-grad at Cardiff University.
I’d been to Cardiff a few times, it was OK, nothing really special, but it was one of the best courses in the country and only a few hours by train.
I was accepted on to the course and the next chapter of my life began.
I had no idea what a roller-coaster it would be, and I was about to face the most traumatic time of my life so far!

goodbye Goldilox

Vale settled into retirement at my parents house.
I’d look after the girls whenever Mum and Dad were away.
Vale and Chelly enjoyed playing together and would often have sleepovers.
On a lovely sunny July morning, Mum rang me at half past six.
“Nicki, something’s wrong with Vale! I think you should come over straight away!”
In the background I could hear high pitched barking. Vale sounded frightened and upset.
Shaking, I pulled on my dressing gown and slippers and called Chelsea.
She seemed to know something was wrong as she trotted over to me and put her head in her harness straight away.
Mum had told me to go round the back of the house as Vale was by the door and wouldn’t move.
As soon as I got there I knew something wasn’t right.
Vale growled at me and wouldn’t move, Mum advised me to stay in the lounge while she kept an eye on Vale.
I rang the emergency vet straight away.
“It sounds as if Vale’s having some sort of fit, it could be a brain tumour or…”
To be honest, the rest is a blur.
I remember the barking stopped about an hour and a half later.
Vale ate some sardines which was one of her favourite treats.
We took her to the vets and were told to monitor her for 24 hours. We were warned she could have further fits.
She did, the next morning.
This time I was there from the beginning – she started barking and shaking.
I’m feeling incredibly anxious, just writing this now!
It was awful seeing her like that, knowing there was nothing I could do to make her better.
She was put on tablets and had no more fits.
However, I realised we wouldn’t have her for very much longer.
I bought a baby monitor and Vale came to live with Chelly and me in my flat, just down the road from my parents.
Her walking pace slowed severely and she seemed to age very quickly.
However, she became cuter and sweeter in a way too.
Sometimes, she’d pick up a toy and bring it to me, the way she had done in the past. .
I’d put Chelly out, close the door and for a few minutes – it was just Vale and I.
Precious moments!

The day before Chelsea’s fifth birthday was the day the vet told me I needed to think about letting Vale go.
She’d collapsed the day before and was very unsteady on her legs. Dad took us to the vet and she was given an injection.
When we got home she messed in the house, something I’d heard happened before the inevitable.
I rang my parents and told them what the vet had said.
We were all in tears.
I knew what I had to do though. I had to help Vale, for her, not me!
I’ve heard people say: “I couldn’t do it! I’m not ready!” to me that is thoughtless, selfish and cruel.
I know I sound judgmental, but I couldn’t let Vale suffer when I could do something to make her better.
What kind of life would she have had. A life of messing in the house, pain and general suffering. Could you do that to an animal you’d loved for 12 years and a day?

The vet couldn’t come round that day luckily, so we had a bit more time with Goldilox. .
I had a lot of support from the Guide Dogs For The Blind Association. They arranged for the local pet crematoria to collect Vale and arranged for her death certificate to be brailed, as well as putting her name in braille on her casket.
I can’t write about the next few days, it’s too emotional and personal. but it was the most beautiful death she could have had – I was there with her at the end, as well as my parents, Chelsea and two friends who absolutely adored her.
I had no idea something could hurt me so much!
The fact that I’ll have to go through that at least five more times in my life fills me with absolute terror!
I know though, they are worth every tear!
I think a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem sums it up very well:

“Brothers and sisters I bid you beware, of giving your heart to a dog to tear.”